Playing against an Isolated Queen’s Pawn means playing with a long term, static, structural advantage. Your opponent’s temporary, dynamic advantage mainly consists of better positioned pieces, safer king, and more attacking prospects. Thus trading pieces against the isolated queen’s pawn aims at relieving the pressure.
The side that has the isolated pawn is, therefore, forced to seize the moment and capitalize on their advantage with offensive play using the isolated queen’s pawn, thus highlighting the initiative they hold in the position. The second strategy which can be employed is aiming to trade off the weakness by liquidating the d4 pawn with the advance to d5: this is the famous d4-d5 breakthrough in the isolated queen’s pawn.
Stjepan Tomić is a strong player and famous youtuber with his Hanging Pawns channel. His goal is to become a Grandmaster and to share his new Chess knowledge with the community.
While the attacking side does that, the defender has very different plans for the position. The isolated queen’s pawn is neither weak nor strong. Or, better said, it’s in a sense “Schrödinger’s pawn”, both weak and strong at the same time, and the only way to say which is true is to play the position and see what happens.
When playing against an IQP, there are two key strategies you can employ:
- Trading pieces off against the isolated queen’s pawn to relieve your king of white’s attacking pressure. This is the topic of this article.
- Setting up a blockade of the isolated queen’s pawn – fixing it, and then trying to win it later on in the game. This is the topic of another article.
These two strategies are very broad, and each has thematic patterns, ideas and plans which can be applied to most positions. We are going to be looking at those plans and try to understand their meaning for the two strategies as a whole. One thing has to be highlighted here. Same as when it comes to playing with an IQP, you should never separate common plans and try to go for one and not for the other or vice versa. They should be combined and intertwined. Performed simultaneously. One never excludes the other.
At the end of the second article, you can also find practical exercises which revolve around the patterns shown below. Solve them over a real board and without moving the pieces and remember that the point of solving them is not to “guess the move”, but to understand what the position is about. When thinking about positions in such a way, you are learning by doing, which is the best way to develop your chess skill.
Using piece trades to weaken the attack and make the isolated pawn a weakness
The one approach which is always correct when you have a long term, static advantage, is initiating piece trades. That is especially true for isolated queen’s pawn positions since the pawn can easily be accentuated as a weakness in any late middlegame or endgame in which the queens and several pieces have been traded off, hence the idea of trading pieces.
More importantly, when playing against an IQP, goal one is to survive. As you may have seen in the previous article, white’s (or the player’s with the IQP) dynamic compensation can be deadly, and the main aim of their play will be a relentless blitzkrieg on the defender’s king. It’s therefore imperative to try and stave off an attack, and to try and dampen its power by reducing the number of units available for the attack.
Trading pieces off when playing against an IQP is, therefore, a dual purpose strategy. It brings you closer to a very desired endgame in which the d4 pawn is a weakness, and there is no longer any discussion about that, and it makes it easier to survive the attack on your king which is almost inevitably coming.
Before we move on to example games in which we will discuss trading pieces to the defender’s advantage in more detail, let us look at three sample diagrams to try and understand the types of positions you are trying to reach.
The position in the first diagram is a dream come true for the defending side. All the minor pieces have been traded off, as well as the queens. Only the rooks are left on the board. This makes the task of exploiting the weakness of the d4 pawn trivial. Black’s rooks are perfectly positioned to win the pawn, and, even though the material is equal, there is no salvation for white.
This position is what you aim for when playing against an isolated queen’s pawn. It’s simplified, with only the rooks and a pair of knights on the board. This is just a sample though, and things would be similar if it was bishops instead of knights or a bishop and knight instead of knight and one of the rooks for either side.
The point is that there is no attacking material on the board enough to make an attack on the king effective for either side. And in that case the side with less weaknesses is better. Here black’s advantage is not decisive yet, but with precise play black should win most of the time. Pause here, set this position up on the board, and try to play it from both perspectives to get a feeling for these types of endgames.
This position is a draw. Trading all the pieces off the board does leave white with a slightly weaker pawn structure, but with correct play that is not enough of an advantage to win. Try to set this up this position on the board and play for a win with black. You will soon realize that the white king is close enough to be able to hold or trade off the d4 pawn, thus entering a symmetrical and drawn pawn endgame. I wanted to show this diagram last so that you are aware that the IQP is only a weakness if you have pieces to attack it !
Trading off until there is no more active attacking play for white is correct. Anything after that point is a strategic mistake, as every further piece trade will make it easier for white to defend the weakness.
Viktor Korchnoi vs Anatoly Karpov, 1981 World Championship, Game 9
This is one of the most famous, “clean” strategic wins over the IQP. Anatoly Karpov was playing black against Korchnoi. The game was a Queen’s Gambit Declined and both sides have followed theory in the opening.
Let us start in this position which occurred after 1. c4 e6 2. Nc3 d5 3. d4 Be7 4. Nf3 Nf6 5. Bg5 h6 6. Bh4 O-O 7. Rc1 dxc4 8. e3 c5 9. Bxc4 cxd4 10. exd4 Nc6 11. O-O.
One piece has been traded off, which gives black some relief, but the danger is far from over.
Here it is already quite apparent that black is the one in charge. Three minor pieces have been traded off, and all that remains now is to trade the queens if possible, or to simply start putting pressure on the d4 pawn.