Basic Principles: The Pawn

Pawns are the least valuable piece in the game, usually.  A pawn can be used for many great purposes.  One of the most obvious is to threaten away an enemy piece.  Another use is to "hang" a piece off of it.  This means using the pawn to protect the piece so that the piece doesn't have to move if it is threatened.  This works especially well with a bishop, since the bishop returns the favor by protecting your pawn.

Another great use of a pawn is in the endgame.  When you and your opponent are even in material, often you can march a pawn down the board to promote it, in effect forcing your opponent to trade a rook or bishop (for example) for that pawn, giving you the advantage.  A passed pawn is a pawn that has no enemy pawns in front of it.  An isolated pawn is a pawn that doesn't have any enemy pawns that can capture it.  Isolated passed pawns can be quite valuable in the endgame, so keep this in mind during the earlier game when you may be tempted to think "it's just a pawn," or it may come back to haunt you.

Another problem a lot of players have is that they are too willing to push many of their pawns out into the middle of the board.  Since pawns cannot move backwards, keep in mind when you want to push a pawn (such as, to threaten your opponent's bishop and get it out of your face, which happens quite often in the first few moves of the game) that the squares beside and behind it are now weakened, as that pawn can never cover those squares again.  Once you have done that, when your opponent gets pieces past those pawns, you will not be able to push him away so easily, and chances are that entire pawn chain will fall.

Always pay attention to pawn structure, because it can be very important, especially in the endgame.  Here are some terms that are commonly used with pawns:


Pawn Chain: a series of pawns that protect each other.


Backward pawn: A pawn that cannot be protected by another pawn.  Here white has a backward pawn (the two that are next to his king)

Isolated pawn: a pawn that doesn't have any pawns in the neighboring files.  Here, black has an isolated pawn next to white's backward pawn.


Passed pawn: a pawn that has no enemy pawn on the same file.


Protected passed pawn: a passed pawn that is protected by another pawn.


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