Alexander Kotov's Five Pawn Centers:
Part of the Chess Strategies Guide (Section 2: Studying the Pawns)

Studying the Pawns
Kotov's Five Pawn Centers

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Chess Strategies Guide - Studying the Pawns - Kotov's Five Pawn CentersThis article takes a look at a study by Alexander Kotov, which focused on five main types of Pawn Positions in the Center.

Kotov's 5 Pawn Centers include the:

  1. Closed Center;
  2. Open Center;
  3. Fixed Center;
  4. Mobile Center;
  5. Fluid Center.

Applying this knowledge should help you develop your game plan and "determine the character and tempo" of the battle.

So, how did all this come about?

In his book "The Art of the Middle Game", which he co-authored with Paul Keres, Alexander Kotov expands on the comparison between Chess and War, highlighting how both contain similar rules for strategy and tactics. Concerns shared include a need to efficiently:

  • Mobilize the troops;
  • Attack the enemy;
  • Defend against attacks from the enemy;
  • Carrying out maneuvers across the battlefield.

The shape of your army, the position of the troops, their location on the battlefield, is of great importance in planning your strategy. Kotov's exact words are: "The nature of the topography plays a very important role in all army campaigns."

For example, if the Center of the chessboard (the battlefield area) is Open, Kotov suggests "deep, encircling maneuvers, or powerful, storming attacks". But, if the enemy makes this difficult to pull off (i.e. their long-range Pieces are guarding key squares across the Center), then you should switch plans to deep raids on the Flanks.

Kotov states that games of chess are determined by 'topography' (positioning) of the Center Pawns of both armies - primarily the King Pawns (e-Pawns) and Queen Pawns (d-Pawns, though it can also include the Bishop Pawns (c- & f-Pawns), which occupy squares of the Expanded Center, once they've been advanced.

How these two sets of adverse Pawns are positioned will determine "the nature of the struggle and the tempo of the attacker's offensive", as Kotov says. For example:

  • If the Pawns block the Center, the Pieces are forced to approach the enemy's camp from the Flanks, encircling the enemy camp before making their attack(s).

  • If, instead, the Center is clear - making it an Open Game, since no Pawns are interlocking in the Center - long-distance weaponry, such as siege cannons (Rooks) and archers or sharp-shooters (Bishops) can be set up to hit the enemy from distance and within the safety of their own base.

Kotov's study uncovered five main types of Pawn Positions in the Center, which became useful in helping a player develop their game plan and "determine the character and tempo" of the battle.

Kotov states that "a player must choose some kind of plan of play entirely in accordance with the type of pawn centre".

Your game plan will help determine the following procedures:

  1. Where an attack should be set in motion.
  2. How the attack should be conducted.
  3. How the defence should be organized.

These procedures must work in conjunction with certain "special conditions" that Kotov says are valid for the middlegame, and this brings us to Kotov's study highlighting the five main formations of the Center Pawns.

Kotov's Five Pawn Centers, Index

Note: For each example, I've added a faint red border around the Center, to aid the eye, so we can compare what may be going on both inside and outside the Center ...
  1. Position 1: The Closed Center (page 2)
    Kotov's Five Pawn Centers, Teaser, Closed Center.Kotov: "Each player's pawns are locked with the other's, thus blocking the lines for Bishops and Rooks."

  2. Position 2: The Open Center (page 3)
    Kotov's Five Pawn Centers, Teaser, Open Center.Kotov: "There are no pawns in the centre and the lines and diagonals are free for the play of the pieces."

  3. Position 3: The Fixed Center (page 4)
    Kotov's Five Pawn Centers, Teaser, Fixed Center.Kotov: "The position of the pawns in the centre is in one way or another fixed and it is not easy to alter their position."

  4. Position 4: The Mobile Center (page 5)
    Kotov's Five Pawn Centers, Teaser, Mobile Center.Kotov: "One side has two or more united pawns in the centre and endeavours to advance them."

  5. Position 5: The Fluid Center (page 6)
    Kotov's Five Pawn Centers, Teaser, Dynamic Center.Kotov: "The pawn position in the centre is not fixed. It may be perhaps built up in some particular way and the resulting position then transposes to one of the positions we have described above."

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