One of the revelations I had at the Boston Chess Congress was that I could get to the middle game in most of my openings going on previous training and some rust removal. In a couple of games where I played against the King Indian’s defense and a Nimzo-Indian, I reached a nice d5 pawn structure, giving me some space and some play. But I had no clue as to what that play should be and ended up playing to conservative and allowed my opponent to attack.
A few years ago, I was looking at pawn structures to help me understand the openings. You can see these as they are linked on my side bar. This was really helpful in understanding the ideas behind certain openings where these certain pawn structures show up. This, I believe helps me with openings as I have a basic understanding of roughly where I want my pieces given certain structures. Thus I no longer fret openings and usually get a playable position.
With some pawn structures, I know more advanced ideas beyond “getting to a playable middle game”. I know the basic concepts for handling Isolated Queen Pawns whether I own it or attacking against my opponent’s. I also have a comfortable footing with the Carlsbad pawn and know enough when I can get into a minority attack or launch a central attack. But these only make up a small portion of the openings. What I felt I needed to get a grip on was what to do when I reach an advanced d5 pawn chain.
Pawn Chains Basics to advanced concepts
I decided to dust off Andrew Soltis’ work on Pawn structure chess and explore a little deeper on the advanced d5 chain. He gives great praise to his predecessor, Aaron Nimzovitch. In My System, he has a chapter dedicated to Pawn chains and attacking the base. Andrew Soltis modernizes this in his 1995 work on Pawn structures.
My focus for this post falls on the chapter he calls Chain Reactions. The goal for both sides is to break the chains. For white this means getting c4-c5 in to attack the base at d6. For black, it’s advancing f7-f5, g5 followed by f4 if allowed. Queenside versus Kingside attack boils down to who can get there first.
Here is a game showing what happens when Black doesn’t get counter play in. This is Rubenstein Variation of the NI. Later, I will look at a a Samisch Variation of the KID … This is why I liked the book these are opening variations I typically play:
Botvinnik-Kholmov Moscow 1947
Move 15 is the critical position. Andy points out that Black has made a major giving up the Bishop pair without any compensation. The passive defense on the King side limits any counter attacks. White plays 15 c5 and opens up the c-file to focus the root of the attack on c7. Go ahead and play the game, I will wait.
Samisch- KID position with Black getting coutner play on the King side.
(Position after 11…Nh5)
It’s a race for who can score first. White can’t ignore the threat of f7-f5. 12. B4 does grab initiative for white and he can continue to build the pressure on the c-file with rooks to c2 and c1. Balance this with threats of Black advancing a boa-constrictor of f5 g5 f4 etc.
The target for Black is the White king. If white sees this coming and is castled on the kingside… side stepping to Kf1-e1-d2 is not uncalled for. Positional games can allow for “slow” maneuvers if there are no forced moves.
What I gather so far:
As I see it, as White, in an advanced d5 chain, my goal is to open up the c-file by attacking the base on d6. Build up a battery on the c-file supplemented by minor pieces to get my rooks to the 7th. Got it, great!
Black *should* try to counter on the Kingside like any good little KID player by prepare a pawn advance to cramp up the white kingside. Black will try to first break on e4 with f5 and open up the chain. If white has too many reinforcements on e4, then f3 is the next spot.
What to do if both are “going for it”?
Good question. Here I wanted to be careful of the platitudes that come from books like My system and Pawn structure chess. There are no silver bullets and at some point you have to get a “feel” for how its played. Generically, white can get a counterstrategy against Black’s king side advance with g2-g4 at some point so he can continue with the c4-c5 thrust to have the c-file action. But by then Black may have counter measures of his own limiting the effectiveness of White’s Queen side attack.
It’s all about Balance and knowing when to shift gears. White may find that exf5 needs to be played giving up the chain. If Black recaptures with a pawn white will either try to fix that pawn with f4 or it now becomes a new target for attack. If black uses a piece to captures on f5, white now has e4 as an outpost. Nothing is easy. Mikhail Botvinnik always says “ One always captures on f5 with a pawn on f5 in such positions.
In this example, the critical position in on move 13 for black where playing e4 looked good but gives up strategic outposts. The correct move is 13…exf4.
Where to go from here.
I went through complete illustrative games from this book and decided to see if this was true in my openings reference book with reference games for Samisch-KID. I have to look at these games closer as the modern approach seems to tackle these chains differently than what was brought up in Nimzovitch’s time, or Zurich 1953 and the references made in Andy’s 1995 Pawn structure. I see other ideas by white like going after the Fianchetto Bishop of the KID with an early h2-h4! Other games showed opening the d-file with early Q exchanges that made absolutely no sense to me.
I can get behind the basic ideas of breaking the chains with opening c-file to get rooks on the 7th for White or Black’s counter attack on the king side with pawns to choke him… if he’s there. I am starting to get the nuances of counter play with g4 and maybe making a stand-off on the f5 square in case its attack versus attack. But one thing is for sure, beware my next passive opponent if I am granted an advanced d5 chain… I’m going for the point.