Weak Pawns as Targets:
Part of the Chess Strategies Guide (Section 1: Strategies)

Chess Strategies Guide
[Weak Pawns as Targets]

About This Article...

Winning Chess Strategies - TeaserThis article includes my notes, additional images and interactive chess positions from my study of Yasser Seirawan's book, Winning Chess Strategies.

Winning Chess Strategies,
Revised edition
ISBN: 978-1-85744-385-1
Chapter 6. The Creation of Targets (p137-146)

Seirawan Strategy Examples:
  • #1: A collection of Weak Pawns.
  • #2: Acceptable Weak Pawns.
  • #3: Minority Attack.
  • #4: A more common Minority Attack.

Weak Pawns as Targets

Yasser Seirawan alludes to the fact that the greatest chess players all share the same trait of being able to identify targets, hunt them down, capture them and then search out their next victim, which they'll pursue with the same vigor.

A Pawn is said to be Weak if it's significantly vulnerable to attack.

The following types are all considered to be Weak Pawns, which are ripe for targeting:

Weak Pawns - Example - Backward Pawns Backward Pawns Weak Pawns - Example - Pawn Islands Pawn Islands Weak Pawns - Example - Isolated Pawns Isolated Pawns
Weak Pawns - Example - Doubled Pawns Doubled Pawns Weak Pawns - Example - Tripled Pawns Tripled Pawns Weak Pawns - Example - Hanging Pawns Hanging Pawns

If you own such Weak Pawns, as the six types just mentioned, then, providing enemy material cannot attack your Weak Pawn(s), their weakness is less of a problem to you.

If you spot Weak Pawns in your opponent's army, keep in mind that enemy positions can be quick to collapse when Weak Pawns are targeted and attacked.

With all that in mind, here's an interesting quote from Yasser Seirawan, to avoid unnecessary concern if you find yourself with a supposed Weak Pawn (or three):

"Why should the words isolated, doubled, or backward signify that a pawn is weak? In chess, a pawn or square is only weak if it can be attacked. If an enemy piece cannot get your pawn, then there is no reason to worry about its safety, regardless of whether it is isolated, doubled, or backward."
Yasser Seirawan, Winning Chess Strategies, p138

I'm taking that Seirawan's quote to mean that you should be guarded, if you're in possession of any Weak Pawns, but so long as they're safe from being attacked, it shouldn't be cause enough to distract you from your objectives (e.g. your game plan and the strategies within it).

Seirawan's Examples of Weak Pawns as Targets

Chess Strategies - SSE - Diagram 84 Seirawan Strategy Example #1
(p138) Diagram 84: White to play.
Petrosian-Barcza, Budapest, 1955
In Diagram 84, left, there are a collection of Weak Pawns in this one position. They are as follows:

Weak Pawns (White):

  • Backward Pawn

Weak Pawns (Black):

  • Doubled Pawns
  • Pawn Islands
    (b6; d5; f7,f6; h7)
  • Isolated Pawns
    (b6; d5; h7)
Chess Strategies - SSE - Diagram 85 Seirawan Strategy Example #2
(p139) Diagram 85: White to play.
Diagram 85, left, shows the position after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bc4 Bc5 5.O-O O-O 6.d3 d6.

So far, there are no Weak Pawns. The do come, but there's a difference ...

The focus of this example is "Acceptable Weak Pawns", and you'll find 3x examples of Doubled Pawns structures that Seirawan considers to be okay. Or, in other words, these supposed Weak Pawn structures are NOT Weak.
Chess Strategies - SSE - Diagram 86 Seirawan Strategy Example #3
(p141) Diagram 86: Black to play.
Reshevsky-Miagmasuren, Sousse, 1967
Diagram 86, left, focuses on the "Minority Attack".

Ignoring White's d4-Pawn, look at White's two Pawns on the Queenside (a4, b4). They're the focus of the attack on Black's Majority of Pawns (a7, b7, c6), which are blocking the White Pawns' path to Promotion.

When the Minority takes on the Majority, you get the Minority Attack.
Chess Strategies - SSE - Diagram 87 Seirawan Strategy Example #4
(p143) Diagram 87: White to play.
Averbakh-Donner, Beverwijk, 1962
Diagram 87, left, features what Seirawan describes as a More Common "Minority Attack". In other words, it's one you're more likely to see in your own games.

Example #4 shares a similar characteristic with Example #3, in that White's b-Pawn is, once again, the aggressor in White's Minority Attack.

The key difference is we get to see the build-up from a long way back (before White's b-Pawn has left its game-starting square!)

Creating Weak Pawns with the "Minority Attack"

After learning about the Minority Attack, you might even begin to relish facing your opponent's Pawn Majority!

In any game, in any position, when looking at the rival sets of Pawns that are facing each on one side of the board (e.g. on the Queenside), if one side has fewer Pawns, then THEY have the Pawn Minority, and their opponent has the Pawn Majority.

For example, a Pawn Minority could consist of 2x White Pawns vs. 3x Black Pawns on the Queenside.

You can use two Pawns to create Weak enemy Pawns, by attacking a Pawn Majority that numbers three enemy Pawns:

Chess Strategies - 6 - Weak Pawns - 2 vs 3 - Start
Chess Strategies - 6 - Weak Pawns - 2 vs 3 - 1
Chess Strategies - 6 - Weak Pawns - 2 vs 3 - 2
Chess Strategies - 6 - Weak Pawns - 2 vs 3 - 3
Chess Strategies - 6 - Weak Pawns - 2 vs 3 - 4
Chess Strategies - 6 - Weak Pawns - 2 vs 3 - 5 - Weak Pawns
2 White Pawns Attack 3 Black Pawns

Typical Weak Pawn outcomes, from 2-vs-3 Pawn attacks, which both feature in the last two images of the diagram above, are:

  1. Doubled Pawns;
  2. Smaller, enemy Pawn Islands.

Remember: the fewer Pawns in an Island, the weaker their strength.

For not one, but FOUR examples of a Minority Attack in a real game, see also:
← Back to the Chess Glossary (Minority Attack)

Strategy for Identifying & Attacking Weak Pawns

The following series of questions, or steps, came about during my study of Seirawan Strategy Example #1. The idea is to go through this for both armies -- yours as well as the enemy's (it might uncover vulnerabilities in your own position, that you'd failed to spot!).

When looking at the board, in any given position, ask yourself...

  1. Are there any Weak Pawns in the current position?
    You're looking for Weak Pawn structures such as Backward Pawns, Pawn Islands, Isolated Pawns, Doubled Pawns, Tripled Pawns, and Hanging Pawns.

  2. (Assuming there are Weak Pawn structures) Are they being guarded or protected?
    If the Weak Pawn is being guarded by friendly units, or they have sufficient cover in the way of any possible line of attack, then their weakness may be reduced sufficiently to mean, in Seirawan's words, that they're NOT really Weak Pawns.

  3. Who's turn is it to move?
    This is important because, if it's not your turn, you won't be able to attack the enemy's Weak Pawn(s), no matter how exposed and undefended they are. And, if it's your opponent's turn and YOU have exposed and undefended Weak Pawns, you could be in for one hell of a beating!

  4. Compare Weak Pawns. Does one appear weaker than the others?
    If there's a choice between attacking multiple Weak Pawns, target the one that is most-vulnerable, first.

  5. Which attack will leave my army less vulnerable?
    It could be costly if you launch into an attack and then suddenly find your weakness(es) exposed to a sudden enemy counterattack. So, before making your move, check your own position to make certain you're not about to remove a defender from a key area, or from an otherwise vulnerable unit (e.g. your King; an Isolated Pawn; etc.).

  6. Which Weak Pawn is your first target?
    With the above questions satisfied, identify the Weak Pawn that is to be your first target and commit to building your attack against it.

Chess Strategies - 6 - Creation of Targets

From this guide about creating Weak Pawns as Targets,
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