The Weak Pawn

Apr 16, 2014
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The next element of positional play I'd like to introduce is the weak pawn. I will not "reinvent the wheel" in identifying and describing the various types of weak pawn, instead I will attempt demonstrate how to to play with or against it through recent games.

In this week's example, I will use a game by the perennial Dutch Grandmaster Sergei Tiviakov who recently won the 2014 Kuala Lumpur International Open, winning it for the 3rd consecutive time! Coincidentally, his positional playing style is heavily influenced by the great player I introduced last week; therefore I encourage you to once again pay attention to where he brings his pieces and how he uses his pawns, in the presence of an enemy backward pawn.

Tiviakov, Sergei - Kuderinov, Kirill

KL Chess Open 2014 2014.04.05

1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nd4 4.Nf3 Nxb5 5.Nxb5 d6 6.d4 cxd4 7.Qxd4 a6 8.Nc3 e5 9.Qd3

BD_10663_109_0.pngDiagram #1

At this early stage, we can already see the blueprint for the rest of the game: White will create pressure on the backward d6-pawn, while Black will try to create counterplay either on the king's or queen's side with dynamic piece play and hope to make his bishop pair advantage count.

9... h6

BD_10663_109_1.pngDiagram #2

Preventing White from taking full control of the d5-outpost that will result after

9... Nf6 10.Bg5! Be7 11.O-O-O!? +/- Here, we see that a backward pawn is not the only weakness itself, but also the square in front of it which was referred to as an "outpost" in one of my previous blogs here.


Back to the game:


BD_10663_109_2.pngDiagram #3

Tiviakov quickly repositions the king's knight to a square where it can help pressure the weak pawn and the square in front of it.

10... Nf6 11.Nc4 Be6 putting pressure on the c4-knight and preparing to play d6-d5 at some point later.

12.Ne3 ofcourse White is not going to let this happen

12... Be7 13.O-O O-O 14.a4! stopping any quick queenside counterplay with b7-b5. Tiviakov is proficient at positional play and is fond of restricting enemy play and slowly putting pressure on weaknesses.

14... Rc8 15.Bd2 Qc7 16.Rfd1 Qc5 17.Be1 now White plans to double his rooks on the d-file eventually, and even relocate his bishop to f2 or h4.

17... Rfd8 18.Kh1 preparing to solidify e4 with f3

18.f3 now, will be met by18... d5! freeing up Black's position 19.exd5 Nxd5 20.Ncxd5 Rxd5 -/+ and the game opens up favorably for Black's active pieces, particularly for his bishop pair.

18... Bf8 19.f3 Nh5 relocating to a more square on f4, that also keeps an eye on the important d5-square.

20.Ned5 controlling f4 with a pawn is possible, but it weakens White's king position, which could later become a source of enemy counterplay 20.g3?! Nf6

BD_10663_109_3.pngDiagram #4

Black has successfully provoked a weakness in the White camp.


Back to the game:

20... Bxd5 Being consistent with 20... Nf4 may be a better chance to equalize but it is risky because it creates another weakness 21.Nxf4 exf4 22.Rac1 and now a logical follow-up is to open up the game with 22... f5!? but White can still retain a slightly better position with calm, solid play 23.Nd5 Bxd5 ( fxe4 24.Qxe4) 24.exd5!

BD_10663_109_4.pngDiagram #5

24... g6 25.c4 +/=.


Back to the game:

21.Qxd5 Qxd5 22.Rxd5 g6?! the beginning of a dubious plan.

I think a better way to create counterplay is to pile up on the c-file, and try to bring his knight to d4 via e6. Rc4 23.g3! ( 23.Kg1 Nf4 24.Rd2 Rdc8)23... g6! 24.Rd2 Rdc8!

BD_10663_109_5.pngDiagram #6

preventing Nd5 because it will hang the c2-pawn. Black can significantly improve his position by bringing his knight to d4 after which Black's activity can balance out his weak d6 pawn.


23.Rd2 f5?! now piling up on the c-file is too late due to 23...Rc4?! 24.Nd5!

BD_10663_109_6.pngDiagram #7

24... Nf4 25.b3 +/-.


Back to the game:

24.exf5 gxf5 25.Nd5 Kf7 26.b3! planning to create a new bind on d5 with c2-c4.

Another way to undermine Black's weak structure is with 26.g4! 26... fxg4 27.fxg4 Nf4 ( Nf6?? 28.Nxf6 Kxf6 29.Bh4+ +- ) 28.Bh4!

BD_10663_109_7.pngDiagram #8

28... Re8 29.Rf1 +/- winning a pawn while gaining better piece coordination.

26... Re8 27.c4 Nf6 28.Rad1 Nxd5 29.Rxd5

BD_10663_109_8.pngDiagram #9

White has reached a slightly favorable ending in which he can probe and apply pressure on the enemy as long as he wants, while Black has to sit and carefully defend his weak pawns.

29... Ke6 30.Bf2 preparing his next move.

Executing the idea now doesn't work yet: 30.f4 the best response is30... e4! (30... h5 31.fxe5 dxe5 32.Bc3 Bg7 33.Rd6+ Kf7 34.Kg1! simply improving the "powerful endgame piece." Black cannot do much to improve his position because he is saddled by weak pawns, and dominated by White's active pieces.34... Rc7 (34... h4 (34... Re7 35.Bb4! 35... Rcc7 36.Rd8 Re6 37.R8d7+ Rxd7 38.Rxd7+ Kg6 39.Rxb7 +/- ) 35.Rd7+ Re7 36.Bb4) 35.Kf2 e4 36.Bxg7 Kxg7 37.R1d5 Rf7 38.h4! +/- ) 31.g4 ( 31.Kg1 h5! )31... fxg4 32.Kg2 Kf7 33.Kg3 e3.

30... Be7 31.f4!? a good practical move as it gives Black a difficult choice to make over the board.

31... exf4? too cooperative. This approach to complicate the position only gives Black more weaknesses or targets for White to attack.

If 31... e4 White was planning to break up Black's central pawn mass with ( the best way to resist was maybe to prevent White's g2-g4 idea with 31... h5!? 32.Kg1 e4 after which Black can protect his weak pawns, and gain good chances to hold the position to a draw.) 32.g4! 32... fxg4 (32... Rf8 33.Re1! threatening to take on f5 then on e4) 33.Re1 +/- and after winning back the pawn, White will be successful in creating more weakness in Black's camp.

32.Kg1 Bf8 33.Bd4!!

BD_10663_109_9.pngDiagram #10

A very strong move. I think it even deserves 3 exclams! Here's what this centralizing move does:

1. From here, the White bishop controls more squares on both sides of the board

2. It exerts its dominance over the enemy bishop on f8

3. It gives way for the king to slowly nibble at the weak f-pawns

4. Most of all, it's a prophylactic/preventive measure against the enemy king running to d7,  which will be revealed on move 35.

33... Kd7 34.Kf2 Be7 hoping to hold on to one of his f-pawns with either Rf8 or Bg5. If 34...Kc6 35.Rxf5.


BD_10663_109_10.pngDiagram #11

Enabling White to easily prey on all of Black's weak kingside pawns (including d6)! It's amazing how one move can achieve this.

35... Ke6 resisting will not help much 35... Rc6 36.Bxf4

BD_10663_109_11.pngDiagram #12


Back to the game:

36.Bxd6 Bg5 37.Kf3 Kf6 38.Bc5! the last accurate move which prevents counterplay connected with Re8-e3, and planning dangerous ideas like transferring the bishop to f2 followed by h2-h4!

38.Bxf4 Bxf4 39.Kxf4 Re4+ 40.Kf3 Rce8 41.R1d3 also leads to an almost winning ending, but Tiviakov saw no reason to exchange his good bishop for Black's bad one on g5.

38... Rxc5 39.Rxc5 Re3+ 40.Kf2 Black doesn't have enough compensation for the exchange and soon gave up

40... Rxb3 41.Rcd5 Bh4+ 42.Ke2 Kg5 43.R5d3 +- Black resigned.


Let's recap the lessons we gather from this game on the backward pawn:

1) The weaknesses created by a backward pawn are the pawn itself and the square in front of it.

2) Therefore, the side playing against it must bring this square under control by his pieces (Nd2-c4-e3, Rf1-d1) and restrict enemy counterplay on the flank (a2-a4).

3) On the other hand, the side with this pawn must find ways to create counter-pressure and make it difficult for the enemy improve his pieces (Nf6-h5, Rc4! followed by Rdc8, Nf4/g7-e6-d4).

4) The side with the weak pawn should also carefully avoid giving the enemy more targets to attack (critical mistake exf4?).


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cynthia 21:45 - 17 Apr 2014
Thank you for commenting the game so well. Your students must be very lucky to have you as coach, because everything is clear, when you explain it. I hope you will comment more games in the future, because it is really nice to be able to learn, without using a book.
By the way, if I can ask a question. What perplexes me in chess is that it is really difficult to learn to think correctly. In this case Black played 22...Pg6 a dubious move/plan, and also Houdini would play Rc4, instead of Pg6. But my perplexity is: how someone find the right move? Why the Black player didn't think of playing Rc4, which seems natural, and logical, compared to Pg6, which seems to want to attack E4 with Pf7-f5.
And how strangely the move Pg6 is correct if Black plays 22...Rc4; 23.g3,g6; I mean just one move later is perfect, and one move before is somewhat wrong.
Inopov 01:39 - 18 Apr 2014
Thank you Cynthia for the kind words.

Chess is indeed a complex and difficult game, this is why we use principles and study different ideas in training to help us understand the game better and make good decisions during the game.
With regards to the position after 22. Rxd5, Black had a choice between two plans: to put pressure on the c-file and transfer the knight to d4, or create pressure on the other flank with g7-g6, f6-f5 (also, It is not so much the moves as the ideas; therefore Black could also play Rc6 followed by Rdc8).
In the game, Black failed to make the correct decision either because he's not aware of the idea of the idea to pile up on the c-file in these backward pawn positions, or because he overestimated the effectiveness of the other plan.

The reason why the first plan (doubling up on the c-file & improving the placement of the knight) is better than the second one is that it takes into account and stops what the opponent wants to do. And what does White want to do next move? Move his knight to d5, which first requires protecting the pinned c2-pawn with Rd2 or Rc1, and even improve his q-side structure with c2-c3. If you focus on the ideas, you will see that delaying this plan by playing 22...g6 will allow White to execute his idea after 23. Rd2 allowing the knight to move to d5 without leaving c2 unprotected.

I hope this brings clarity and peace to your perplexed mind :)
Ababat 06:17 - 19 Apr 2014
Thanks for your great insights on this game. It helps a lot!!!
Inopov 16:13 - 19 Apr 2014
Thank you. I'm glad they're helping you!
koravi 22:01 - 21 Apr 2014
Nice work...
firatsalepci 23:59 - 21 Apr 2014
Thank you for the nice game...
arunjchess 10:18 - 17 May 2014
LINK TO PART II of this article:

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