Hanging Pawns

Hanging pawns are, alongside with isolated d-pawn and Karlsbad, one of the most complex pawn structures that demands careful study. In this post, we will see some basic examples. For deeper exploration, I suggest reading “Pawn Structure Chess” by GM Andrew Soltis and “Understanding Pawn Play in Chess” by GM Drazen Marovic.

Let’s mention some of the main characteristics of hanging pawns. The pawns are standing on c4 and d4 (or c5 and d5 for Black), without friendly pawns on adjacent files and without opponent’s pawns on the “c” and “d” files.

The advantage of having hanging pawns is the control over large number of important central squares and certain limitation of opponent’s pieces. They give wonderful e5 (e4) outpost and ability to create strong heavy pieces’ pressure along the “b” file. The hanging pawns’ advance can carry huge energy and rip off the opponent’s center and castle after opening of files and diagonals. But be careful, the pawns’ advance can be double-edge (next paragraph).

The main problem with having hanging pawns is that they have no support from the other pawns and the pieces might be tied for constant defence, which is seriously limiting mobility. Moving any of the hanging pawns might create serious weaknesses in the center, by giving good outposts for opponent’s pieces and allowing him to block the pawns. In addition, the backward pawn can be vulnerable to attack. Very often, opponent doesn’t have to wait for pawns’ advance, he can provoke it by pushing and even sacrificing “b” or “e” pawn. This plan is usually connected with the wonderful pieces’ play over the freshly available squares.

I will use few examples that IM Sasha Belezky presented in his lecture on the WCN.

First example is from the game Radjabov – Anand, Dubai 2002. White started with

  1. Rb1

But the plan fails after tactical continuation

26…Rxc4! 27. Rxb8 Rc1+ 28. Bf1 Rxb8 29. Bc3 Rbb1

Where Black has wonderful advantage thanks to the pressure on the first rank and passed a-pawn.

  1. Qd3 a3 31. Qxa6 a2 32. g4 Rxf1+ 33. Qxf1 Ne4 34. Ba1 Nd2 0-1

How did this happen? Obviously because of the weakness on back rank, but also because White’s hanging pawns were not adequately supported, allowing Rxc4.

We continue with position from the game Euwe – Reshevsky, Zurich 1953. In the early phase of the game, White tried direct kingside attack instead of over-protecting his hanging pawns. Later, he changed his mind and tried to support the pawns, but it was already too late, pawn c4 will be lost.

32…Nd5 33. cxd5 Rxc3 34. Rxc3 Qxc3 35. Bb2 Qb3 36. Bxa6 Rc2 37. d6 Rxf2 38. d7 Qd5 39. Kxf2 0-1


Next game is good example on usage of open b-file. Bertok – Fischer, Stockholm 1962.

14…Qb7 15. Qa3

  1. b3 would be exactly what Black wanted. He can continue with Nd7-Nb6-a5-a4 or a5-Qb4.

15…Nd7 16. Ne1

Idea to prevent a5-Qb4 and press against c5 pawn.

16…a5 17. Nd3 c4!

Excellent move! White can’t play b3 anymore and pawn is nailed on b2. Note that c4 is allowing wonderful outpost for White on d4, but he can’t reach it within acceptable time, because Knight has moved from f3 to d3.

  1. Nf4 Rfb8 19. Rab1

Better was 19. Nxe6 fxe6 20. Rab1 hoping for some e4 breach. After 19. Rab1, White is lost.

19…Bf5 20. Rbd1 Nf6 21. Rd2 g5! 22. Nxd5 Nxd5 23. Bxc4 Be6 24. Rfd1 Nxe3 25. Qxe3 Bxc4 26. h4 Re8 27. Qg3 Qe7 28. b3 Be6 29. f4 g4 30. h5 Qc5+ 31. Rf2 Bf5 0-1

More examples in the next post.