Attack In Positions With An Isolated Pawn

Dear chess friends, this article marks the beginning of a training course designed to acquaint the readers of the magazine "Modern Chess" with one of the most important type of positions in middlegame - isolated pawn.

The importance of this topic is related to the fact that it can arise from a huge number of openings. Several examples are Queen’s Gambit, Slav Defense, Tarrasch Defense, New Indian Defense, Nimzowitsch Defense, Sicilian Defense and many other openings. Therefore, good knowledge of these positions is necessary for any chess player, regardless of his repertoire.

Our magazine provides a full course of study on the isolated pawn, which contains three logically linked articles. The first two published materials focus on the methods of playing with an isolator.

This article will explain in depth the three most important attacking ideas for the side playing with an “isolani”, which are – the transfer of the rook on third horizontal (rank), the movement of the isolated pawn, and the sacrifice of the knight on “f7”. No less important are the positional and attacking techniques, which will be discussed in the second article of our series – the switch to a symmetric pawn structure after the exchange on “d5”, the movement of “f” pawn and the movement of “h” pawn. Once our readers are familiar with the offensive potential of the isolated pawn, they can move forward to the closing article of the course, which stresses the methods of playing against such a pawn. 

1) The transfer of the rook on third horizontal

For a better understanding of this manoeuvre, it is necessary to make some general clarifications. The main advantage of the isolated pawn is that it provides spatial advantage. While the isolani controls the “e5” and “c5” squares ( “e4” and “c4” for black, respectively), they can be perfect outpost for the knights. Another essential advantage is the possession of the semi-open “e” file which is often used as a springboard for the development of an attack against the enemy’s king.

Taking into consideration the above-mentioned advantages, the side playing with an isolated pawn should seek for attack on the kingside and avoid pieces exchanges. The readers should know that in endgame such a pawn is a weakness rather than a strength.

One of the classic methods of attack is the transfer of the rook to the kingside. This is maneoeuvre is possible due to the spatial advantage provided by the isolated pawn. We can say that quite often the isolani acts as a “screen”, behind which the regrouping of the pieces is performed, aiming to start an offensive against the king. A relevant example, which fully illustrates the idea of the transfer of the rook on the third rank, is the classical game between the two Russian Grandmasters, Lev Polugaevsky (on the picture below) and Anatoli Lutikov, played back in 1957.

 2) The movement of the isolated pawn

Considering the spatial advantage and the reference squares, the isolated pawn provides many other dynamic possibilities, linked to the movement of the isolani. Here, it is crucial to ask a basic question, the answer to which confuses even the experienced chess players: In which circumstances is necessary to push the isolated pawn? Although the answer to this question is not obvious, we will try to give a general rule, easy to understand for everyone: The isolated pawn should be moved forward, when the side playing with it has development advantage. This rule is based on the fact that the player, whose pieces are better developed, seeks to open the position and seize the initiative. Despite this, there are positions in which the isolated pawn is a weakness and the side playing with it tries to get rid of it by means of pushing it forward and trading it for the adjacent pawn. This usually happens in the endgame. Now, we would like to give you an example of a game, played by one of the greatest Hungarian theoretician Lajos Portish (on the picture below) 

 3) The sacrifice of the knight on “f7”

The sacrifice on “f7” is the last attacking idea which will be discussed in this issue of our magazine. Of course, such a blow on black’s position cannot come from nowhere - there are certain premises. Our readers should remember that the sacrifice on “f7” is always followed by the gain of the pawn on “e6”. In order to achieve this scenario, two conditions need to be met:

The white light-squared bishop must be put on the “a2-g8” diagonal;

The black light-squared bishop must have left the “c8-h3” diagonal.

To understand the practical application of the theoretical concepts mentioned above, we propose to your attention the game between Rubinstein (on the picture below) and Burn, played in Ostend, in 1906. The position that we are interested in arose after the moves: