Learn chess with Pete
Beginners Level

Lesson 6 – Pawn Tactics

“The old one-two”

This is one of the very few things I’ve learnt about chess in the last thirty years. It was shown to me by another member of the club – Crafty Fred Freshwater (only kidding, Fred), and it’s his name for it. Consider this position,

White to play and win.

This is how not to do it. And this is the correct method. Tricky stuff.


A gambit is when you sacrifice material early in the game. This is usually a pawn, but can also be a minor piece. Look up the Muzio gambit or the Damiano Gambit if you’re interested in gambitting a piece. Warning – gambits can seriously damage your chess game’s health!

So why would you want to give up a pawn in the first few moves? The clue lies in the name. The word gambit derives from the Italian gamba – a leg. In wrestling, a gambitare is a trip. So a gambit is a temporary sacrifice in order to trip the opponent up. Gambits tend to lead to exciting chess, with plenty of traps. They can lead to very quick wins. At the very least, the player of the gambit (usually White) will gain a lead in development in exchange for the pawn. Black’s best plan is usually not to hang on to the extra pawn at all costs, but to return it at a convenient time.

The most well-known gambit is the King’s Gambit. It is occasionally seen even at the highest levels of chess. One famous occasion was when Boris Spassky used it to beat the up-and-coming Bobby Fischer in 29 moves in 1960.Fischer avoided it whenever they met after that. Here’s an example of what can happen in the King’s Gambit.It’s known as the Immortal Game.Every chess player should know this game.Don’t worry if you can’t reproduce that sort of play in your own games, Adolf Anderssen was the greatest tactician of his day, and one of the greatest ever.

Of course, the player against whom the gambit is played can always decline it. This tends to lead to less exciting chess.In the Nineteenth Century, most players considered it a matter of honour to accept a gambit, and some of us still maintain the tradition!

There are lots of different gambits, such as the Queens Gambit,Evans Gambit, Scotch Gambit, Vienna Gambit and many others. When Black plays them they are usually called Counter-gambits, and are even riskier than gambits played by White – for instance the Latvian Counter-Gambit.

Because they can lead to tremendous complications, it is best not to try to memorise all the various possibilities. Look up and play through a couple of famous games in a gambit that takes your fancy (they’re easy to find on the internet), and then play it lots of times in friendly games to get familiar with the sort of positions that can arise. Once you’ve done that, try it out in a match.

Pawn Storms

A Pawn storm is when a number of pawns charge the enemy position.This most commonly happens against the opponent’s castled King, and is most effective when players have castled on opposite sides (so that you do not remove your own King’s defences in order to attack).They are also most effective when backed by a Rook or Queen. A Pawn storm is the equivalent of a mass infantry advance in a real battle. Over the top!Here

is the sort of position which is ideal for White to start a Pawn storm. I hope you can see why a similar attempt by Black would take longer and be less likely to succeed.

Passed Pawns

A passed Pawn is one which cannot be stopped by an enemy Pawn. In other words there is no enemy Pawn directly in front of it, or in front on an adjacent file. This means that the opponent must use a piece to block or capture it to prevent it reaching the promotion square. This means that passed Pawns, and especially connected passed Pawns, are much more powerful and useful than pawns are at the start of a game.They become stronger and stronger as they approach the opponent’s back rank. Early computer programs often undervalued passed pawns, and this was a good way for amateurs to beat them. Passed Pawns are perhaps the best example of how the values of pieces can change during a game according to the position. For instance

this position shows how two connected passed pawns can be stronger than a Rook.Even if Black is to move, he cannot prevent one of the pawns from Queening. Try it!