A Foundation for Beginners One Hundred

Last week, we looked at the idea of trying to maintain good pawn structure from the game’s start through the endgame. While it’s impossible to maintain perfect pawn structure throughout the game, you can prevent pawn structure chaos! We looked at the isolated pawn last week and why it’s such a problem. This week, we’re going to look at why you shouldn’t prematurely advance pawns too far across the board. Let’s dig in!

My beginning students often grumble when, after talking about pawn promotion, I lecture them on the dangers of advancing their pawns too quickly. When you tell a beginning student that a pawn can turn into a Queen, Rook, Bishop, or Knight upon crossing the board, they translate that to “I can get a bunch of Queens and easily win this game.” They then do anything they can to get as many pawns as possible to their promotion squares. This results in many lost pawns, captured by their opponent early in the game, and a dreadful potential endgame. Why do they lose their pawns so easily?

Because they see the finish line but don’t consider the race. Yes, if you get a pawn to its promotion square, that pawn is rewarded with promotion into a piece. However, your opponent is going to do everything they can to stop that pawn, and if you simply push pawns randomly across the board, stopping your pawns will be an easy task. Beginners tend to take a haphazard approach to promotion, blindly sending their pawns across the board, hoping for the best. Often, they’ll send a single pawn forward, marching it across the board on its own. That pawn then gets captured, and they repeat the process all over again. What’s are they doing wrong?
We looked at pawn chains last week. Pawn chains are extremely effective due to the pawn’s low relative value compared to the pieces. When one pawn protects another pawn, it can become positionally expensive for the opposition to destroy that pawn chain. When beginners try to move a pawn across the board, they tend to send the pawn up or down its file on its own. The pawn is unprotected. This entire process is repeated until the beginner blindly pushing their pawns has few pawns left. So, what should the beginner do?

Don’t move pawns to squares where they are left hanging (can be freely captured). That’s a good start. Do not advance a pawn too far unless it can be easily protected on the next move. This last idea is where beginners have the most trouble. At the games start, advancing a pawn two squares forward is generally safe, unless that pawn Can immediately be captured by an enemy piece. Let’s say White plays 1. e4 and Black plays 1…c5. If White, then plays 2. e5, followed by Black playing 2…Nc6, the White e5 pawn is now under attack. However, that White pawn can be easily defended by 3. d4 or 3. Nf3. The point is that the advanced White pawn can and should be defended. If White couldn’t immediately defend the e5 pawn, Black could capture it.

If White didn’t defend its e5 pawn on move three, Black would have captured it. If you want to advance your pawns, you must make sure that they are either defended right away or on the next move. Premature pawn advancement can create problems, namely the tying up of pieces to serve as defenders. If an advanced pawn cannot be defended by another friendly pawn, you’ll have to use a piece to serve as a bodyguard, taking that piece away from a potential attack against your opponent’s position. Another problem with premature pawn advancement is that it interrupts principled moves. If you’re trying to push pawns across the board during the opening, you’re not following the opening principles, namely the development of your minor pieces towards the boards center. When should you advance pawns towards their promotion square?

Obviously, if you have a chance to safely move a pawn across the board to its promotion square early in the game, take advantage of that opportunity. However, when playing any opponent with some playing experience, you’ll never have such an opportunity early during the game, if at all. Think about pawn advancement later in the game, such as the late middle-game and early endgame. Don’t rush advancing your pawns.

Chess is a game in which you must carefully manage your resources, your pawns, and pieces. The way in which you manage your material determines the outcome of the game. When you advance a pawn too far, you’re going to have to allocate material to the defense of that pawn. This limits the overall material you have available for attacking purposes. This is bad asset management.

Of course, there is a time and place for dedicating pieces to the defense of pawns, namely the endgame. The reason you want to advance pawns later in the game is because there are fewer pawns and pieces left in the game. With less material left in play, the chances of successfully promoting a pawn increases. Next week, we’re going to look at some practical examples of this idea. For now, stick to employing the games principles, especially during the opening, rather than trying to squeak a pawn to its promotion square. Your game will turn out much better. See you in a week!

Hugh Patterson

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Hugh Patterson

Author: Hugh Patterson

Prior to teaching chess, Hugh Patterson was a professional guitarist for nearly three decades, playing in a number of well known San Francisco bands including KGB, The Offs, No Alternative, The Swinging Possums and The Watchmen. After recording a number of albums and CDs he retired from music to teach chess. He currently teaches ten chess classes a week through Academic Chess. He also created and runs a chess program for at-risk teenagers incarcerated in juvenile correctional facilities. In addition to writing a weekly column for The Chess Improver, Hugh also writes a weekly blog for the United States Chess League team, The Seattle Sluggers. He teaches chess privately as well, giving instruction to many well known musicians who are only now discovering the joys of chess. Hugh is an Correspondence Chess player with the ICCF (International Correspondence Chess Federation). He studied chemistry in college but has worked in fields ranging from Investment Banking and commodities trading to Plastics design and fabrication. However, Hugh prefers chess to all else (except Mrs. Patterson and his beloved dog and cat). View all posts by Hugh Patterson

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