Understanding Pawn Play in Chess

Drazen Marovic’s manual on pawn play offers a great deal of practical knowledge to the tournament player. The format of the book is a game collection, with chapters organized around common pawn structures. The chapters are (1) Isolated Queen’s Pawns (2) Isolated Pawn Couples and Hanging pawns (3) Passed Pawns (4) Doubled Pawns (5) Backward Pawns (6) Pawn Chains (7) Pawn Islands. While the book has been criticized as merely restating common knowledge and theory about such positions, I don’t think a book should be held to such a high standard of being theoretically novel. In fact, a succinct restatement in one text of what is already known is often more instructional than an original theoretical work where, as here, the passage of time has stripped away the flowery language and unnecessary polemics (think my system), leaving the fast and hard rules in their brute simplicity.

There is no shortage of instructive prose here, though it is purely practical and not at all polemical. The games are not polluted to lengthy note games, citations, or parenthetical sidelines, allowing the reader to focus on the concept at hand. Another thing I love about this book is the repetition of themes which Marovic has chosen. By selecting several games back to back which feature very similar positions and the same key idea repeated, the reader is able to extract the hard kernel of truth from these lessons and finish a chapter with the ability to actually articulate what they have learned. This should be a more common feature of chess instruction than it is.

For instance, the first chapter in the book, and arguably the most clear cut and to the point, covers the IQP.
There are a handful of principals which are essential knowledge in order to properly handle these kinds of positions, and Marovic doesn’t delay in telling us what they are and illustrating them with carefully chosen games.

(1) the player with the IQP should not seek to exchange off pieces, since the removal of his forces will leave the pawn weak and likely lead to a lost or difficult ending.

(2) For precisely this reason, the side facing the IQP should seek to exchange pieces, in order to race to a simplified position where the IQP can be ganged up on.

(3) The IQP may be an attacking asset, if pushed at the right moment to crack open the opponents position. The side with an IQP should always be looking to for tactics and positional benefits that arise from pushing it, even if it means losing it.

(4) because of the enormous energy that can be released when an IQP advances, the side facing one should seek to blockade it. Blockade is the only way to keep the IQP under lock and key and to prevent it from becoming a kamikaze attacking force.

These principals are laid out with example games here. If I had to think of one drawback to this book, it’s that the material is not thorough in that we don’t see many “exceptions” where things don’t go according to principal. Having said that, the brevity of the book is also its strength in my opinion. Overall, I have to give this book a high recommendation and tell you to definitely pick up a copy if you see it.