The Backward Pawn:
Part of the Advanced Beginner's Chess Guide (Section 1) and the
Chess Strategies Guide (Section 2: Studying the Pawns)

The Backward Pawn
Point Count Chess: [-]

About This Article...

Advanced Beginners Chess Teaser pccThis article includes my notes, additional images and interactive chess positions from my study of Horowitz & Mott-Smith's book, Point Count Chess.

Point Count Chess,
Chapter 7. The Backward Pawn

Point Count Chess, Examples:
  • The Queen Bishop Pawn
    in the Queen's Gambit
  • The King Pawn in a Classical
    King-Side Attack
  • The Queen Pawn in the
    Sicilian Defense

H&M-S define a Backward Pawn as one that "cannot be advanced without loss, and it is subject to attack on the file." Diagram 1, below, comes from Point Count Chess, The Crippled Majority, p.82, diagram NO. 52:

Backward Pawn, Image 1, Advanced Beginners Chess Guide
Diagram 1: Black's Backward b7-Pawn;
Cannot be advanced without loss, but
is NOT subject to attack on the file.
You see how Black's b7-Pawn cannot be advanced, else it would be lost to White's a5-Pawn? However, apart from that, providing it stays where it is, this Backward Pawn ISN'T subject to attack on its file.

So, what does this mean? Is it to be classed as a Backward Pawn and slapped with a minus point?

Ken points out that, while the b-pawn is not subject to a direct attack, if the b-pawn on the next move goes to b6 or b5, it would be lost due to the White pawn's capture. It is indirectly attacked here (it would be attacked if it moved), and the restraint on the pawn would label it a Backward Pawn.

By contrast, Diagram 2 (below) shows Black's b7-Pawn in the same position, but now it's under attack from White's Bg2:
Backward Pawn, Image 2, Advanced Beginners Chess Guide
Diagram 2: Black's Backward b7-Pawn
is under attack and cannot advance.
Therefore, it IS a Backward Pawn.
In Diagram 2, Black's b7-Pawn would now be considered a Backward Pawn, as it cannot defend itself; it cannot be defended by another Pawn; and it cannot evade capture by advancing, because it would get instantly captured by White's a5-Pawn (axb6).

On page 81 of Point Count Chess, after the second paragraph, H&M-S give a list of five types of Backward Pawn formations. They say, a Backward Pawn may be:

  1. tolerable, for the greater gain achieved at cost of the weakness, or

  2. neutral, because its weakness cannot be capitalized, or

  3. irrelevant, because the issue is going to be decided by the battle of pieces, or

  4. strong, through peculiarities (usually transient - not long lasting) of the position, or

  5. weak, as its weakness, through being incapable of advancing, will almost invariably become a reality during the endgame phase.

... they then go on to say that each of these Backward Pawn formations SHOULD be counted as a minus point, though the dynamics of the situation (as expressed by those five formations, above), should be factored into your analysis of the Backward Pawn situation.

Moving On: With each Backward Pawn you see, you should ask yourself three questions... (Page 2).

Return to the Index of Disadvantages
Return to the Chess Strategies Guide,
Studying the Pawns (Weak Pawns)
← Back to the Chess Glossary (Backward Pawn)
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