One way in which doubled pawns can be weak is when they cripple a pawn majority in the ending. The typical pawn formation where Black has doubled pawns on the c-file following a trade of bishop for knight in the Ruy Lopez will be familiar to most of my readers.
White’s dream when playing the Spanish Exchange is to reach a winning pawn ending, so Black needs to be aware of the danger and keep pieces on the board.
Here’s one I made (very much) earlier. It’s a London League game from December 1972. I was playing the Exchange Variation of the Ruy Lopez, as we called it in those days, under the influence of Bobby Fischer. Regular readers of this column will know that it’s still popular at club level today. We’ll hurry through the first 36 moves.
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Bxc6 dxc6 5. O-O Bd6 6. d4 Bg4 (6… exd4 is better. Now Black has to give up bishop for knight so White has all the advantages of the Spanish Exchange with none of the disadvantages.) 7. dxe5 Bxf3 8. Qxf3 Bxe5 9. Rd1 Qe7 10. Qd3 Rd8 11. Qxd8+ Qxd8 12. Rxd8+ Kxd8 13. c3 Ne7 14. f4 Bd6 15. Be3 f6 16. Nd2 Ng6 17. g3 Re8 18. Kg2 Re7 19. Kf3 Rd7 20. Rd1 Be7 21. Ke2 Kc8 22. Nb3 Rxd1 23. Kxd1 b6 24. Nd4 Kd7 25. Nf5 Bf8 26. Ke2 c5 27. c4 Ke6 28. g4 Ne7 29. Nxe7 Bxe7 30. Kf3 Bd6 31. h4 b5 32. b3 h6 33. a4 c6 34. f5+ Kd7 35. Bf4 Be5 36. Bxe5 fxe5
Black has obligingly let me exchange off all the pieces and reach a winning pawn ending. Maybe there were some players back in 1973 who didn’t understand this sort of thing.
This is the correct plan. 37. g5 h5 is only a draw as the white king has no way through. So I have to play h5 first and then prepare g5, recapturing with the king. I just have to make sure that I time my waiting move on the other side of the board correctly.
37… Ke7 38. Kg3 Kf7
Now I have to be careful. The right way to play it is 39. Kh4! Kf6 40. a5 b4 (or 40… bxc4 41. bxc4 Kf7 42. g5 Ke7 43. f6+ gxf6 44. gxh6) 41. g5+ hxg5+ 42. Kg4 and wins as Black has to give way. On the other hand the immediate 39. g5?? fxg5 40. Kg4 Kf6 41. a5 b4 is no good as White can make no progress.
This also doesn’t – or shouldn’t – work. The waiting move can – and should – wait. Now Black will have the choice of either pushing or capturing on the queen-side depending on the choices White makes on the king-side. (If you play Capture the Flag pawn games, which you, and your pupils, should, you’ll get a lot of practice in positions where your choice between pushing and taking will depend on the number of tempo moves available.)
Black returns the compliment. The path to the draw is 39… Ke7! 40. Kh4 (or 40. g5 hxg5 41. Kg4 Kf6 42. Kf3 bxc4! (here taking draws but pushing loses) 40… Kf6 41. g5+ hxg5+ 42. Kg4 b4! (here pushing draws but taking loses). Once the tempo moves on the other side have been exhausted Black has to be able to play Kf6 in reply to White’s Kg4.
40. Kh4 Ke7
41. g5 Kf7
42. Kg4 Ke7
The winning move. Of course I’m planning to meet 43… gxf6 with 44. gxh6 when my (doubled) outside passed pawns give me an easy win.
44. gxh6 gxh6
45. Kf5 b4
46. Kxe5 and Black resigned
(Capture the Flag games are games without kings where you can win in three ways: by getting a pawn to the end safely (capturing the metaphorical flag), taking all your opponent’s pieces or stalemating your opponent. They are excellent for young beginners and can also be played at the end of a school chess club or lesson where there isn’t enough time for a complete game. The full Capture the Flag pawn game starts with both players having 8 pawns on their normal starting squares and no other pieces.)