Chess Lesson 3–The Middlegame: Pawn Chains

by on August 19th, 2010
Share Button

*This article is part of the DAT Chess lesson series; all content covered here was featured in an hour-long chess lesson, for all levels of chessplayers.

This lesson is based off of the following book:

Horowitz, I. A., and Geoffrey Mott-Smith. Point Count Chess; an Accurate Guide to Winning Chess. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1960. Print.

To use tactics, there must be a strategical advantage already present in the first place. True, in lower level of play, tactics occur spontaneously occasionally (e.g. someone blunders egregiously), but nevertheless, they are a product of proper strategic play. That being said, it is also necessary to be able to capitalize on the tactical options available; being a great strategist but poor tactician makes it impossible to reap the benefits of your better position, while being a poor strategist but an excellent tactician means that you will never use tactics in your games, because you will never be in a position to do so.

Often, people use the simple point count system:

Pawn = 1 point,

Knight/Bishop = 3 points

Rook = 5 points

Queen = 9 points

King = The game.

If this simple system works for you, then use it. If you aren’t at the point in your chess playing career to be too worried about strategy, then use this system.

However, what happens when you sacrifice a pawn, in order to develop your pieces faster? Do you automatically go down a point, or is the compensation worth something?

To this, an alternative point count system is developed:

Pawn = 3 points

Knight/Bishop = 9 points

Rook = 15 points

Queen = 27 points

King = 9 points

All of the values are multiplied by three; the king is assigned 9 points, since the king can be a valuable piece when most of the pieces come off the board. The advantage of this system is that you can assess strategic advantages as well; however, if you really like the old system but want to count strategic advantages too, you can use 1/3 of a point as well.

Dynamic Advantages are those advantages based on a single position, and aren’t long term. For instance, the initiative or lead in development; those don’t last forever, but are appreciable advantages. Often, they trump everything else; a mate in three is a dynamic advantage.

A Static Feature of a position is a fixed strategical factor. For instance, an isolated pawn would be a static disadvantage (or advantage, depending on the position).

The complete list of strategic advantages and disadvantages will be dealt with throughout the year. We will go through two or three of them per week; this week, we will focus on pawn structure in the center.

Advanced Chain- A pawn chain that extends to the fifth rank or farther. This leads to a space advantage, better control of the center and a cramping of opponent pieces. If your opponent has this, you should attack the base of their pawn chain. For instance, if white has pawns on d4 and e5, Black will often play …c5 to attack the base of the pawn chain.

A good pawn chain:

1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Bg5 Be7 5. e5 Nfd7 6. Bxe7 Qxe7

Black’s natural move now is …c5, to attack the base of the pawn chain. One try by white to prevent this to play Nb5, attacking c7 and forcing black to respond; white then plays c3, Na3, Nc2. In this game, however, white gets more ambitious, and defends his pawn on e5.

7. f4 a6 (preventing the aforementioned Nb5; notice how this move becomes such a threat because of how cramped Black’s pieces are, all thanks to the pawn on e5) 8. Nf3 c5 9. dxc5 Nxc5 10. Bd3 Nxd3+.

Otherwise, the bishop will menace the center. White knew that his opponent would take his bishop though, or else he wouldn’t have moved there.

11. cxd3! Nc6 12. Qd2 O-O 13. O-O Bd7 14. Rf2 Qc5 15. Rc1

White doesn’t play d4 right away, so that Black doesn’t get c4 as an outpost station. Instead, he threatens Black’s queen, so that the queen must move; Black then won’t be able to play …Na5.

…Qa7 16. d4 Ne7

White can now resume his kingside push. Note that since white has control of the center and a space advantage, he is allowed to play on the wings now.

17. g4 Rac8 18. Rd1 (further controlling the center, and the rook wasn’t doing much on c1 anyway) Rc4 19. Qd3 Rfc8? (completely ignoring White’s play, and underestimating his kingside chances) 20. Ng5 Ng6 (since …g6 fails after 21. Qh3)

Now, it seems that White’s advance has temporarily stalled, for 21. f5 fails because of …Nxe5! 22. dxe5 Rxg4+. However:

21. Qe3 h6? (his position was lost anyway, but this serious weakening move hastens things) 22. Nxf7! Kxf7 23. f5 Ne7 24. fxe6++ (the handy double check) Kxe6 25. Qxh6+! gxh6 26. Rf6#

Whenever you play through grandmaster games, you see any number of themes that we have been covering in class; it’s interesting to see how these principles hold true through grandmaster play.

But anyway, this example of a pawn chain asserted control of the center, a space advantaged, and allowed White a winning attack. Contrast this with the next example:

A Bad Pawn Chain:

1. c4 Nf6 2. Nf3 c6 3. d4 d5 4. e3 Bf5 5. Qb3 Qc6

This is a typical position in which neither side wants to take the others’ queen, since the half-open file is more important than the doubled pawn. Up until now, they have been playing a somewhat weird, hypermodern opening.

6. c5?

White suffers an attack of “chess-blindness”, thinking that the exchange of queens is forced. If so, white would gain a half-open file, an eventual pawn push to b5, while Black couldn’t support the e5 pawn push. However:

6…Qc7! 7. Nc3 Nbd7 8. Bd2 e5.

Black eventually wins, since the chain is undermined and the pawn becomes exceptionally weak.


No advantage or disadvantage live on an island; the advanced pawn chain is no exception. It is worth a point, due to greater space; sometimes, however, the pawn chain is only temporary, and thus shouldn’t be counted if it won’t last. The chain is an edge toward establishing control of the center, but you must ascertain that your opponent doesn’t break up your chain by effective play on the wings. You can count a point for advanced center control if you feel that it is well established. You can subtract a point from your opponent if you feel that they are very cramped due to your chain.


Research the French defense, the opening that Bobby Fischer least liked to see when he played White. This is an important defense; you can play it against your opponent, to catch him off guard.

Prev Article: »
Next Article: «

Related Articles