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How To Play Against Isolated Queen’s Pawn – Lessons From Russian Chess School

The following example has a very special role in the formation of my chess knowledge.


The position in the diagram has been reached in the game between Belavenets – Rauzer, payed in 1937. I was still a child when I first saw this example on the pages of one of my favorite chess books “Endgame Strategy”, whose author is the famous chess player and teacher Mikhail Shereshevski. This endgame impressed me not only with its instructive view on the isolated pawn, but also with the fact that it comprises endgame fundamental principles.

Before I proceed with the explanation of this ending, I would like to introduce you in the wonderful world of the Isolated Queen’s Pawn.

Before I start, I would like to mention that the present article is a part of a complete course on IQP that I have prepared in collaboration with former URSS champion GM Viktor Gavrikov. The course contains three interconnected articles which can be found in Issues 2, 3 and 4 of Modern Chess Magazine.

To begin, I would say that it’s impossible to become strong chess player, without deep understanding on IQP! The importance of this topic is related to the fact that IQP can arise from a huge number of openings. Several examples are Queen’s Gambit, Slav Defense, Tarrasch Defense, Queen’s Indian Defense, Sicilian Defense and many other openings. Therefore, good knowledge of these positions is necessary for any chess player, regardless of his repertoire.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of playing with an “isolani”. Let’s take a look at the following position:


On the diagram, we have a classical IQP position. I will start by explaining the advantages that the IQP provides us with. Keep an eye on the diagram, while you are reading my explanations. By doing so, you will be able to visualise some concrete patterns.


The main advantage of the isolated pawn is that it provides spatial advantage. While the isolator controls the “e5” and “c5” squares (respectively “e4” and “c4”), they can be perfect outpost for the knights. Another essential advantage is the possession of the semi-opened line “e” which is often used as a springboard for the development of an attack against the enemy’s king. Taking into consideration the above-mentioned advantages, the side playing with an isolated pawn should seek for attack on the kingside and avoid pieces exchanges.


We must know that playing with an isolated pawn does not only lead to brilliant attacks, ending with elegant combinations. A well-known rule is that the defending resources are bigger than the one for the attacks. This guideline also concerns the positions with an isolated pawn. When the opponent manages to rebound from our attack on the kingside, our spatial advantage loses its value and the isolated pawn becomes a weakness. You have to remember that every exchange of the pieces brings us closer to the endgame, where the isolani is extremely vulnerable.

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As we have just said, the isolated pawn is a huge weakness in the endgame. Unlike the middlegame positions, in which our main goal is to prevent the movement of the pawn (usually by blocking it with a knight), in the final stage of the game we try to win it. According to a famous saying of the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, the one who does not know where it goes, necessarily arrive somewhere else. In this frame of mind, I would like to analyze the game against an isolated pawn, proceeding from the fundamental aim – the wining of the pawn. This retrospective approach has to start from the endgame and only then, we can deepen our past understandings of middlegame positions.

Let’s now analyse the game that I have mentioned in the beginning – Belavenets – Rauzer. I am still quite impressed by this masterpiece realized by the Soviet master Vsevolod Belavenets.

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