Middle game tactics: Understand the pawns thoroughly – they cannot move backwards

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In the game of chess, pawns play a very important role in all stages of the game. It is very important to note that only the pawns – eight of them in total out of the total 16 pieces in the board – have the unique capability of getting promoted to major pieces especially Queen and Rook – and no other piece – even the King or the Queen has this unique capability. Though pawns move in a forward direction in a straight file, when it comes to capturing, they capture only the pieces in diagonals at either of the two squares – one each to his right and left. Of course, the pawns in the wings does not have the left and rights wings as they are clipped for lack of files. In the opening stage, 9 out of 10 times, it is the pawn that opens the game.

According to the classical principles of openings, pawn development in the opening stages should be kept to the barest minimum, just sufficient enough to open up the major and minor pieces for development and control over key squares. As the game progresses in to the middle game stage, where the real game, filled with a series of tactics, strategies, checks, attacks, sacrifices and counter-attacks, unfolds, pawns should be handled very carefully and strategically. Having discussed about the merits of the pawns earlier, let us not forget that pawns have one major disadvantage – yes. They cannot move backwards. So, it is very essential that additional caution and calculations are considered before making pawn movements in the middle game. A wrong move or an unwanted move of the pawn in the middle game might deprive you of vital control over one square and also opens up opportunities for the opponent to exploit this mistake.

Let us try to understand the importance of pawn movement with the help of the following game, played between two grandmasters, where an unwanted pawn move cost the game at the end.

The first few moves of the game in the opening stage are as follows:

1. e4 c5
2. Nf3 d6
3. d4 cxd4
4. Nxd4 Nf6
5. Nc3 a6
6. Be2 e6
7. 0-0 Be7
8. f4 0-0
9. Kh1 Qc7
10. a4 Nc6
11. Nb3 b6
12. Bf3 Bb7
13. Qe1 Rac8
14. Be3 Rfe8
15. Rc1 ….

The game after 15 moves of White is given hereunder. It is the turn of black to make the next move.


(Black to move)

A cursory look at the position indicates that the white pieces are fairly developed and spread over the four ranks, with a lot of space to move around. On the contrary, black’s pieces are all lying in the back three ranks, leaving the 5th rank open. However, the set-up of black pieces is very compact and tight enough that it would be a difficult proposition to pierce through the position.

The game continued as follows :

15. …. Nd7 Black decides to move the Knight to the queenside so that its dark squared Bishop can be used effectively, and also at the same time, avoid any threat from the white pawn at g2.
16. g4 …. This is an unwanted and unwarranted moved from White as the black Knight at f3 had moved to Nd7 and there is no worthwhile point in that pawn move at this point of time.
16. …. Na5
17. Nxa5 bxa5

The game after 17 moves is given hereunder:


The opening up of the white pawn at g2 has paved way for black to consider the long diagonal a8-h1.

18. Bd2 …. White’s intention of using his g2 pawn did not materialize, and as such, he is back to defensive ways
18. …. Nc5
19. b3 Qb8 Black is planning to exploit the long diagonal a8-h1
20. Qe2 Qa8

The position after 20 moves is given hereunder.


(White to move)

White’s decision to move the g2 pawn has opened up the long diagonal for Black to exploit. However, white may feel somewhat happy that his g4 can now be used to thwart black’s intention to move the dark-squared bishop to f6 for threatening the white knight at c3.

21. g5 …. Since the pawn cannot move backwards, this is the only consolation for his earlier mistake of g4.
21. …. d5
22. exd5 exd5
23. Qg2 Ne4
24. Nb1 Nxd2
25. Qxd2 Bb4
26. c3 …. This pawn movement might have been avoided as it paves away for black to open up the diagonal a8-h1.

The position after the 26th move of white is given below:


(Black to move)

Black nicely accepts the opportunity presented by White, and obliges with d4.

26. …. d4
27. cxb3 Bxf3+
28. Kg1 …. The absence of pawn at g2 will now be felt by Whit.

Black continues to attack and finally emerges as the winner with the following moves:

28. …. Re2
29. Rxf3 Rxd2
30. Rxc8+ Qxc8
31. Nxd2 Qc1+
32. Nf1 axb4
33. Kg2 Qc2+
34. Kg3 Kf8

0 – 1

A fairly good position at the start of the middle game with a slight advantage has been squandered by White with his unwarranted or unwanted move of the g2 pawn in the 16th move, which ultimately hurt him the most and led to this loss.

It is very essential that the pawns are used effectively and prudently taking into account all possible options and calculations, especially in the middle game stage, so that the actual worth of the pawns, their ability to get promoted, can be used effectively.


  1. Melisa says:

    Very good article, in many instances are pawns primarily as bait and defense, but also serves as the attackers. Are definitely important in the game but their movements are very limited

  2. Hog says:

    “Keep watching all the moves of pawns” This is the first theory for me when I play chess


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