Doubled c-Pawns

Is a doubled c-pawn worth a Bishop? Peter Lane Contents

  1. Doubled c-pawns and the Bishop pair in the Nimzo-Indian
    1. Spassky,B (2660) - Fischer,R (2785) (05) [E41] Wch28-Reykjavik, 1972
    2. Peter Lane - RJJ Gibbons, Exeter Vs. Kingston, 1995
    3. Lane, PC - Bartlett,J
  2. Doubled c-pawns and the Bishop pair in the French Winawer
    1. Debbage, I - Lane, PC (Thamesdown vs. Exeter)
    2. Thomas, N - Lane, PC
  3. Summary

This is one of the great themes of the Nimzo-Indian and French Winawer. We will look at it in both contexts: First, the Nimzo-Indian.


Doubled c-pawns and the Bishop pair in the Nimzo-Indian

Spassky,B (2660) - Fischer,R (2785) (05) [E41] Wch28-Reykjavik, 1972

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. Nf3 c5 5. e3 Nc6 6. Bd3 Bxc3+

  This method, developed by Huebner, forces the exchange before White can escape by castling. Black then creates a blockade on the dark squares.

7. bxc3 d6 8. e4 e5


t+lDj+-T Xx+-+xXx -+sX-S-+ +-X-X-+- -+pPp+-+ +-Pb+n+- p+-+-PpP R-BqK-+r

Black tempts d4-d5.

9. d5 Ne7 10. Nh4 h6 11. f4


t+lDj+-T Xx+-SxX- -+-X-S-X +-XpX-+- -+p+pP-N +-Pb+-+- p+-+-+pP R-BqK-+r

White tries to open up the King's-side for attack, hoping to use the Bishops.

11... Ng6!

  Black exchanges White's remaining Knight, leaving White with two Bishops but in a closed position where Bishops lack scope.

Black is not tempted by [11...exf4 12. Bxf4 g5 13. e5 Ng4 14. e6! Nf6 15. Bg3 => with a strong attack]

12. Nxg6 fxg6 13. fxe5 dxe5 14. Be3 b6 15. O-O O-O 16. a4


t+lD-Tj+ X-+-+-X- -X-+-SxX +-XpX-+- p+p+p+-+ +-PbB-+- -+-+-+pP R-+q+rK-

Still trying to get some play.

16... a5

  Another Black weakness but the last opportunity for White to develop any activity. And if White cannot or does not attack b6, it is not really weak!

17. Rb1 Bd7 18. Rb2 Rb8 19. Rbf2

  Perhaps White would have been better sticking to pressure on the b-file.

19...Qe7 20. Bc2 g5 21. Bd2 Qe8 22. Be1 Qg6


-T-+-Tj+ +-+l+-X- -X-+-SdX X-XpX-X- p+p+p+-+ +-P-+-+- -+b+-RpP +-+qBrK-

Only Black can undertake anything in this position.

Impertinent note from typist: when I first came across this game as an example of weak pawns I was confused - whose pawns are supposed to be weak? The answer really is White's, because his Bishops are hemmed in, and can neither easily defend the White weaknesses nor attack the Black ones - hence the Black weakness are more apparent than real.

23. Qd3 Nh5 24. Rxf8+ Rxf8 25. Rxf8+ Kxf8

  With the Rooks off White can only wait and defend.

26. Bd1 Nf4 27. Qc2??


-+-+-J-+ +-+l+-X- -X-+-+dX X-XpX-X- p+p+pS-+ +-P-+-+- -+q+-+pP +-+bB-K-

Under pressure, White blunders.

27... Bxa4 0-1


  What does our noted theoretician, Nimzovitch himself, have to say about this?


-+-+-+-+ XxX-+xXx -+-X-+-+ +-+-X-+- -+-+p+-+ +-+p+-+- pPp+-PpP +-+-+-+-

With this pawn formation White might plan c2-c3, d3-d4-d5, c3-c4, b2-b4 and c4-c5.


-+-+-+-+ XxX-+xXx -+-X-+-+ +-+-X-+- -+-+p+-+ +-Pp+-+- p+p+-PpP +-+-+-+-

But here d4-d5 and c3-c4 can be met with ...b7-b6. So this formation lacks dynamism. But this dynamic weakness is conter-balanced by a static strength, as a Pawn on d4 cannot be forced to advance, being propped up by the c-Pawn. (However, adding to this we see c4 is weak and hard to defend, and the a-pawn is isolated. These factors lend Black an endgame advantage.

  We can now make a few comments about Spassky's play:

  Firstly, White obligingly pushed d4-d5 blocking the game, whereas any attempt by Black to exchange on d4 would open the position for the Bishop pair.

  Secondly, the Knight's development on f3 impedes the push of the f-Pawn

  Thirdly, the rapid blocking tof the position by fxe5 and a2-a4 worked against the Bishops.

  Lastly, a continued assault on b6 was needed to constrain Black's deployment in some way.

  Let us consider an alternative system of development based upon the Deferred (Closed) Saemisch Variation, a sometime recommendation of Keene, and a game with an interesting strategic point.

Peter Lane - RJJ Gibbons, Exeter Vs. Kingston, 1995

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. e3 c5

  White loses a move playing a3 to force the chosen formation.

5. a3 Bxc3+ 6. bxc3 O-O

(too early? - DR's notes from the Express and Echo)

7. Bd3 d6 8. Ne2 e5 9. e4 Qc7

  White leaves the f-pawn free to advance; Black's reply avoids the pin on g5.

10. O-O Nc6

(Black is playing normal Nimzo-Indian moves, but White's opening (with Ne2 rather than Nf3) is too dangerous for normal methods. ...Ne8 and f5 was called for - DR)

11. f4 Bg4?

[11... cxd4 12. cxd4 Nxd4 13. Nxd4 exd4 14. Bb2 Qb6 15. Qc2 and e5]

  Anyone else want to call this a losing move? Note that Black threatens to exchange on e2, and take at d4. If White takes dxc5 and fxe5, c4 and e4 become vulnerable to the Knights. Otherwise White must play d5 - but doesn't this lead to a blocked position with White's Bishop ineffectual as we saw before?

12. d5! Ne7 13. f5!

  Isn't the first commandment, "Bishop like open spaces, Knights like closed positions"? - But White controls so much of the board, can you find a good square for a Knight? Note that fxe5, "opening the position", woud have been a serious error, allowing ...Nd6 and ...Ba6.

13...Nd7 (else Bg5) 14. Qe1 Bxe2 15. Bxe2 f6 16. Qh4!

  Now Black sees the idea!

16...Rfd8 17. Rf3 Nf8 18. Rg3 Nc8?

  Dropping a vital Pawn, but:

[18...Nd7 19.Qh6 g6 20.fxg6 hxg6 21.Rh3;

18...Kh8 19.Bh6

A) 19...g5 20.Bxg5 fxg5 21.Qxg5 Neg6 22.fxg6 Nxg6 (22...hxg6 23.Rh3+ Kg8 24.Bg4) 23.h4;

B) 19...Ng8 20.Bxg7+;

18...Kf7 19.Bh5+ g6 20.fxg6+ hxg6 (20...Nexg6 21.Rf3 Qe7 22.Bg5 Nd7 23.Raf1 anyone fancy Black?) 21.Rf3 Ng8 22.Bxg6+ Kxg6 23.Rg3+ Kf7 24.Qh5+ Ke7 25.Rg7#]

19. Qxf6 Rd7 20. Qg5 Qd8


t+sD-Sj+ Xx+t+-Xx -+-X-+-+ +-XpXpQ- -+p+p+-+ P-P-+-R- -+-+b+pP R-B-+-K-

21. Qxd8 Rxd8 22. Bg5 Rd7 23. f6 Ng6 24. Bg4 Rc7 25. Be6+ Kh8 26. Rf1 gxf6 27. Bxf6+ Rg7 28. Bxg7+ Kxg7 29. Rf7+ 1-0

  The 'interesting strategic point' is that while the Knights still always require outpost squares in blocked positions, the Bishops can work around all but the tightest blockade to find a diagonal (unless they are required for defence of pawns attacked by active enemy Knights - DR).


Lane, PC - Bartlett,J

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. e3 c5 5. a3 Bxc3+ 6. bxc3 O-O 7. Bd3 d6 8. Ne2 e5 9. e4


tSlD-Tj+ Xx+-+xXx -+-X-S-+ +-X-X-+- -+pPp+-+ P-Pb+-+- -+-+nPpP R-BqK-+r

9... Re8 10. Ng3 Nc6 11. d5 Ne7

[11... Na5 12. Bg5 h6 13. Bxf6 Qxf6 14. Qa4]

12. Bg5 Ng6 13. Nh5 Bg4 14. Nxf6+ gxf6 15. Bxf6 Bxd1 16. Bxd8 Rexd8 17. Rxd1 Nf4 18. Bf1!

  Hanging on to the Bishop! 18... Kf8 19. g3 Nh5 20. Bh3


t+-T-J-+ Xx+-+x+x -+-X-+-+ +-XpX-+s -+p+p+-+ P-P-+-Pb -+-+-P-P +-+rK-+r

White went on to win: the 'bad' Bishop has a fine diagonal and the Knight has no good squares.


  The ideal structure for Black actually looks quite different to the Huebner, with f7-f5 in place of d6/e5, and an assault on e4, i.e. forget about blocking the Bishops, and instead fight for chances in a more dynamic set-up.


Doubled c-pawns and the Bishop pair in the French Winawer

Debbage, I - Lane, PC (Thamesdown vs. Exeter)

1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. e5 Qd7 5. a3 Bxc3+ 6. bxc3 b6 7. Qg4 f5 8. Qg3 Ba6 9. Bxa6 Nxa6 10. Qd3?!

[10. Ne2! Nb8!? 11. Nf4 Nc6! 12. Nxe6!? "Discuss..."]

10... Nb8

[10... Qa4 prevents c4 11. Nf3 Ne7 12. Ng5 Kd7 13. h4 Nb8 14. Rg1 Nbc6 15. g4 Na5 16. Rb1 Nc4 White's King's-side counterplay is not enough: -+ Atkinson-Cooke 1965]

11. Ne2 Nc6 12. O-O Na5 13. Nf4 Nc4 14. Qe2 O-O-O 15. Nd3 h6 16. a4 a5 17. Nb2 Qc6 18. Nxc4 Qxc4 19. Qxc4 dxc4 20. f4?? Ne7 21. Rf3 Nd5


-+jT-+-T +-X-+-X- -X-+x+-X X-+sPx+- p+xP-P-+ +-P-+r+- -+p+-+pP R-B-+-K-

Black wins with a Queen's-side advance: the Bishop is very bad and the Knight holds sway on both sides of the board. As in the Spassky-Fischer game, the White Pawns have become blocked and an obstruction to his own pieces.



Thomas, N - Lane, PC

1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. e5 Qd7 5. Qg4 f5 6. Qh5+ Qf7 7. Qf3 b6 8. h4 Ba6 9. Bxa6 Nxa6 10. Qd3 Bxc3+ 11. bxc3

[11. Qxc3]

11... Nb8 12. Nh3 Nc6


t+-+j+sT X-X-+dXx -Xs+x+-+ +-+xPx+- -+-P-+-P +-Pq+-+n p+p+-Pp+ R-B-K-+r

13. c4!

  makes good use of the Queen on d3

[13. Nf4 Na5 and Black has achieved a favourable blockade]

13... dxc4 14. Qxc4 Qd7


t+-+j+sT X-Xd+-Xx -Xs+x+-+ +-+-Px+- -+qP-+-P +-+-+-+n p+p+-Pp+ R-B-K-+r

White's Bishop still has some problems, and the struggle for dominance by the minor pieces is still determined by the pawn structure, the legacy of the exchange on c3.

15. Be3 Na5 16. Qb4 Qc6 17. Nf4 Ne7 18. c4 Nxc4 19. Rc1 b5 20. Nxe6 Nd5 21. Qc5 Qxc5 22. Nxc5 Kf7


t+-+-+-T X-X-+jXx -+-+-+-+ +xNsPx+- -+sP-+-P +-+-B-+- p+-+-Pp+ +-R-K-+r

Dynamic equality: Black's knights have achieved favourable outposts but Black has not enough play on the Queen's-side for a win, given the backward c-pawn and strong White Knight. (The weak c-Pawn prevents a5-b4-a4-b3 and White managed to create play on the King's-side.)



I find that in the Winawer, White's small spatial advantage allows Black's Knights room to manoeuvre and blockade the doubled Pawns. In the Nimzo-Indian it is harder for the Knights to get to work.

  The Pawns are not good or bad in themselves, only in how they determine the relative strengths of the opposing pieces.

  Silman's 'Re-assess your chess' advises:

  When considering an exchange of Bishop for Knight, ask yourself:

  1. is the position open or closed?
  2. Will there be support points for the Knight(s)? and if so:
    1. can the Knight(s) get there?
    2. does it matter if they do? [i.e. are they away from the main arena of play?]
    3. what can you do in the meantime with the Bishop(s)?