02/06/2018, Pawn Avalanches: How, When, Where?

On June, 2nd, 2018, I presented a second lesson about chess strategy to members of Nairobi Chess Club, this time about pawn avalanches. Below is what was presented in that lesson, with examples mainly selected from the book “Methods of Chess Strategy” (Karpov & Kalinichenko) published by “Russian Chess House”, 2009.

André Philidor said many years ago: “Pawns are the soul of chess!” which is reasonable, because many moments in the game depend on how and where pawns move. Pawns always move forward, some of them advance, while others stay back, sometimes one promotes into a piece when arriving at the eighth rank and others simply leave the board after some exchanges. But more usual than a lonely pawn is the connection between them: the chain of pawns. As was already mentioned in the previous post “How to evaluate a position?”, it’s strategically advisable to keep a flexible chain of pawns.

Pawn avalanches, like any other pawn structure, intend to:

  • Conquer space for your own  pieces and restrain activity for your opponent’s
  • Ensure general mobility of the chain (flexibility), and
  • Restrain mobility of your opponent’s pawns and reduce the space they control

A pawn avalanche is the most impressive of all pawn structures and facing them, a player needs to have cold blood to find accurate defensive plans. Most frequently, avalanches happen on the king- or queenside, usually opposite the side where the king is castled and rarely in the center, because central pawns are normally played and exchanged during the opening.

When moving side pawns, special care has to be taken in the opening, because delaying the development of pieces can give our opponent chances to get the initiative in case they succeed in opening lines and attack our pieces. As a rule, play side pawns when the center is closed and/or you have central control ensuring that there will be no chance for any counterplay there.

I would like to stress that pawns, even in the case of avalanches, do not win a game by themselves. It is their power that we use to get the initiative. Pawns are the front line, but do not forget that pieces need to come behind it.

The first game is an unconventional example, in which the avalanche occurs early in the game, just in the opening.

The next game is a more conventional example. The side pawns start moving only when the center is under control.

This position comes from a game played in the USSR championship 1972 between Tigran Petrosian (white) and Mikhail Tal (black). It is not properly an example of pawn avalanche, but one pawn rushing to the eighth rank.

Now one example of central avalanche which the French grandmaster Joel Lautier (playing black) launched against Vishwanathan Anand in their game played in Belgrade 1997.

The next game is an example about how a central pawn avalanche appears after weakening the opponent’s pawn structure.

In some cases, the sacrifice of a piece helps in creating a pawn avalanche. This idea appears in some opening systems.

In this game, played by Anand (white) against Kasparov (black) in -New York, 1995- the piece sacrifice doesn’t occur in the opening, but as a tactical resource in the middle game.

If you are interested in more pawn assaults, you can read “Mamedyarov’s unstoppable pawns” on chess.com

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