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Recognizing weaknesses in a position

GM Swapnil Dhopade & FM Ankit Gajwa

GM Swapnil Dhopade & FM Ankit Gajwa

Headcoach - Chess Pathshala

  1. August 13, 2020

Recognizing weaknesses in a position

Hello Dear Readers,

Weaknesses are an important aspect of positional chess. When evaluating a position, one needs to carefully determine the pros and cons of the position, and a correct determination of weaknesses in the position is of great importance.

How do we determine weaknesses?

  1. There are many ways to do it, but the simplest advice is: pay attention to the pawn structure! Pawns are the skeletal of the position. If you think of the game of chess as a warfare, then pawns are like plains and plateaus, which determines the geographic structure of the area of combat. The pawn structure, therefore, gives you a lot of information about the “plains and plateaus” on the chess board! It tells you about weak squares and strongholds.

There are 2 major kind of weaknesses that can exist in a position: Pawn weaknesses and weak squares.

  1. Simply put, a pawn weakness exists if a pawn is separated from other pawns, and hence, other pawns cannot render support to it. The term ‘isolated pawn’ is frequently used to describe a pawn like this. A weak pawn becomes a very big concern for the defending side if it’s easily exposed to the enemy pieces (e.g. the weak pawn lies on a semi-open file).

  2. A good way to determine pawn weaknesses is to look for pawn islands. Pawns islands refer to groups of pawns that are held together. It is advantageous to have less number of pawn islands, as it would mean that more of your pawns are held together, and hence, can render support to each other whenever required.


  1. In cases where there is a pawn chain, one must attack the pawn chain at its base, as pointed out by Nimzowitsch.

  2. The reason is clear – It is the base that isn’t supported by another pawn and is a potential weakness.


  1. Weak squares, on the other hand, are squares that cannot be controlled by pawns.

  2. These are created as a result of pawn moves since pawns cannot move back.

  3. Weak squares can become outposts for the opposing side if the opposing side controls them with a pawn.

  4. It’s important to study the cause and effect relationship between pawn moves and weaknesses, as it gives you an idea of how important pawn moves are, and how carefully one must place them.

  5. Good positional players are very careful with pawn moves.

  6. Karpov, for instance, played a lot with his pieces and was very careful in moving pawns.


  1. One must, however, be judicious in recognizing what really is a weakness and what isn’t.

  2. In general, a weakness is only a weakness if it can be attacked or exploited.

In the next article, we will be dealing with ways of exploiting such weaknesses.


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