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The Power Of Pawns


The initial pawn formation is perfect; neither side can obtain any tangible advantage by force. Disturbances of the balance are caused by errors. Only errors committed by one side enable the other side to obtain the upper hand, although recognizing the errors and taking advantage of them may require real ingenuity.

Pawns in general have the function of acting as a vanguard for the pieces. At the outset their only guiding factor is the position of the two Kings. Further indications as to play arise however almost move by move, particulary with every alteration of the pawn structure. Every such change has some elementary significance, the knowledge of which offers important hints in practical chess play.

A pawn's location is defined by its distance from the four rims, the sum of which forms the pawn-cross. The horizontal beams of the pawn-cross are uneven and unalterable; we refer to them as lee and luff, calling the shorter side lee as it frequently offers better shelter to the King. A change in lee and luff by means of capture has radical consequences, for the pawn disappears and emerges as a new pawn with a different denomination For instance, if PQN2 carries out a capture on QB3, White virtually loses his QN-pawn but gains a QB-pawn.

The vertical beams, while never even, change with every advance of the pawn but do not alter the pawn's denomination. We call the vertical distances from the rims spans, distinguishing between frontspan and rearspan (and referring to the vertical distance between two opposing pawns as interspan).

The lengthening of the rearspan is often favorable, inasmuch as the expansion of territory behind the pawn increased the freedom of the pieces. By the same token, the shortening of the frontspan limits the freedom of the opposing pieces.

Lee and luff taken as a measure, we have what we call innerpawns and rimpawns. A rimpawn, ordinarily called Rook pawn, has no lee side, covers only one square instead of two, and is consequently inferior to an innerpawn.

The lack of the lee side is a disadvantage which often shows up in the end game, in that a rimpawn draws where an innerpawn would win, Examples to the contrary are exceptions.

Another distinction between pawns, involving their spans, results from their location and subsequent duties with respect to both Kings.

Pawns facing the front sector of the opposing King should advance in order to attack, while pawns covering the front sector of their own King should remain stationary for the sake of safety.

Consequently, only the center pawns (Q-pawn and K-pawn) are entitled to advance in any case; the duties of the wing pawns become definite after both sides have castled.

The wing pawns are divided on the one hand into those of the Queen side, QR-pawn, QN-pawn, QB- pawn, KN-pawn, KR-pawn. It is usual to maintain the terms Q-side and K-side throughout the game, but they virtually fail to make sense when castling on the Q-side has occurred. We therefore use the alternate terms of home side for the castled side and ranger side for the uncastled side, distinguishing accordingly between home pawns and rangers.

The center pawns should advance with caution, the rangers with gusto, but the home pawns not at all. Somewhat exceptional is the position of the Bishop pawns, which belong to the wings but may often advance before the question of castling is settled. This is particularly true of the QB-pawn.

On The Road To Promotion

The promotion of a pawn depends basically only on the obstruction by opposing pawns. There are two types of obstructions, mechanical and dynamical.

Most hampering is the mechanical obstruction offered by the pawn's counterpawns. PQ2 vs PQ2 Every pawn is pawn and counterpawn at the same time, it depends on the observer' point of view.

Originally every pawn is unfree owing to mechanical obstruction. Removal of its counterpawn makes a pawn half-free. The half-free pawn meets dynamical obstruction of its opposing neighbors whom we call sentries, normally a innerpawn faces two of them, a rimpawn only one. The sentries may both guard the same square or two different squares . The sentries of White's Q-pawn, for instance, are Black's QB-pawn and K-pawn, in case of PQ4 vs PQB3, PK3 they both guard against P-Q5, while in case of PQ4 vs PQB2, PK3 one guards against P-Q5, the other against P-Q6.

Dynamical obstructions is not absolute, the half-free pawn may march through, and is therefore called a candidate, a candidate for full freedom and promotion. The promotion of a candidate depends on assistance by its won neighbors whom we call helpers. The helpers of White's Q-pawn, for instance, are Whites's QB-pawn and K-pawn. In the position of PQB2, PQ2, PK2 vs PQB2, PK2 the Q-pawn's bypassing of its sentries is assured.

The operation of helping a candidate to cross the guarded square or squares should start with the advance of the candidate itself. "Candidate first" is the rule for such cases. Other initial pawn moves are basically unreliable. Helpers and sentries neutralize each other if there is a helper for every sentry. A half-free pawn with inadequate help is no true candidate but a faker. In the position of PQ4 vs PK3, for instance, both pawns are fakers, each one lacking the necessary helper. The same with PQ4 in the formation of PQB2, PQ4, PK2 vs POB2, PK2, PKB3 when PK2 is paralyzed by ...PKB3, this helper needs a helper's helper, e,g. PKB2, which assures the consecutive crossing of K5 and Q6.

In other words the passing of a candidate depends on its belonging to a majority of pawns (which may or may not be just local). Once a candidate faces no more obstruction on the part of sentries, it is free, as are all pawns in the position of PQ4, PKR2 vs PQB5 PKB3. A free pawn is called a passed pawn or, as we prefer to call it for short, a passer.

A passer is basically superior to an unfree pawn or a candidate. The shorter its frontspan is, the greater the value of a passer. For instance PKB5 vs PQB3 favors White. Another factor of importance in the relative value of passers is their horizontal distance from the bulk of the pawns, the greater this distance is, the better. It constitutes the so-called advantage of the outside passed pawn. The outside passer counts particularly in pawn endings, inasmuch as it forces the opposing King to stray far away from its own pawns.

There is also distinction with regard to protection,. A passer protected by one or two pawns is a protected passer and superior to an ordinary passer. But it is exclusively the protection by pawns that counts.

An unfree pawn or a faker may suddenly become a passer of decisive power by means of a sacrificial combination. We call such a pawn a sneaker. The sneaker's outstanding quality is almost invariably its short frontspan and outside location, e.g. PQR5, PQN4, PQ5 vs PQR3, PQB2, PQ3, when the unfree PQR5 sneaks through after 1 P-N5, PxP; 2 P-R6.

White has two potential sneakers, one of them marching through as follows: 1 P-Q6, KpxP (or 1 ...BpxP; 2 P-K6); 2 P-B6, P xBP; 3 P-K6 and wins (assuming that no piece can interfere). Note the importance of the original span situation; if Black has the move, he correctly starts with 1 ...P-Q3 but must answer 2 KPxP with 2 ... KpxP, as 2 ...P-B3 obviously makes no sense.

Some pawn basics to remember

The base pawn in a pawn chain is quite important, since it is the foundation upon which a entire pawn chain rests.

The strength or weakness of the pawn chain is determined by the base pawn. If it is strong, the pawn chain will remain powerful and intact. If weak, the entire chain is in danger of collapse.

Backward pawns tend to be weak, because they need the protection of other pieces. That is, such pawns as backward pawns can't count upon the protection of other pawns. As a result, backward pawns are a liability for their owners

The concept of different pawn islands is important. The more pawn islands a player has, the weaker his position becomes.

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