Technical White Paper- Middle Game element: Doubled Pawns


Nimzowitsch examples
Siege of the front of a doubled pawn
Central square controlling
Potential for square controlling
Further Reading


This white paper focuses on a particular aspect of an  important middlegame element, pawn structure. The aspect considered is doubled pawns.

Element definition

"Doubled pawns" are two pawns which are adjacent to each other on the same file.

Nimzowitsch examples

The great writer of strategy Aron Nimzowitsch  ,was so enthusiastic about doubled pawns, that he created an entire opening system which is full of ideas revolving around doubled pawns- the Nimzo-indian defence. He talks about the doubled pawn and restraint at great length..

He formalised strategic concepts based on them, such as "blockade" which is one instance of the more fundamental "restraint" strategy that he preached and philosophised about. These have become part of the strategic armoury of millions of chess players.

Before going any further, here are some examples of Nimzowitsch winning with his ideas related to doubled pawns:-

Iohner P - Nimzowitsch Aaron [E50]
It, Dresden, 1926

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e3 0-0 5.Bd3 c5 6.Nf3 Nc6 7.0-0 Bxc3 8.bxc3 d6 9.Nd2 b6 10.Nb3 e5 11.f4 e4 12.Be2 Qd7 13.h3 Ne7 14.Qe1 h5 15.Bd2 Qf5 16.Kh2 Qh7 17.a4 Nf5 18.g3 a5 19.Rg1 Nh6 20.Bf1 Bd7 21.Bc1 Rac8 22.d5 Kh8 23.Nd2 Rg8 24.Bg2 g5 25.Nf1 Rg7 26.Ra2 Nf5 27.Bh1 Rcg8 28.Qd1 gxf4 29.exf4 Bc8 30.Qb3 Ba6 31.Re2 Nh4 32.Re3 Bc8 33.Qc2 Bxh3 34.Bxe4 Bf5 35.Bxf5 Nxf5 36.Re2 h4 37.Rgg2 hxg3+ 38.Kg1 Qh3 39.Ne3 Nh4 40.Kf1 Re8 0-1

Reti,R - Nimzowitsch Aaron [E34]
Berlin+++, 1928

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.Qc2 d5 5.e3 c5 6.Nf3 Nc6 7.a3 Bxc3+ 8.bxc3 b6 9.Bd3 0-0 10.cxd5 exd5 11.0-0 c4 12.Be2 Bg4 13.Re1 Bh5 14.Nd2 Bg6 15.Qd1 b5 16.f3 a5 17.e4 dxe4 18.Nxe4 Bxe4 19.fxe4 Nxe4 20.Qc2 f5 21.Bf3 Qf6 22.Rb1 b4 23.cxb4 Qxd4+ 24.Be3 Qd3 25.Qxd3 cxd3 26.b5 Ne5 27.Bxe4 fxe4 28.Bd4 Nc4 29.Rxe4 Nxa3 30.Re7 Rf4 31.Be5 Nxb1 32.Bxf4 Rd8 33.b6 d2 34.Bxd2 Nxd2 35.b7 Rf8 36.h3 Nc4 37.Re6 a4 38.Ra6 Ne5 39.Rxa4 Rb8 40.Rb4 Kf7 41.Kh2 Ke7 42.Rh4 h6 43.Rb4 Nf7 44.Rg4 g5 45.Re4+ Kf6 46.Rb4 Nd6 47.h4 Rxb7 48.hxg5+ hxg5 49.Ra4 Rb3 50.g3 Nf5 51.g4 Nh4 52.Ra5 Rc3 53.Ra8 Ke5 54.Rf8 Ke4 55.Rf7 Rd3 56.Rf8 Ng6 57.Rf5 Rd5 0-1

The following is a complete classic because it also combines the principle of "overprotection":-

Bogoljubow,E - Nimzowitsch Aaron [E21]
Karlsbad, 1929

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.Nf3 Bxc3+ 5.bxc3 b6 6.g3 Bb7 7.Bg2 0-0 8.0-0 Re8 9.Re1 d6 10.Qc2 Be4 11.Qb3 Nc6 12.Bf1 e5 13.dxe5 Nxe5 14.Nxe5 Rxe5 15.Bf4 Re8 16.f3 Bb7 17.Rad1 Nd7 18.e4 Qf6 19.Bg2 Ne5 20.Rd2 Re7 21.Red1 Bc6 22.Rf2 Rae8 23.Bf1 h6 24.Be2 Kh8 25.Qa3 Qe6 26.Qc1 f5 27.exf5 Qxf5 28.Qd2 Qf7 29.Qd4 Ng6 30.Bd3 Nxf4 31.Qxf4 Qxf4 32.gxf4

bognimz.gif (5374 bytes)

Nimzowitsch must have been quite content with his position at this stage. His pieces are "overprotecting" the e4 square, and there are two sets of doubled pawns to pick on!..

Rf8 33.f5 Bd7 34.Rdd2 Bxf5 35.Rfe2 Rxe2 36.Bxe2 Re8 37.Kf2 Re5 38.Rd5 g5 39.Rxe5 dxe5 40.c5 bxc5 41.Ba6 e4 42.a4 Kg7 43.a5 exf3 44.Kxf3 Kf6 45.Ke3 Ke5 46.Bc4 Bg4 47.Ba6 h5 48.Bc4 h4 49.Ba6 Bd1 50.Bb7 g4 0-1

The following game is a very instructive because it shows the weaknesses created by implication of the original doubled pawns.

Mattison,A - Nimzowitsch Aaron [E21]
Karlsbad, 1929

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.Nf3 Bxc3+ 5.bxc3 d6 6.Qc2 Qe7 7.Ba3 c5 8.g3 b6 9.Bg2 Bb7 10.0-0 0-0 11.Nh4 Bxg2 12.Kxg2 Qb7+ 13.Kg1 Qa6 14.Qb3 Nc6 15.Rfd1 Na5 16.Qb5 Qxb5 17.cxb5 Nc4

matnimz.gif (6533 bytes)

Although the doubled pawn has been got rid of by the opponent, the c4 square is beautiful for blacks knight.

18.Bc1 a6 19.bxa6 Rxa6 20.dxc5 bxc5 21.Ng2 Nd5 22.Rd3 Rfa8 23.e4 Ne5 0-1

Final Position

matnimz2.gif (5577 bytes)

Nimzowitsch Aaron - Henneberger,W [E22]
Zürich, 1934

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.Qb3 Bxc3+ 5.bxc3 d6 6.f3 0-0 7.Bg5 Qe7 8.e4 e5 9.Rd1 c5 10.d5 Nbd7 11.g4 Re8 12.Bd3 Nf8 13.Ne2 h6 14.Bc1 N6h7 15.h4 Qf6 16.Ng1 Ng6 17.h5 Nf4 18.Bxf4 Qxf4 19.Be2 Ng5 20.Rd3 f5 21.gxf5 Bxf5 22.Qb1 Re7 23.Kd1 Bd7 24.Kc2 b5 25.Qe1 bxc4 26.Rd2 Ba4+ 27.Kb2 Rb8+ 28.Ka3 Reb7 29.Kxa4 Qf7 30.Bxc4 Qd7+ 31.Ka3 Qc7 32.Bb3 Qa5+ 33.Kb2 c4 34.Qd1 Qa4 35.Rf2 Rxb3+ 36.Ka1 Qa5 37.Rc2 Rxc3 38.Rhh2 Rcb3 39.Qc1 c3 40.Rhg2 Rb1+ 0-1

Clinical seige of the front of a doubled pawn complex

Nimzowitsch has undoubtedly influenced whole generations of players, the following game is an example of effective seige of a vulnerable doubled pawn. Botvinnik does not care about giving himself an isolated a-pawn, he wants a knight on b6. He also systematically removes the pawns only defender with be4.

Uhlmann,W - Botvinnik,M [E43]
Munich, 1958

1.d4 e6 2.c4 Nf6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e3 b6 5.Bd3 Bb7 6.Nf3 Ne4 7.0-0 f5 8.Qc2 Bxc3 9.bxc3 0-0 10.Rb1 c5 11.a4 Qc7 12.a5 d6 13.Nd2 Nxd2 14.Bxd2 Nd7 15.Rb2

uhlbot.gif (6113 bytes)

bxa5!! 16.Ra1 Nb6 17.Rxa5 Be4 18.Bxe4 fxe4 19.Qb3 Nxc4 20.Qxc4 Qxa5 21.Qxe6+ Kh8 22.Ra2 Qc7 23.Qxe4 Rf7 0-1

Central square controlling

There are many situations where doubled pawns can be used with advantage, for example to control important central squares, take the following game as an example:-

Capablanca,J - Janowsky,D
St (8), 1914

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Bxc6 dxc6 5.Nc3 Bc5 6.d3 Bg4 7.Be3 Bxe3 8.fxe3

capjan.gif (6103 bytes)

The pawn on e3 is a very useful guard of the d4 square. The bishop exchange has also got rid of blacks pressure on the a7-g1 diagonal. Another point to note is there is pressure on the f file created. This latter factor was not so relevant for this game but it was quite relevant in the next.

Qe7 9.0-0 0-0-0 10.Qe1 Nh6 11.Rb1 f6 12.b4 Nf7 13.a4 Bxf3 14.Rxf3 b6 15.b5 cxb5 16.axb5 a5 17.Nd5 Qc5 18.c4 Ng5 19.Rf2 Ne6 20.Qc3 Rd7 21.Rd1 Kb7 22.d4 Qd6 23.Rc2 exd4 24.exd4 Nf4 25.c5 Nxd5 26.exd5 Qxd5 27.c6+ Kb8 28.cxd7 Qxd7 29.d5 Re8 30.d6 cxd6 31.Qc6 1-0

Botvinnik,M - Kalinin,I [C55]
Leningrad, 1924

2/3 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.0-0 Bc5 5.d3 d6 6.Be3 Bb6 7.Nbd2 0-0 8.c3 Bg4 9.h3 Bh5 10.Re1 Qe7 11.g4 Bg6 12.Nh4 Kh8 13.Nf5 Qd7 14.Qf3 Rae8 15.Nf1 Nd8 16.h4 Bxe3 17.fxe3

botkal.gif (6192 bytes)

Ne6 18.N1g3 Nc5 19.g5 Ng8 20.h5 Bxf5 21.Nxf5 Qd8 22.Kf2 Ne7 23.h6 g6 24.Ng7 f5 25.gxf6 d5 26.Nxe8 dxc4 27.f7 Nxd3+ 28.Ke2 Nxe1 29.Qf6# 1-0

Potential square controlling

A classic example of accepting doubled pawns, in order to reinforce the control of key squares is provided by Fischer:-

Spassky,B - Fischer,R [E41]
Reykjavik WCh (5), 1972

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.Nf3 c5 5.e3 Nc6 6.Bd3 Bxc3+ 7.bxc3 d6 8.e4 e5 9.d5 Ne7 10.Nh4 h6 11.f4 Ng6 12.Nxg6 fxg6

spasfisc.gif (6022 bytes)

The pawns look very bad dont they?! Look what happens though, and the way in which the f4 square is reinforced.

13.fxe5 dxe5 14.Be3 b6 15.0-0 0-0 16.a4 a5 17.Rb1 Bd7 18.Rb2 Rb8 19.Rbf2 Qe7 20.Bc2 g5 21.Bd2 Qe8 22.Be1 Qg6 23.Qd3 Nh5 24.Rxf8+ Rxf8 25.Rxf8+ Kxf8 26.Bd1 Nf4 27.Qc2 Bxa4 0-1

Final Position

spasfisc2.gif (5618 bytes)


Doubled pawns are not necessarily weak in themselves. It is the lack of mobility of weak squares created either in front of them or when they are dissolved, that can prove more fatal than the pawns themselves. Doubled pawns can be used to advantage, for example to control key central squares, or to re-inforce important squares. Their proper management therefore requires a deep understanding of the position.

Further Reading

Pawn structure

Pawn Structure Chess (McKay Chess Library)
Andrew Soltis / Paperback / Published 1995
Nimzowitsch ideas
Chess Praxis
Ken Artz(Editor), et al / Paperback / Published 1993
Chess Praxis
Aron Nimzovich, Aron Nimzowitsch / Paperback / Published 1936
My System : 21st Century Edition
Aron Nimzowitsch, et al / Paperback / Published 1992
My System.
Aron Nimzovich, Aron Nimzowitsch / Paperback / Published 1979
Aron Nimzowitsch; A Reappraisal
Raymond Keene / Paperback / Published 1999
The Blockade
Aron Nimzowitsch / Paperback / Published 1983

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