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In chess, the pawn structure (sometimes known as the pawn

skeleton) is the configuration of pawns on the chessboard.
Pawns being the least mobile of the chess pieces, the pawn
structure is relatively static, and largely determines the
strategic nature of the position.

Philidor was the first chess player to recognize the

importance of pawn structure. Before him, pawns were
considered a hindrance to the development of the pieces, to
be freely sacrificed for as little as a tempo.

General observations

Weaknesses in the pawn structure, such as isolated,

doubled or backward pawns and holes, once created, are
usually permanent. Care must therefore be taken to avoid
them (but there are exceptions - for instance see
Boleslavsky hole below). In the absence of these structural
weaknesses, it is not possible to classify a pawn formation
as good or bad - much depends on the positions of the
pieces. However, the pawn formation does determine the
overall strategies of the players to a large extent, even if
arising from unrelated openings. Pawn formations
symmetrical about a vertical line (such as the e5 Chain and
the d5 Chain) can be deceptively similar, but they tend to
have entirely different characteristics due to the propensity of
the kings to castle on the kingside.

Pawn structures often transpose into one another, such as

the Isolani into the Hanging Pawns and vice versa. Such
transpositions must be considered carefully and often mark
shifts in game strategy.

2 The major pawn formations

The Caro formation

Openings: Primary: Caro-Kann. Other:

French, Scandinavian, QGD.Character:
Slow-paced game.Themes for White:
Outpost on e5, Kingside space
advantage, d4-d5 break, possibility of
Queenside majority in the endgame (typically after the
exchange of White's d pawn for Black's c pawn).Themes for
Black: Weakness of the d4 pawn, c6-c5 and e6-e5 breaks.
The former break is usually preferable and easier for Black
to achieve.

The Slav formation

Openings: Primary: Slav. Other: Catalan,

Grunfeld, Colle system (with colors
reversed).Character: Slow-paced
game.Themes for White: Pressure on
the c file, weakness of Black's c pawn
(either after Black's b7-b5 or after d4-d5xc6 in response to
e6-e5), the d4-d5 break.Themes for Black: e6-e5 and c6-c5
The Sicilian - Scheveningen

Openings: Primary: Sicilian (Najdorf,

Richter-Rauzer and Sozin variations),
Sicilian Scheveningen, and several other
Sicilian variations.

Character: Complex, dynamic, sharp


Themes for White: Pressure on the d file, space advantage,

e4-e5 break (often prepared with f2-f4), f2-f4-f5 push, g2-g4-
g5 blitz (see Keres attack).

Themes for Black: Pressure on the c file, minority attack

(and counterplay in general) on the Queenside, pressure on
White's pawn on e4 or e5, d6-d5 break, e6-e5 transposing
into the Boleslavsky hole (see below).

It is usually very bad for White to exchange a piece on c6

allowing the recapture bxc6, because the phalanx of Black's
center pawns becomes very strong.

The Sicilian - Dragon

Openings: Primary: Sicilian Dragon.

Other: English Opening.

Character: Either a razor sharp

middlegame with opposite side castling
or a moderately sharp game with same
side castling.

Themes for White: Outpost on d5, Kingside attack (either f2-

f4-f5 with Kingside castling or h2-h4-h5) with Queenside
castling, weakness of Black's Queenside pawns in the

Themes for Black: Pressure on the long diagonal,

Queenside counterplay, exploiting White's often
overextended Kingside pawns in the endgame.

The Sicilian - Maróczy bind

Main article: Maróczy bind

Openings: Primary: Sicilian.

Character: Semi-open game.

Themes for White: Nd4-c2-e3,

Fianchettoing one or both Bishops, the Marco hop (Nc3-d5
followed by e4xd5 with terrible pressure on the e-file),
Kingside attack, c4-c5 and e4-e5 breaks.

Themes for Black: b7-b5 break, f7-f5 break (especially with a

fianchettoed King bishop), d6-d5 break (prepared with e7-

The Maróczy bind, named after Géza Maróczy, has a

fearsome reputation. Chess masters once believed that
allowing the bind as Black always gives White a significant
advantage. Indeed, if Black doesn't quickly make a pawn
break, his pieces will suffocate to death. Conversely, the
formation takes time to set up and limits the activity of
White's light-squared bishop, which can buy Black some
breathing room to accomplish this.
The Sicilian - Boleslavsky hole

Openings: Primary: Sicilian Najdorf,

Classical, Sveshnikov. Other: Sicilian
O'Kelly (2... a6).

Character: Open, dynamic game.

Themes for White: taking control the d5

hole, exploiting the backward d6 pawn, f2-f4 break.

Themes for Black: d6-d5 break, Queenside minority attack,

the c4 square.

It is a paradoxical idea that Black can strive for equality by

voluntarily creating a hole on d5. The entire game revolves
around control of the d5 square. Black must play very
carefully or White will park a Knight on d5 and obtain a
commanding positional advantage. Black almost always
equalizes if they can make the d6-d5 break, and might even
obtain a slight edge. Black has two options for their QB: on
e6 and on b7 (after a7-a6 and b7-b5). Unusually for an open
formation, Bishops become inferior to Knights because of
the overarching importance of d5: White will often exchange
Bg5xf6, and Black usually prefers to give up his QB rather
than a N in exchange for a WN if it gets to d5.

When white castles long, Black often delays castling

because their king is quite safe in the center.
The d5 chain

Openings: Primary: King's Indian. Other

- Benoni, Ruy Lopez.

Character: Closed game with opposite

side activity.

Themes for White: Massive Queenside

space advantage, c2-c4-c5 break (optionally prepared with
b2-b4), prophylaxis with g2-g4 (after f2-f3), f2-f4 break.

Themes for Black: Kingside attack, f7-f5 break, g7-g5-g4

break (after f2-f3), c7-c6 break, prophylaxis with c6-c5 or c7-
c5 transposing to a Full Benoni formation.

The chain arises from a variety of openings but most

commonly in the heavily analyzed King's Indian classical
variation. The theme is a race for a breakthrough on
opposite flanks - Black must try to whip up a Kingside attack
before White's heavy pieces penetrate with devastating
effect on the c file. The setup was thought to favor White
until a seminal game Taimanov-Najdorf 1953, where Black
introduced the maneuver Rf8-f7, Bg7-f8, Rf7-g7. When the
chain arises in the Ruy Lopez, play is much slower with
tempo being of little value and featuring piece maneuvering
by both sides, black focussing on the c7-c6 break and White
often trying to play on the Kingside with the f2-f4 break.
The e5 chain

Openings: Primary: French.

Character: Closed/semi-open but sharp


Themes for White: Kingside mating

attack, f2-f4-f5 break.

Themes for Black: Exchanging the hemmed-in QB, c7-c5

and f7-f6 breaks.

Due to White's Kingside space advantage and development

advantage, Black must generate counterplay or be mated.
Novices often lose to the sparkling Greek gift sacrifice.
Attacking the head of the pawn chain with f7-f6 is seen as
frequently as attacking its base, because it is harder for
white to defend the head of the chain than in the d5 chain. In
response to exf6, Black accepts a backward e6 pawn in
exchange for freeing his position (the b8-h2 diagonal and the
semi-open f-file) and the possibility of a further e6-e5 break.
If White exchanges with d4xc5 it is called the Wedge
formation. White gets an outpost on d4 and the possibility of
exploiting the dark squares while Black gets an
overextended e5 pawn to work on.
The King's Indian - Rauzer formation

Openings: Primary: King's Indian, Old

Indian (both colors reversed), Ruy
Lopez. Other: Ruy Lopez (colors
reversed). The notation in the rest of this
section refers to the colors reversed

Character: Semi-open game.

Themes for White: d6 weakness, c4-c5 push, a1-f8 diagonal,

Queenside pawn storm.

Themes for Black: d4 weakness, a1-f8 diagonal, f4 square,

Kingside attack, trading pieces for a superior endgame.

The Rauzer formation is named after Rauzer who introduced

it in the Ruy Lopez. It can also rarely occur in the Ruy Lopez
with colors reversed. It is considered to give Black excellent
chances because d6 is much less of a hole than White's d4.
If the Black KB is fianchettoed it is common to see it
undeveloped to f8 to control the vital c5 and d6 squares, or
remove White's dark-squared bishop, the guardian of the

The Rauzer formation is often misjudged by beginners. In

the position on the left, White appears to have a
development lead while Black's position appears to be
riddled with holes. In reality, it is Black who stands clearly
better, because White has no real way to improve his
position while Black can improve but exploiting the d4
The King's Indian - Boleslavsky Wall

Openings: Primary: King's Indian. Other:

English, Pirc, Ruy Lopez.

Character: Semi-open game, slow


Themes for White: d6 weakness, e4-e5

and c4-c5 breaks, minority attack with b2-b4-b5.

Themes for Black: attacking the e4 and c4 pawns, d6-d5 and

f7-f5 breaks, Queenside play with a7-a5-a4.

The wall is yet another structure that leaves Black with a d-pawn
weakness, but prevents White from taking control of the center and
gives Black active piece play and an opportunity to play on either
side of the board.

The Queen's Gambit - Isolani

Openings: Primary: Queen's Gambit.

Other: French.

Character: Open game.

Themes for White: d4-d5 break, sacrifice

of the isolani, outpost on e5, Kingside attack.

Themes for Black: Blockading the isolani, trading pieces for

a favorable engdame.

The isolani leads to lively play revolving around the d5

square. If Black can clamp down on the pawn their positional
strengths and threat of exchanges give them the advantage.
If not, the threat of the d4-d5 break is ever present, and the
isolani can sometimes be sacrificed to unleash the potential
of White's pieces enabling them to whip up a whirlwind
attack. Kasparov is famous for the speculative d4-d5


The Queen's Gambit - Hanging Pawns


Openings: Primary: Queen's Gambit


Declined. Other: Queen's Indian



Character: Open game.

Themes for White: Line opening advance in the center,

Kingside attack.

Themes for Black: Forcing a pawn advance and blockading

the pair, conversion to isolani.

Like the isolani, the hanging pawns are a structural

weakness and must not be entered into unless the piece
position offers some compensation. The play revolves
around Black trying to force one of the pawns to advance. If
Black can establish a permanent blockade the game is
positionally won. On the other hand, White aims to keep the
pawns hanging, trying to generate a Kingside attack
leveraging off of their superior center control. Other themes
for White include tactical possibilities and line opening
breaks in the center.
The Queen's Gambit - Orthodox

Exchange T

Openings: Primary: Queen's Gambit


Declined. Other: Caro-Kann (colors



Character: Semi-open game.

Themes for White: Minority attack, e3-e4 break.

Themes for Black: e4 outpost, Kingside attack.

The Panov formation


Openings: Primary: Queen's Gambit


Declined, Caro-Kann. Other: Alekhine


Defense, QGD Tarrasch Defense (colors



Character: Semi-open, dynamic game.

Themes for White: Exploiting the dark squares, queenside

majority in the endgame, with an advanced pawn.

Themes for Black: e4 outpost, kingside attack, White's

overextended pawn, e6-e5 and b7-b5 breaks.
The Stonewall formation

Openings: Primary: Dutch Defense.


Other: Colle system.


Character: Closed game, uncomplicated


Themes: Exchanging the bad bishop,

e4/e5 outposts, breaks on the c and g files.

Players must carefully consider how to recapture on the

e4/e5 square, since it alters the symmetric pawn formation
and creates strategic subtleties.

The Closed Sicilian formation


Openings: Primary: Closed Sicilian, HT TH

Closed English (colors reversed).


Character: Closed, complicated position.

Themes for White: Kingside pawn storm,

c2-c3 and d3-d4 break.

Themes for Black: Queenside pawn storm, a1-h8 diagonal

Created by IM Jakovljevic Vlado, ICHESSU