Passed Pawn In The Middlegame

Have you ever had a passed pawn in the middlegame?

And didn't know what to do with it?

Find out how to handle the passed pawn on this page.

This position is from a game of Boris Gelfand. He has just obtained a passed pawn through e4xd5. Now look at how he handles it.

1... Bf6.

His opponent, K. Lerner, probably knew he has to keep the minor pieces on the board (the minor pieces are the best blockaders of the past pawn).So why does he play this move?

He wants to eliminate the bishop because it is very active and dangerous.

Now Gelfand pushes the pawn immediately.

2. d6!

Although some preparation may be required in order not to lose the passed pawn, here the pawn push is already good.

Why does he push the pawn now?

Gelfand knows he can protect the pawn with his heavy pieces. By pushing the pawn now, he wants to stick a bone in black's throat.

2...Bxb2; 3.Qxb2, b5;

Black attacks the pawn, while setting his queenside majority in motion. The dispute has begun... White wants to get his passed pawn to the other side, while Black tries to win, using his pawn majority.

In situations with a passed pawn, the defender may also use the idea to besiege and win the passed pawn.

4. Rad1, Rfe8; 5. Rd5, Rab8;

You can see the battle taking shape.

6. Rfd1, Qc6; 7. h4,

White has taken some time to protect his passed pawn. Now he takes measures against back rank mates while at the same time preparing a king side attack.

7...a6; 8. h5, h6;

The kingside attack has been stopped for now.  Will the h-pawn be an asset or will it become weak?

Gelfand now returns to his passed pawn.

9. Ne5,

This is one of the moves to remember! It shows one of the principles in this kind of positions.

The side with the passed pawn has to remove all blockaders. When there's no blockader left, the pawn will promote. As the minor pieces are the best blockaders, very often this rule is explained as trading all minor pieces.

If Gelfand succeeds in trading the knight, the defending side will become very passive.

9...Nxe5; 10. Rxe5, Qd7;

As you can see, the defender has to use his queen as a blockader. Now the queen can't be employed anywhere else. This passivity causes Black most of his problems.

When you're playing with a passed pawn, making use of this kind of passivity has to be your goal.

11. Rde1, Re6;

Black is still defending, and the game isn't over yet. This is something to remember in chess. Although you may have a certain advantage, the game isn't winning itself. You may have to work hard and long to convert your advantage.

12. Rxe6, fxe6; 13. Qe5

A crucial moment. Black has to decide how to defend.

Possibilities are13... b4; 14.axb4, Rxb4; 15. Qxe6, Qxe6; 16 Rxe6, Rd4;

13...Re8 would be too passive. 14.Rc1, would give white a winning queen ending (14...Rc8; 15.Rc7, Rxc7; 16.dxc7, Kf6; 17 Qc3, Qc8; and the white king will be able to help via h2).

He chose to attack the pawn with

13....Rd8; 14. Rd1, a5; 15 Rd3,

15...Rc8; 16.Kh2, Rf8; 17. Qc3 (better may be Qc5)

Now Gelfand gives a pawn to swap queens and get the passed pawn to the seventh rank.

This can't be done without proper calculation. The further the pawn advances, the stonger it may become. On the other hand, you have to take into account that the opposing king may help besieging the pawn and eventually win it. You'll have to weigh all factors.

17.... Rxf2; 18. Qc7, Rf7; 19. Qxd7, Rxd7; 20. Kg3,

Now the last piece, the rook, has become the blockader. Yet another heavy piece made very passive. Now it's time to help the pawn promote. This can only be done with the help of the king.

That's something to remember. If all of the pieces are gone, the passed pawn may become strong or weak. It all depends on the help of the king.

20...Kf7; 21. Kf4, Ke8; 22.Ke5, Rf7;

And another crucial moment arises.  Black is still defending stubbornly. He's aiming to use his king as a blockader and then win the pawn. Gelfand  succeeds in preventing this.

23. Rc3, Kd8; 24. Kxe6, b4; 25 axb4, axb4;

Where should the rook go? This is the question for both sides.

26. Rg3, Rb7 (not the best, Rf6+ followed by Rf2 looks more promising); 27. Rg4,

27. ...Ke8;

Maybe you would expect 27...b3 but this runs into 28. Ra4. Because of several back rank mating threats (the passed pawn is doing a great job) White will be winning. This is clear after 28...Rb8;  29.Rf4, Kc8; 30.Rf8+, Kb7; 31. Rxb8+, Kxb8; 32. d7, Kc7; 33 Ke7 and the pawn promotes with check.

28. Rc4, Rb8; 29. Rc7, b3;

Black finally start running. If his pawn promotes, a draw may be achieved.

30. Rxg7, Kf8; 31. Rf7+, Kg8; 32 d7, b2; 33.Rf1

With help of the white king and pawn, the black king has been forced to leave the passed pawn. Now the white king can help the pawn promote, although he has to watch out for a nasty trick.  

33....Kg7; 34. Rb1!!

(not 34.Ke7??, b1Q; 35.Rxb1, Rxb1; 36. d8Q, Re1+; winning back the queen).

34...Rb6+, 35. Ke7, Rb7; 36. Ke8 and wins.


You have seen how Boris Gelfand handled his passed pawn. He's shown some powerful ideas, which you may use in your games as well.

Don't rush, winning may take a while.

Use your passed pawn to force the defender in a passive position.

Trade blockaders, minor pieces first.

Watch out for traps and counterplay ( your opponent may resist).

Your king must be able to support promotion, otherwise the pawn will fall.

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