Pawn BreaksJune 2, 2017 2023-08-28 3:30
Pawn breaks are an essential part of chess strategy that separates beginners from advanced players. In this article, you will learn why in some games a simple pawn break can make the difference between winning and losing.
I recommend you to watch the following video, where I will share some useful tips on how to play with your pawns.
What Are Pawn Breaks in Chess?
At the beginning of the chess game, both sides are on their field, but as the game progresses, both players fight to control the center. And this is the first moment where contacts between the pieces and pawns begin to take place. It is here that the first pawn breaks start to take place.
A pawn move is only called a pawn break when the moving pawn is on a file adjacent to two enemy pawns facing each other, and the pawn moves forward to the same rank as the player’s other pawn.
Since a picture is worth a thousand words, let me explain it with the board.
In this example, White has two possible pawn breaks. One is by playing c4 and the other is by playing f5. Likewise Black also has two possible pawn breaks by playing c5 or f6.
Why Are Pawn Breaks Important?
“The pawns are the soul of chess” François-André Danican Philidor
“The pawns are the soul of chess”, Philidor said. Indeed, they are. The pawn structure determines the strategic nature of the position. We usually compose a plan in the middlegame, taking into account the structure of our opponent’s pawn, right?
For instance, in a closed position, theory and practice agree that we should aim for pawn breaks or to enter into the opponent’s camp with knight maneuvers. While in an open position, you should try to coordinate your pieces to get maximum effect and attack the targets.
Most chess players struggle in this area. They often fail to realize the transition that occurs between the opening, middlegame, and even endgame stage and end up playing ‘automatic’ moves during this stage. As a result, they get punished for their moves without real purpose.
Pawn breaks sometimes also become simply pawn sacrifices and that is a subject for another lesson. However, you could get a taste of a pawn sacrifice here.
Advantages of a Good Pawn Break
1. Open the position
2. Gain space for your pieces and/or restrict your opponent
3. Create a support point for the knight
4. Weaken one square or several squares of your opponent
5. Create a passed pawn.
Pawn Breaks on Every Stage of the Game
As we have already mentioned, pawn breaks can occur at any stage of the game; however, depending on the stage, the advantages to be achieved will be different. Let us now see some examples.
In the opening, pawn breaks are an essential part of piece development and determine the plan to be followed.
Example # 1
In this example, you can see that the game turns around the central squares d4 and e5. The importance of understanding the pawn break facilitates the choice of move.
Example # 2
In this example, you will see that even pawn breaks can be done by sacrificing a pawn.
In the middlegame, a good pawn break can lead to an advantageous position, especially if our opponent’s king is in the center of the board. Let’s see the next pawn structure as an example. This is a pawn structure that arises from the Caro-Kann’s advance variation.
In the present diagram, White has a space advantage in the center. Thanks to its e5-pawn, the natural square for development of the minor piece f6 is not available; this restricts Black’s development.
In this type of position, White should try to make pawn breaks on Black’s f7-e6-d5 formation. This break must start with c4. However, these breaks are not always immediate to each other, the strategy should be the same as long as there are no other determining factors in the position.
It is important to emphasize that due precaution must be taken not to allow the opponent to block the squares that we are breaking by placing a minor piece. In this case, it would be White who would be in trouble in his position due to the presence of a backward pawn on the open file.
Now let’s see a couple of examples in practice.
Example # 3
The diagram reflects a critical moment in the game between GM Predojevic and GM Nikolaidis. It is White’s turn. Here White played 12. c4!, executing the first of three important pawn breaks against this type of pawn chain. And, after 12…dxc4 13.Bc4 Ncb6, Black now threatens to occupy the weak d5-square.
However, White played 14. d5!!, again making another pawn break, opening the position and taking advantage of the fact that the black king is in the center and that the black queen is misplaced on c7 due to the x-rays by the c1-rook. White gained a huge advantage in the position and, eventually, won the game. Here you can see the whole game.
Example # 4
Here we have another Caro-Kann Defense’s advance variation. This is a game between Miles against Dorozala 1995. This time it is Black who makes a break on c5, but this is a mistake. There is something important you should know: Pawn breaks should not be performed if your opponent has a development advantage as this would be suicide! 😆
With this, you would be helping him by opening the position. That said, I must tell you that a very common mistake in these positions that the white player makes is to automatically play c3, which holds the center but does not take advantage of the opponent’s mistake.
In the game, White played the correct move 7. c4! and after 7…Ne7 8. Nc3, his opponent decided to take on c4, but then 9. d5! was extremely strong and White went to win ten moves later. Here is the game.
In the endgame, pawn breaks can be decisive! The creation of a passed pawn is a strong advantage and the reason of winning many games. Let’s see the following examples.
Example # 5
This is a basic pawn endgame that every beginner must know.
Example # 6
This is a more complex example, but it shows perfectly the great power of the pawn breaks!
To help you better understand the theory of pawn breaks, our guest coach IM Asaf Givon has prepared a very instructive video lesson. You can watch it below:
Asaf Givon is an International Master from Kfar Saba, Israel. His age is 22 and he’s playing chess since 7. He is also playing for the Kfar Saba team in the first Israeli Chess League. He got the IM title in 2013, and ever since then, he is on the road to achieve the GM title and currently has 2 norms.
Asaf is teaching chess since he was 16 and he’s always very happy to teach people and to spread his love to the game.
P.S. Did you like this lesson? Was it helpful for you? Please, write your thoughts in the comments below – I’ll be happy to read them. 🙂