This article is aimed at beginners and pre-intermediate players only. Though, intermediate players may find it interesting.
The pawn, the smallest chess unit, increases its value if it advances to the other side of the board with proper support. This is because of its unique power to promote itself to any other piece except the king.
A pawn is a ‘passed pawn’ or ‘passer’ if it doesn’t having any obstruction from an enemy pawn on the same file or neighboring file. Various endgame and middle game themes are based around the passed pawn only. We will deal with those concepts later on.
Let’s consider the following position:
1) White’s ‘c’ and Black’s ‘c’ pawns are not passed pawns as they have frontal obstruction.
2) White’s ‘g’ and Black’s ‘h’ pawns are not passed pawns as they face obstruction from the neighboring file’s enemy pawns.
3) White’s ‘e’ and Black’s ‘a’ pawns are passed pawns.
The level of difficulty in producing and promoting a passer varies with the level playing strength. Sometimes it is easier whilst at other times it is harder and requires the use of various tactical motifs and combinations to achieve the objective. Here are some instructive examples:
Carl Schlechter against Julius Perlis in 1911
In the given position Black’s last move was 7…Bxb1.
Q: How would you evaluate Black’s last move? And how should White proceed here?
A: Black’s last move was a mistake. Now White can win a good pawn.
Black is completely oblivious. He should have played 8…Nxc6 when White is pawn up yet far from winning. But now White can launch a splendid combination which wins on the spot.
This forces Black to give up his due to White’s powerful candidate on c6 and Black’s awkward knight on b8. But his next move forces him to resign after White’s reply.
9…Rxa7 10. c7
Black resigned as he can’t stop White’s pawn from being promoted.
Karjakin against Navara in 2009
In this position White already had passed pawns on the a- and b- files but they are not dangerous yet because of Black’s active rooks on the 7th rank.
Q: How can White win this position by force?
A: Karjakin played R5c2 which wins by force.
White sacrificed his whole rook in order to make use of his pawn on b6.
36…Rdxc2 37. Rxc2 Rxc2
37…Rxa5 fails to b7 followed by Nd7+.
38. b7 Rb2 39. Nd7+ Ke8 40. Nb6
The point behind the combination. Black resigned.