Healthy and Unhealthy Pawns
So far the pieces have been the subject of discussion. But now we come to the pawns. As usual, they have to be handled differently in coming up with a viable strategy. The difference between pawns and pieces is that pawns have to be considered in groups. And each grouping has to be handled differently. Here are the main pawn groups:
A pawn phalanx is a group of two or more pawns on the same rank, on adjacent files. This formation is strong, particularly in the center or in your opponent's territory, because they control the row of squares directly in front of them. This keeps enemy pieces out.
White has a mighty pawn phalanx with his d-, e-, and f-pawns. Black has defensive pawn phalanxes on the a-and b-files and on the d-and e-files.
This formation can be vulnerable from the side or rear, as any pawns are. So if you control those squares, you have a powerful weapon. A great strategy when playing against a pawn phalanx is to force one of the pawns to move forward or capture something, thus breaking up the phalanx. A good way to break up an enemy pawn phalanx is to attack it with your own pawns.
If one of the pawns in a phalanx moves forward, we no longer have a phalanx. We then have a pawn chain.
One pawn defending another along a forward-looking diagonal is a pawn chain. There can be chains of four or five pawns lined up like this, each pawn behind defending the one in front.
The front pawn or pawns in a chain are strong. Capture one and you can expect a recapture from the pawn behind. But a pawn chain has a weakness. The base of the chain, or the pawn behind it all that supports the entire chain, can be vulnerable. So the best strategy when operating against a pawn chain is to attack the base of the chain. If the supporting pawn falls, the entire chain may crumble.
Black's move should be 1…. c5!, striking at d4, the base of White's pawn chain.
A doubled pawn is a group of two friendly pawns on the same file. They can be strong along the adjacent files, since enemy pieces will find the squares there to be unsafe. But they are almost useless as attackers. The square directly in front of the doubled pawns is vulnerable, and they cannot form phalanxes unless allowed to capture something.
White's c-pawns are doubled.
One byproduct of doubled pawns is the open file produced when making the capture that formed them in the first place. This is a great place for your rooks to get involved from.
An isolated pawn is a group of one. An isolani (another way of referring to the isolated pawn) is a pawn with no friendly neighbors. Thus it can count on no pawn support. That makes it weak.
If the isolated pawn is in the center or deep in enemy territory, however, then it may be strong because of the disruptive influence it can have on the enemy. When a central isolated pawn springs up, it is often the focus of both player's plans.
White's d3-pawn is isolated.
The side with the isolani wants to push the pawn forward, further disrupting the enemy forces, while the side fighting against it wants to stop it from moving.
A great way to fight against a central isolated pawn is to blockade it. That means place a piece in front of it so it cannot move. The best piece for such a blockade is generally considered to be the knight.
Black's d5-pawn is isolated. Note that White has blockaded it on d4 with a knight.
While the isolated pawn is thus blockaded, you can build up an attack against it, forcing the opponent to use pieces as defenders. Pieces that defend pawns aren't doing a lot of attacking.
A passed pawn is one that is free from any enemy pawn interference. As it marches up the board, the passed pawn will encounter no enemy pawns, either on its own file or on either adjacent file.
White's d5-pawn is passed.
The tremendous strength of a passed pawn is that it is a candidate to promote. The further it has advanced up the board, the more menacing it becomes. Therefore, a passed pawn is said to have a lust to expand. Besides capturing such a pawn, the next best way of dealing with it is to blockade, just like with an isolated pawn.
A pawn majority is a case of two pawns against one pawn or three pawns against two pawns, etc., on one side of the board. The object of a pawn majority is to produce a strong passed pawn.
The strength of a passed pawn is not necessarily that it will march up the board and promote. Rather, it can often be strong because enemy pieces are tied up stopping it. Thus, those pieces are not available for other duties.
White has a pawn majority on the queenside.
One way to break up such a majority is to attack the stronger party with the weaker party. This is the minority attack. The object of a minority attack is to produce a weak isolated pawn to play against.
White is poised for the minority attack with 1. b5!