Chess Middlegame Pawn Structures Strategy

8 Pawn Structures You Must Know

8 Pawn Structures You Must Know

Pawns may be the weakest pieces on the board, but they are the soul of chess.

In this article, we will explore the importance of pawn structures, how to evaluate them, and how to use them to your advantage.

☉ Hey, if you are kind of a beginner in chess, the only thing that probably you need to know about pawns is What Happens When a Pawn Reaches the Other Side in Chess

Look here, if you are curious and you don’t know it yet. 😉


You will learn about the eight fundamental pawn structures every chess player should know, including isolated pawns, doubled pawns, backward pawns, passed pawns, hanging pawns, pawn majorities in the center and the flank, and pawn minorities in the flank.

Understanding these structures will give you a better understanding of the game and will help you develop better chess strategies.

“Pawns are the soul of chess.” Francois-André Danican Philidor.

Understanding Pawn Structures

1. Why Are Pawn Structures Important?

Pawns are essential when assessing a position. They are like an X-ray that tells us the state of health of the position. Many times, one of the sides may be having an advantage or can even win, depending on the quality of the pawn structure concerning its opponent. On the other hand, there may be other positions where the pawn structure is irrelevant.

But generally, they also help us determine what is the plan to follow in the game. For example, there is a general rule that says the following: “You must attack in the direction your chain of pawns points”. This rule helps us without having to calculate much.

2. What Is Considered a Good Pawn Structure?

First of all, it is essential to mention that the pawn structure must always be valued based on the position of the pieces. Certain pawn structures may not seem very good at first glance, but by analyzing the arrangement of the pieces, we can know if the structure is helping us in the position or not.

However, as a general rule, we could say that a good pawn structure is one in which your pawns are connected and defending each other. It also counts if the pawns have mobility and the absence of weak squares. The structure must always be in harmony with the action of the pieces. That is to say that the pawns and the pieces complement each other.

3. How Do You Use Pawn Structures?

Because an advanced pawn can never back down, we should think twice before unnecessarily advancing a pawn. However, that does not mean that we should stop moving the pawns. In fact, in many positions, gaining space by advancing our pawns is the correct strategy.

The key lies in analyzing whether the advance of the pawns has the support of part of our pieces or not; and if, of course, the advance is justified. We must question whether the advance of the pawn meets any objective. The pawn advances of the castling have to be well justified since otherwise they only weaken our king.

Pawns not only create the sketch for the whole painting, they are also the soil, the foundation, of any position – Anatoly Karpov

☉ Pawn Structures and The Opening

Choosing an opening sometimes has to do with choosing the pawn structures you would like to play.

Hanging pawns, the isolated (queen) pawn, pawn minority on the queenside are things you can easily find in the same opening.

That is one of the reasons you would enjoy playing an opening like the Queen’s Gambit, which you can study on Master the Queen’s Gambit: A Comprehensive Guide.

Fundamental Pawn Structures


1. Isolated Pawn 

We call a pawn “isolated” when it cannot be protected by another pawn and has no other pawns of the same color on the adjacent files. Therefore, the pawn will depend on its pieces to be protected. This means that in endgames when there are few pieces on the board, the pawn can often be a weakness.

As you can see in the diagram, the pawn on d4 is isolated. Thanks to this, White has two files in which they could place their rooks. The c-file is fully open and the e-file is a half-open file. On the other hand, the square in front of the pawn is weak by nature. This always happens as we will see in almost all structures.



2. Doubled Pawns 

Doubled pawns are pawns of the same color that are on the same file. As in all pawn structures, whether they are a strength or a weakness will depend on the arrangement of the pieces. The positive aspect of doubled pawns is that they allow open files that are suitable for major pieces. This means more piece activity for its owner. However, not everything is rosy. Since they are doubled, they cannot move normally, which causes rigidity in the pawn structure and weaknesses.

Here we can appreciate a typical doubled pawn structure that has its origin in the French Defense. Again, the square in front of the pawn is weak since it is a square that necessarily needs the defense of a piece. However, White has an open b-file which can be useful for his rook.



3. Backward Pawn 

It is called a backward pawn the one that constitutes the base of a chain of pawns and that cannot move because it can be captured by an opponent’s pawn. The back pawn can be very useful as it is the key point in a pawn chain. As a result, it cannot be defended by another pawn and if this pawn is in an open file, it is prone to be attacked.

The pawn on d6 fulfills an important function for Black as it holds the pawn on e5. However, the d5 square is weak by nature and will surely be in constant struggle on the part of both sides.



4. Passed Pawn 

It is the pawn that cannot be stopped by other rival pawns on their way to being promoted. This pawn can be very strong in endgames and can be a decisive advantage in many cases. On the other hand, in the middlegame, the passed pawn is not so strong since there are many pieces on the board and it cannot be advanced so easily. It is said that the square in front of a passed pawn is very important and usually both sides fight to control it.

The pawn on d5 is a passed and protected pawn, which in an endgame, is an almost decisive advantage. However, in the middlegame, it is a different picture, since the square in front of the pawn is a problem because it is generally weak, and we will have to find a way to control it so that the pawn can advance.



5. Hanging Pawns 

They are two connected pawns (of the same color) that do not have other pawns at the same side defending them. It is generally recommended that these pawns stay on the same rank so that they do not create weaknesses. Hanging pawns are stronger if they both manage to advance to the upper ranks as they restrict the mobility of the opponent’s pieces and increase our action.

The pawns on c4 and d4 are hanging pawns. They offer White two semi-open files, b, and e. Since both pawns are of the same rank, they control important center squares. However, the white pieces have to defend them and White should refrain from carelessly advancing one of them since, when that happens, one of them will be backward. And that would mean that the square in front of that backward pawn is a weakness.



6. Pawn Majority in the Center 

We say that we have a pawn majority in the center when we have more pawns in the center than our opponent. The side that has a central majority generally has an advantage on more central squares. Remember that the control of the center is one of the most important strategies.


In this diagram, White has a majority of pawns in the center, which is excellent since he controls more central squares and, therefore, restricts his opponent. However, he must be careful when advancing one of them. For example, advancing the pawn from e4 to e5 would constitute a mistake (unless it is justified for some other reason) since the d4-pawn would be backward in an open file and could be a target.


7. Pawn Majority in the Flank 

As its name says, it is when we have more pawns than our opponent on one of the flanks of the board. Usually, when this happens, we must advance our pawn majority to gain space and thus restrict our opponent’s pieces. This is known as a majority attack. Majority attacks usually work very well when one of our pawns has gained space (that is, it has crossed half the board) so that when the rest of the pawns advance, the mass of pawns acquires greater strength.

White’s pawn majority (a3, b4, and c5) limits Black’s pawn minority (a7 and b7). Although it is true that Black also has a majority of pawns on the other flank, it is not advanced. So, White could seek to win the initiative by advancing his pawns on the queenside.



8. Pawn Minority in the Flank

It is the opposite case of the previous point. It is when we have fewer pawns than our opponent on one of the flanks. However, depending on the position, this does not necessarily mean something negative. The minority attack is a typical attack that occurs in the Sicilian Defense, in which both sides attack with their pawn minority on their corresponding flank. The idea of this attack is to destabilize the center.

The a6-b5 pawn minority is typical of the Sicilian. The diagram shows a typical structure of the Sicilian Najdorf, in which Black, through his minority advance, attempts to destabilize White’s e4-pawn. Normally, in this type of position, there is a white knight on c3. Therefore, using the b5 move for Black, he seeks to play b4 to gain tempo by attacking the knight. Black usually attacks with b4, Bb7, and Nf6.


Conclusion to Pawn Structures

The study of pawn structures can be the key to taking your chess to the next level. Understanding pawn structures is vital to understanding the positional play. Among the benefits of studying pawn structures I can mention:

1. It helps you know which direction the game should go.
2. It is often the key to knowing the right plan.
3. It saves you time in the game by having to calculate fewer variations.
4. It improves your game vision,
5. It can save you from losing a game.

If you want to continue improving your chess, specifically to learn more about the concepts of the middlegame, I recommend you to watch the following video.


I hope you enjoy reading this blog post.

If you want GM Igor Smirnov to help you get better at chess, watch this Masterclass.

Free Training

Swipe Up to Get Better at Chess!
How Do GMs Find the Best Moves? Improve FASTER at Chess
Watch Now