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Positional Concept: Isolated d-pawn

Positonal Concept: Isolated d-pawn and its descendants

“The problem of the isolated d-pawn, is in my opinion, one of the fundamental problems in the whole of positional play.” – Nimzovich from “My System.”

Here is a skeletal position of an isolated d-pawn with white outposts at e5 and c5 and black outpost at d5.

There are, in general, 2 major considerations of an isolated d-pawn:

  1. The isolani is a weapon of attack in the middlegame.
  2. The isolani is a weakness in the endgame.

The cases favoring white with an isolated d-pawn are as follows:

White is able to make use of the e5-square for a kingside attack

1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.Nc3 Nc6 4.e3 e6 5.d4 d5 6.cxd5 Nxd5 7.Bd3 cxd4 8.exd4 here we have our typical isolated d-pawn position 8…Be7 9.O-O O-O 10.Re1 Nf6 11.Bg5 Nb4 12.Bb1 b6 13.Ne5 white has the advantage with this strong central outpost which is well placed to aid the coming kingside attack 13…Bb7 14.Re3 g6 15.Rg3 Rc8 16.Bh6 Re8 17.a3 Nc6 18.Nxg6 hxg6 19.Bxg6 fxg6 20.Qb1 Ne5 21.dxe5 Ne4 22.Nxe4 Kh7 23.Nf6+ Bxf6 24.Qxg6+ Kh8 25.Bg7+ Bxg7 26.Qxg7# 1-0 Keene-Miles, Hastings 1975

White has affected the advance d5 and after …exd5 or a piece takes d5 then white achieves a more centralized position after recapturing.

An example of this can be seen in the following game:

1. c4 e6 2. Nf3 d5 3. d4 Nf6 4. Nc3 dxc4 5. e3 a6 6. a4 c5 7. Bxc4 Nc6 8. O-O cxd4 9. Nxd4 Nxd4 10. exd4 Be7 11. d5! exd5 12. Nxd5 Nxd5 13. Bxd5 O-O 14. Qf3 Bd6 15. Re1 Qh4 16. h3 Qb4 17. Rd1 Rb8 18. b3 Be6 19. Bxe6 fxe6 20. Qe2 Bc5 21. Qxe6+ Kh8 22. Ba3 Qa5 23. Rd5 Bxf2+ 24. Kh1 Qc3 25. Rc1 Qf6 26. Qxf6 Rxf6 27. Rd7 Be3 28. Rxb7 Rb6 29. Rxb6 Bxb6 30. Rc6 h5 31. Bd6 Rb7 32. b4 a5 33. b5 Kh7 34. g4 hxg4 35. hxg4 Kg8 36. Kg2 Kf7 37. Kf3 Bd8 38. Ke4 Ke8 39. Kd5 g5 40. Ke6 Bb6 41. Rc8+ Bd8 42. Bc5 Rb8 43. Rc6 Rb7 44. b6 Rb8 45. Rc7 Bxc7 46. bxc7 Rc8 47. Bb6 Ra8 48. Ba7 1-0 Rubinstein-Tartakover, Marienbad 1925

When white has built up a position on the c-file.

1. d4 d5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. c4 e6 4. e3 c5 5. Bd3 Nc6 6. O-O dxc4 7. Bxc4 cxd4 8. exd4 Be7 9. Nc3 O-O 10. Be3 b6 11. Qe2 Bb7 12. Rfd1 Nb4 13. Ne5 Rc8 14. Rac1 Nbd5 15. Nb5 a6 16. Na7 Ra8 17. Nac6 Qd6 18. Nxe7+ Qxe7 19. Bd3 Nxe3 20. fxe3 b5 21. Rc5 by controlling this outpost station white gets play on the c-file 21…Rfc8 22. Rdc1 g6 23. a3 Ne8 24. b4 Nd6 25. Qf2 f5 26. Qf4 Ne8 27. Be2 Nd6 28. Bf3 Rxc5 29. dxc5 Ne8 30. Rd1 Nf6 31. c6 Bc8 32. c7 Ra7 33. Rd8+ Kg7 34. Rxc8 Rxc7 35. Nxg6 1-0 Nimzovich-Taubenhaus, St. Petersburgh 1913.

The Isolated d-pawn as a weakness

All positions of an endgame character (as pieces are traded the isolani becomes more of a weakness)

1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nd2 c5 4. exd5 exd5 5. Ngf3 Nc6 6. Bb5 Bd6 7. O-O Nge7 8. dxc5 Bxc5 9. Nb3 Bd6 10. c3 O-O 11. Nbd4 Bg4 12. Be2 Qd7 13. Be3 Rad8 14. Re1 Bb8 15. Ng5! Black has an isolated pawn and White therefore seeks to trade off as many minor pieces as possible 15…Bxe2 16. Qxe2 Nxd4 17. Bxd4 Nf5 18. Qd3 h6 19. Nf3 Rfe8 20. Rad1 white must retain a rook to work with his queen to keep any real winning chances 20…Rxe1+ 21. Rxe1 Ne7 22. g3 Nc6 23. Kg2 Re8 24. Rd1 Qe6 25. Re1 Qd7 26. Be3 Rd8 27. Rd1 Qe7 28. Nd4 Nxd4 29. Qxd4 a6 30. Bf4 Bxf4 31. Qxf4 with the minor pieces now off the board the isolated d-pawn is a real weakness with no redeeming value 31…Qc5 32. Rd4 Qc6 33. Qd2 b5 34. Kg1 Qg6 35. a3 Kf8 36. h4 Qb1+ 37. Kg2 Qf5 38. a4 Qe6 39. axb5 axb5 40. Qd3 Kg8 41. Qxb5 Rd6 42. Qd3 g6 43. c4 dxc4 44. Rxd6 cxd3 45. Rxe6 fxe6 46. Kf3 e5 47. Ke3 e4 48. f3 exf3 49. Kxd3 g5 50. hxg5 hxg5 51. g4 1-0 Silman-Filguth, San Francisco 1977

“Reflux weakness” of the isolated d-pawns. This occurs when one is able to switch their attack from the isolated d-pawn to the Q-side.

1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. e3 Nf6 4. Nc3 e6 5. Nf3 Nbd7 6. Bd3 dxc4 7. Bxc4 b5 8. Be2 a6 9. O-O Bb7 10. b3 Be7 11. Bb2 O-O 12. Ne5 c5 13. Bf3 Qc7 14. Nxd7 Nxd7 15. Ne4 Rad8 16. Rc1 Qb8 17. Qe2 cxd4 18. exd4 white now has an isolated d-pawn 18…Rc8 19. g3 Qa8 20. Kg2 Rfd8 21. Rxc8Rxc8 22. Rc1 Rxc1 23. Bxc1 h6 24. Bb2 Nb6 25. h3 Qc8 26. Qd3 Nd5 27. a3 Nb6 28.Kh2 Bd5 black has gradually shifted his pressure to the white Q-side pawns 29. Kg2 Qc6 30. Nd2 a5 31. Qc3 Bxf3+ 32. Nxf3 Qxc3 33. Bxc3 a4 34. bxa4 bxa4 35. Kf1 Bxa3 36. Ke2 Kf8 37. Kd3 Nd5 38. Be1 Bd6 39. Kc4 Ke7 40. Ne5 Bxe5 41. dxe5 Kd7 42. Bd2 h5 43. Bc1 Kc6 44. Ba3 Nb6+ 45. Kd4 Kb5 46. Bf8 Nc4 47.Kc3 g6 48. f4 Ne3 49. Kd3 Nd5 50. Ba3 h4 51. gxh4 Nxf4+ 52. Ke4 Nh5 53. Kf3 Kc454. Bb2 Kb3 55. Ba1 a3 56. Kg4 Kc2 57. Kg5 Kd3 0-1 Rubinstein-Lasker, Moscow 1925.

Positions of the “isolated d-pawn couple” where for example black has played …Nd5xc3 and after white plays bxc3 blacks plan is to pin down the c3 pawn and lay siege to it.

1.c4 c5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nc3 e6 4.g3 Nc6 5.Bg2 d5 6.cxd5 exd5 7.d4 Be7 8.O-O O-O 9.Bg5 cxd4 10.Nxd4 h6 11.Be3 Re8 12.Rc1 Bf8 13.a3 Bg4 14.h3 Be6 15.Nxc6 transposing from the isolated pawn to the “isolated pawn couple.” 15…bxc6 16.Bd4 Bd7 17.Qd3 Nh7 18.Be3 Bd6 19.Rfd1 Be6 20.b4 Nf8 21.Na4 blacks pawns have been utterly immobilized 21…Ng6 22.Qc3 Bd7 23.Nc5 Bxc5 24.Bxc5! Rxe2!? 25.Be3 Qe7 26.Bf1 Rxe3 27.Qxe3 Qxe3 28.fxe3 Re8 29.Kf2 Ne5 30.Rc5 Re7 31.e4 Be6 32.b5 cxb5 33.exd5 Bd7 34.d6 Re6 35.Bxb5 Rf6+ 36.Kg2 1-0 Karpov-Illescas, Leon 1993

Finally, the isolated d-pawn is not a weakness of one can get rid of it as in the following game:

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Be7 6. Re1 b5 7. Bb3 d68. c3 O-O 9. h3 Nb8 10. d4 Nbd7 11. Nbd2 Bb7 12. Bc2 Re8 13. Nf1 Bf8 14. Ng3 g6 15. Bg5 h6 16. Bd2 exd4 17. cxd4 c5 18. Bf4 cxd4 19. Nxd4 and here black begins a plan to rid himself of the isolani 19…Ne5 20. b3 d5! 21. Qd2 dxe4 22. Nxe4 Nd5! And blacks threats of …Nxf4 and …Bb4 gave him the better game though white was able to hold. 23. Bg3 Rc8 24. Re2 f5 25. Bxe5 Rxe526. Ng3 Rxe2 27. Ngxe2 Nb4 28. Rd1 Nxc2 29. Nxc2 Qxd2 30. Rxd2 Rc731. Ne3 Kf7 32. h4 Bc8 33. Nf4 g5 34. hxg5 hxg5 35. Nd3 Bg7 36. Nd5 Rc6 37. N5b4 Rc7 38. Nd5 Rc6 39. N5b4 Rc7 1/2-1/2 Fischer-Spassky Return Match gm3 1992.

Now we move to the related subject of “Hanging Pawns”

As IM Silman notes in “Complete Book of Chess Strategy:”

Two pawns on the fourth rank (almost invariably the c-pawn and the d-pawn) sitting next to each other (with no friendly pawns to the left or right) are known as “Hanging Pawns.” Though the name denotes weakness, this structure actually boasts dynamic potential.

An important feature of hanging pawns is that there often are opportunities to transform the hanging pawns into an advanced isolated pawn. Both sides must carefully evaluate the consequences of such transformations.

Playing with “Hanging pawns.

Hanging pawns are a strength when the side with them can use the advanced e5 square (or e4 for black.), when they can be used to create a strong passed pawn, or the player with the hanging pawns can try to create weakness in the enemy camp by the advance of his a-pawn against the opposing Q-side majority.

1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Be7 4. Nf3 Nf6 5. Bg5 O-O 6. e3 h6 7. Bh4 b6 8. cxd5 Nxd5 9. Bxe7 Qxe7 10. Nxd5 exd5 11. Be2 Be6 12. O-O c5 13. dxc5?! 13... bxc5 14. Qa4 Qb7! White is not well placed to harass the pawns, while Black is making use of his own trumps - like the half-open b-file. 15. Qa3 Nd7 16. Ne1 a5 17. Nd3 c4 This is a very committal move. The b-Pawn is pinned down, the d-Pawn becomes backward, and the fourth rank becomes blocked. 18. Nf4 Rfb8 19. Rab1? (Nxe6) 19... Bf5 20. Rbd1 Nf6 21. Rd2 g5 White is terribly short of ideas. 22. Nxd5 [22. Nh5 Ne4 23. Rc2 Qb4] 22... Nxd5 23. Bxc4 Be6 24. Rfd1? 24... Nxe3 (oops) 25. Qxe3 Bxc4 26. h4 Re8 27. Qg3 Qe7 28. b3 Be6 29. f4 g4 30. h5 Qc5+ 31. Rf2 Bf5 0-1 Bertok – Fischer, Stockholm IZ 1962

Play against “Hanging Pawns”

Black will, most often, play his rooks opposite the pawns and pressure them in an attempt to force them to advance and blockade them, or attack them with pawns from adjacent files or even sacrifice a pawn to break them up and weaken them.

1.c4 e6 2. Nf3 d5 3. d4 Nf6 4. Nc3 Be7 5. Bg5 O-O 6. e3 h6 7. Bh4 b6 8. cxd5 Nxd5 9. Bxe7 Qxe7 10. Nxd5 exd5 11. Rc1 Be6 12. Qa4 c5 13. Qa3 Rc8 14. Bb5 a6 15. dxc5 bxc5 16. O-O Ra7 17. Be2 Nd7 Black seems to have supported his Pawns nicely, but Fischer's next three moves exploit the remaining looseness to create a new formation in which White has the better minor piece, prospects of attack, and an enduring initiative. 18. Nd4! Qf8 19. Nxe6 fxe6 20. e4! d4 21. f4 Qe7 22. e5 Rb8 23. Bc4 Kh8 24. Qh3 Nf8 25. b3 a5 26. f5 exf5 27. Rxf5 Nh7 28. Rcf1 Qd8 29. Qg3 Re7 30. h4 Rbb7 31. e6 Rbc7 32. Qe5 Qe8 33. a4 Qd8 34. R1f2 Qe8 35. R2f3 Qd8 36. Bd3 Qe8 37. Qe4 Nf6 38. Rxf6 gxf6 39. Rxf6 Kg8 40. Bc4 Kh8 41. Qf4 1-0 Fischer - Spassky WC gm 6 1972.

In the next example we see a highly instructive example of playing against hanging pawns, combining direct attack on the pawns with kingside attack.

1.c4 Nf6 2. Nc3 g6 3. e4 d6 4. d4 Bg7 5. Be2 O-O 6. Nf3 e5 7. d5 Nbd7 8. O-O Nc5 9. Qc2 a5 10. Bg5 h6 11. Be3 Nfd7 12. Nd2 f5 13. exf5 gxf5 14. f4 exf4 15. Bxf4 Ne5 16. Rae1 Bd7 17. Nf3 Qf6 18. Qd2 Rae8 19. Nxe5 dxe5 20. Be3 b6 21. Bh5 Re7 22. Bd1 Qd6 23. Bc2 Ref7 24. Kh1 Ra8 25. Re2 Qf8 26. Ref2 Nb7 27. Qe2 Nd6 28. c5 bxc5 29. Bxc5 Rb8 30. b3 Qc8 31. Qh5 Qa6 32. g4 f4 33. Re1 Qc8 34. Bxd6 cxd6 35. Bg6 Rf8 36. Ne4 f3 37. g5 Rf4 38. Rg1 Bf5 39. gxh6 Bxe4 40. Bxe4 1-0 Petrosian-Seutin, Riga 1954

In this example we see the side battling against the “hanging pawns” come up with an original idea to suppress his opponents piece play.

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 Be75.Bg5 O-O 6.e3 Nbd7 7.Qc2 h6 8.cxd5 exd5 9.Bf4 c5 10.Be2 b6 11.O-O Bb7 12.Rfd1 Rc8 13.dxc5 bxc5 a typical position with “hanging pawns” pawns is reached. White would like to play Nh4-f5 but this is not possible due to …g5 winning a piece. White now plays an inspired idea using his extra Q-side pawn to restrain blacks pieces 14.a4!! Black was shocked by this move because it appears to be weakening at a glance, but it threatens to take away the b6 square from blacks pieces. Since 14…a5 would hand over the b5 square to white, black is forced to more radical maneuvers. 14…Qa5 this however allows white to tactically carry out his knight maneuver. 15.Nh4! [now15…g5 is met by 16. Nf5! Threatening Nxe7+ since it is no longer defended by the black Queen.] 15…Rfd8 16.Nf5 Bf8 17.Nb5 Intending to invade at the weak d6 square 17…Ne8 18.Bd6 Nxd6 19.Nfxd6 Rb8 20.Nxb7 winning a pawn 20…Rxb7 21.Rxd5 Rdb8 22.Qd2! simplifying to a superior ending 22…Qxd2 23.Rxd2 Nf6 24.Ra2 Ne4 25.Rc2 Rd7 26.g3 a5 27.Kg2 g6 28.Bf3 Nf6 29.Na3 Bd6 30.Bc6 Rdd8 31.Ra1 Be5 32.Bb5 Nd5 33.Rb1 Bd6 34.Rd2 Nb6 35.Rc1 Be7 36.Re2 Rbc8 37.Nb1 Kg7 38.Nd2 Ra8 39.Nb3 Rdc8 40.Rec2 c4 41.Nd2 Ra7 42.Nxc4 Nxc4 43.Rxc4 Rxc4 44.Rxc4 f5 45.h3 h5 46.g4 hxg4 47.hxg4 fxg4 48.Kg3 Bd6+ 49.Kxg4 Rc7 50.Bc6 Rf7 51.f4 Kh6 52.Bd5 Rf6 53.Rc1 Kg7 54.b3 Rf8 55.Rd1 Bc5 56.Rd3 Ba3 57.Bc4 Bc1 58.Rd7+ Kh6 59.Re7 Bd2 60.Kf3 Bb4 61.Rb7 Bc3 62.Bd3 Rf6 63.Kg4 Bd2 1-0 Kasparov-Portisch, Brussells OHRA 1986.

“Hanging Pawns” in the balance.

In this final game we see an instructive modern game that demonstrates chances for both sides from a “hanging pawn” position.

1. d4 Nf6 2. Nf3 e6 3. c4 Bb4 4. Nbd2 b6 5. a3 Bxd2 6. Qxd2 Bb7 7. e3 0-0 8. Be2 Ne4 9. Qd3 d5 10. b3 c5 11. 0-0 cxd4 12. exd4 Nd7 13. a4 Re8 14. Bf4 Nf8 15. h3 Ng6 16. Bh2 Rc8 17. Rfc1 dxc4 18. bxc4 Nd6 19. Bf1 Be4 20. Qe3 Bc6 21. Ne5 Bb7 22. Rd1 Nf5 23. Qd2 Nxe5 24. Bxe5 Re7 25. Bf4 Rec7 26. Be3 Qf6 27. a5 Qg6 28. axb6 axb6 29. Qd3 Rd8 30. Rab1 Nxd4 31. Qxg6 hxg6 32. Rxd4 1/2-1/2 Gelfand-Adams, Dos Hermanes 1995