Chess Strategy/Queenside pawn majority

Queenside pawn majorityEdit

This is the odd-one-out of the various strategic elements. Why did Steinitz pick a queenside pawn majority as one of the most important strategic concepts? Why isn't the kingside majority, or the central majority, more important?

To clarify, the central majority is more important for most of the game. However, as the game nears the endgame, a queenside pawn majority becomes more and more important. The reason lies in the potential for creating passed pawns. As we know, it is easiest to create a passed pawn if you have a pawn majority. However, since in most games the king castles short, both kings are farther away from the queenside. And without kings, a pawn breakthrough becomes easier, since there is no enemy king to hamper the creation of a passed pawn. That is why kingside majorities are less valuable in the endgame--the king can stop pawns on its own.

The queenside majority in the endgameEdit

With pieces on the board, the task is slightly more complicated, but the priority remains the same: Try to create a breakthrough before the enemy king arrives. Let's look at a game from the German master Rudolf Teschner, who shows us how to convert the majority into account.

 a b c d e f g h 8 8 7 7 6 6 5 5 4 4 3 3 2 2 1 1 a b c d e f g h
Teschner--Golombek, Hamburg 1955

Position after Black's 21st move

White has a slight edge in this endgame because of his queenside pawn majority. However, both kings are located near the queenside, and if White simply tries to break through on that side of the board, it will likely be a draw. Thus, White needs to create a second front. He did so with 22.g4! White takes aim at the Black kingside, with an unusual minority attack. 22...Ne8 23.g5 hxg5 24.hxg5 Bd6 25.Nf3 g6 26.b4! Now that Black's kingside majority has been crippled (the f-pawn cannot advance and the entire majority of three is held back by White's minority of two), White can continue going about his business on the queenside. 26...Be7 27.Kb2 Nd6 28.c5 Nf5 29.Qe4 Ke8 30.Qe5! Qxe5 31.Bxe5 The trade of queens does not relieve the pressure on Black's position. All it did was deny Black any counterplay against White's king. 31...a5 32.a3 axb4 33.axb4 Bd8 34.Kb3 Ne7 35.Nd2 Nd5 36.Ne4 Be7 White has made significant progress. He has advanced his majority and crippled Black's. His "bad" bishop confines the activity of Black's "good" bishop. The majority is not actually doing anything, but it is holding Black's king down with the threat of b4-b5 and c5-c6. That threat became real after White's subsequent 37.Bf6! Now the exchanges on f6 would lead to a hopeless king-and-pawn endgame, so Black retreats even further back: 37...Bf8 38.Kc4 Kd7 39.b5 Kc8 40.Nd2 Kd7 41.Nf3 Be7 42.Ne5+ Ke8 43.Bxe7 Kxe7 44.Ng4 This ending is winning for White. Black's pieces are still tied down to the defense of the queenside. 44...Nf4 45.Nf6 Kd8 46.b6 Now the threat is 47.c6, creating a decisive breakthrough. 46...e5 47.Ne4 Kd7 48.Nd6 Nh3 49.Nxb7 Nxg5 50.Kd5 and Black resigns. The threat of creating a passed pawn from the queenside majority proved to be decisive in the last half of the game.

Note that often the case is that the stronger side has threats, but cannot find a meaningful way to break through. In this case, another weakness must be created elsewhere, and through the stronger side's superior mobility, switch attacks from one wing to another, so that the defender cannot parry all of the threats. Also, the pawn majority was nearly motionless until the end: however, it played a crucial role in the preceding battle.

Pawn majorities in the middlegameEdit

Much of the time in the middlegame, pawn majorities can be a precondition for attack. This next game was played by seventh World Champion Vassily Smyslov. Although not #1 yet, his skillful mastery in this game shows how to milk the advantages of a queenside majority.

 a b c d e f g h 8 8 7 7 6 6 5 5 4 4 3 3 2 2 1 1 a b c d e f g h
Gereban--Smyslov, Moscow 1949

Position after White's 21st move

Black has a majority of pawns on the queenside. White must use his pieces to blockade them, lest they become a serious threat. Because he needs to maintain this blockade, White cannot seek active play. Considering this, Smyslov decides to start a pawn attack on the kingside, opening lines and weakening the White king. 21...f5 22.Nc2 Nf7 23.Be7 Bf6 24.Bxf6 Nxf6 25.Nb4 Because Black is attacking, White needs to find counterplay, and finds some in pressure on the d5-pawn. 25...Bb7 26.Bf3 Qd8 27.g3 Weakening the White king position. However, there is little else to do. The idea is good--transfer the bishop to g2 and apply more pressure to d5. However, Black refutes this maneuver quite simply. 27...Ng5 28.Bg2 Nge4 29.Nxe4 Nxe4 30.Nc2 Of course capturing on e4 would leave the kingside bare. 30...g5 31.Ne1 Qf6! Instead of trying to win the Exchange, Black instead continues building up for the attack. 32.Nf3 f4 33.exf4 gxf4 34.g4 White has temporarily kept the lines closed. Remember that he must leave forces on the queenside to blockade the pawns. 34...Rad8 35.Rfe1 h5 36.Ne5 hxg4 37.hxg4 Now Black opens a different file, and swings his heavy pieces to the h-file to attack. 37...Qh4 38.Qf3 Rd6 39.Rad1 Rf8 40.Bf1 Rh6 41.Bg2 b4! The power of the queenside pawn majority finally shows itself. White still struggled on: 42.Kf1 Ng5 43.Qe2 f3 Winning a piece. The game is won for Black here. 44.Nxf3 Nxf3 45.Bxf3 Rhf6 46.Kg2 Rxf3 47.Qxf3 Rxf3 48.Kxf3 Bc6 49.Re5 c3! White could hold were it not for this move. The attack has died out, but the queenside majority lives! 50.bxc3 bxc3 51.Rc1 Qh3+ 52.Kf4 Bd7 53.Re3 Qxg4+ Actually, the attack still continues, so it appears that my last comment was bogus! 54.Ke5 Qe6+ 55.Kf4 Qf5+ 56.Kg3 c2 The majority makes its final blow., so White resigns.

Majority vs. minority--The minority attackEdit

After the moves 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 Nbd7 5.cxd5 exd5 6.Nf3 Be7 7.e3 O-O 8.Bd3 Re8 9.O-O c6 10.Qc2 Nf8, we reach a topical position of the Queen's Gambit Declined. It features a spine of pawns that is not easily broken, because pawn breaks by either side would lead to a weak d-pawn. So, both players must work on the wings.

Here White's best plan is regarded as being the Minority Attack, which features a minority attacking a majority of pawns. Here White usually plays 11.Rab1 to prepare b2-b4-b5, and exchanging on c6. The point of this maneuver is to create a weak c-pawn that will last the entire game. If Black ever tries to exchange it off with ...c6-c5, then after dxc5 he will receive a weak d-pawn. And without this, White still has a clear endgame advantage. Simple, and winning, right?

The answer is no. Black also gets good play on the side of the board where he has space, the kingside. Usually this involves sacrifices on h3 and g2 to weaken the kingside light squares. The outpost on e4 is also extensively used. 11...Ne6 12.Bxf6 Bxf6 13.b4 a6 14.a4 Be7 15.b5 White is considered to have an edge here, because Black's kingside attack usually is just a little too slow to develop.

ReferencesEdit

Alburt, Lev and Palatnik, Semyon. The King in Jeopardy. New York, NY: Chess Information and Research Center 1999.
Soltis, Andrew. Pawn Structure Chess. New York, NY: David McKay Company 1995.