Knowing when a pawn is weak or strong and how you can use it is key in the endgame to know how to leverage your assets in a given position. But the strength (or the weakness) of your pawns must be taken into consideration as early as in the middlegame. The most important types of pawns are:
- passed pawns
- isolated pawns
- protected pawn
- connected pawns
- doubled pawns
- backward pawns
We will see which ones are weak and which ones are strong, and how you can use them or play against them.
A pawn which cannot be blocked or captured by enemy pawns in its advance to promotion is a passed pawn.
When having a passed pawn, you should try to maximize its power. Every square closer to the promotion square increases the dangerousness of the passed pawn, so whenever possible, the passed pawn must be pushed. Then it can be used directly to force a promotion or as a decoy, forcing the defending side to mobilize some useful pieces to stop the passed pawn while the attacking side can build a decisive advantage in another side of the board.
On the defending side, playing against a passed pawn requires to blockade the pawn as quick as possible to prevent him to get close to the promotion square. Good pieces for a blockade are the King (the best one) and sometimes the Knight or the Bishop.
An isolated pawn is a pawn that has no pawns of the same color on neighboring files.
When your opponent has an isolated pawn, remember that the endgame usually favors you, you should therefore aim at a simplification of the position: in the above example, the King and pawn endgame is very favorable to Black and should be very difficult to hold for White.
When you have the isolated pawn, it is likely that you have some dynamic counterparts (a Kingside attack in the making or a more active piece play) that should be used to create initiative quickly, as the fundamentals of the position favor your opponent.
A protected pawn is supported by another pawn. That makes it very strong and difficult to capture, at least for a while.
Protected passed pawns are a very steady advantage. Your opponent will be forced to use a whole piece to keep an eye on it, and during this time you will be able to create threats on another part of the board. In this particular configuration, you are in no rush to push your passed pawn, as it is not under any threat of being captured soon.
When playing against an opponent that has the protected passed pawn, your priority is to make sure your opponent cannot push it successfully, this means blocking it with the most adequate piece (the King, the Knight or the Bishop usually, as discussed above). Once this is done, and when possible, you should try to undermine the support of this protected pawn. In the above diagram, this would mean attacking the c4 pawn: if c4 falls, then the passed pawn is no longer protected and its situation becomes a lot more shaky !
Connected pawns are two or more pawns of the same color on adjacent files.
Playing with connected pawns in the endgame is always trying to find the right balance between a flexible pawn structure and a solid pawn chain.
In a flexible pawn structure, all pawns can be on the same rank, but the pawns are more vulnerable. On the other side, in a pawn chain, the pawns are safer but it is easier to control by the opponent.
In the endgame, the Connected pawns have the possibility to support each other, and represent a flexible asset. It is important to decide wisely which pawn should be advanced and which one should remain behind at the moment, in order not to fall into the above example, where the connected pawns are harmless.
When playing against the connected pawn, try to provoke the pawn advance that will either help your pieces attacking the pawns, or help them blocking their advance. Everything depends on the situation here.
Doubled pawns are two pawns residing on the same file.
When your opponent has doubled pawns, you should take advantage of their vulnerability and lack of mobility by attacking them and trying to force them to move to exposed squares.
When you have doubled pawns, take advantage of the increased square control they provide and place your Rook on the open files created by your doubled pawns.
A backward pawn is behind the pawns of the same color on the adjacent files and it cannot be advanced with the support of another pawn.
When you have a backward pawn, try to figure out if it might be possible to push the pawn anyway in order to get rid of that weak pawn.
When your opponent has a backward pawn, you should try to fix this weakness first. You want your opponent to suffer for a long time with this weakness so don’t let him get rid of it.
In any case, accept getting a backward pawn only in case of serious compensations: a good piece play, or an attack on the King are some interesting compensations to consider.
These are the main types of pawns you can encounter in the endgame. Some characteristics we saw are steady, while some can change during the course of the game. It is important to recognize instantly what sort of pawns are on the Chessboard in order to come up with the right strategy.