# What is a pawn break?

I did some research (Google), but it still unclear to me on exactly what a pawn break is.

I was reading this question: The theory of pawn breaks
It is about the theory of pawn breaks, but before I could understand this, it would be helpful if I actually knew what a pawn break is.

If someone can explain it simply and with some diagram(s), that would be great.

A pawn break is a pawn move designed to free the player's position.

Generally speaking, a pawn move is only called a pawn break when the moving pawn is on a file adjacent to two enemy pawns facing each other, and the pawn moves forward to the same rank as the player's other pawn.

Since a picture is worth a thousand words...

``````[FEN "8/8/8/4p3/3pP3/3P4/2P2P2/8 w - - 0 1"]
``````

White can play either `1. c3` or `1. f4` and these moves would be considered pawn breaks because they attack a black pawn that is blocking a white pawn (the `d` and `e` pawns respectively).

`1. f3`, however, is NOT a pawn break because it does not attack an enemy pawn. Similarly `1. c4` is not a pawn break, even though black could capture the pawn with `1... dxc3 e.p.` and get to the same resulting position because again, it does not attack a black pawn.

• So a the word "break" in pawn break basically means to break up the pawns. Pawn breaks look similar to gambits. Is that a correct assumption? Commented Aug 3, 2012 at 20:17
• Yes in that they (usually) break up enemy pawn structures, but they are not really gambits. While a pawn break can sacrifice a pawn (for a great example, check out the sealer-sweeper sacrifice), it definitely doesn't have to. `...f6` in the French Tarrasch is a perfect example of a pawn break that doesn't sacrifice a pawn.
– Andrew
Commented Aug 3, 2012 at 20:25
• " a pawn move is only called a pawn break when the moving pawn is on a file adjacent to two enemy pawns facing each other, and the pawn moves forward to the same rank as the player's other pawn." This is just not true. In openings like the Hippopotamus Black aims for one of several pawn breaks where these conditions are not satisfied in particular the requirement to already have a pawn as far advanced as being on the same rank. Commented Dec 27, 2014 at 10:10
• I'm with Andrew here, in the French, after 1.e4 e6 2.d4, 2…d5 is NOT a pawn break. But, after 3.d5, 3…c5 is a pawn break. After all 2…d5 doesn't break anything, on the contrary, after 3.e5 the position is locked. Only c5 and f6 break it open. But I prefer the term "lever" anyway. Commented Aug 5, 2015 at 13:17

A pawn break is a "clash" of pawns that results in an exchange of pawns. For instance, if White has pawns on d4 and e4, and Black has pawns on d6 and e6, White's move to e5 (or d5) might cause a pawn break if Black elects to exchange. If Black plays d5 in response to e5 or 35 in response to d5, he avoids a pawn break.

• Consider the question in the context of this quote from Wikipedia on the 'Chess Openings' page under the sub-heading 'Common Aims in Opening Play', right down the bottom, when using middlegame strategies in the opening: "preparing pawn breaks to create counterplay" Based on that Tom would appear to be more conventionally correct. Just something I noticed.
– user3808
Commented Sep 11, 2014 at 19:34

For what it's worth, when I asked the question you mention, I had in mind a position like this (black to move):

``````[FEN "rnbq1rk1/pppp1ppp/4pn2/8/1bPP4/2NBP3/PP3PPP/R1BQK1NR b KQ - 0 1"]
[startflipped ""]
``````

The question regarded whether black should push the c-pawn or the d-pawn, or push neither, or prepare something before pushing. Of course, the question did not regard this particular position, nor was it specific to the opening or to the midgame; but it regarded rather the principles that guide the black player to open files from such positions generally.

Update: In response to helpful comments: I do not know for sure how the term pawn break is conventionally defined. I should defer to @Andrew's and @TomAu's answers. Nevertheless, pawn break is the term I seem to have heard opponents use for the act of pushing a pawn with the intent to force a file open.

Thus, to answer the question directly, to the extent to which my terminology is correct, d7-d5 would constitute a pawn break in the position diagrammed, because the likely and intended effect of such a pawn move would be to open, or half-open, one or more files by trading off the pawns that occupy the files.

• I'm still confused on what a pawn break would be in this position? Commented Aug 3, 2012 at 20:14
• I don't know for sure. Pawn break is the term I seem to have heard opponents use for the act of pushing a pawn with the intent to force a file open. However, @Andrew knows much more than I do. One suspects that his definition is the more conventional. (Admittedly, I would not have answered, I would have left the answering to Andrew, had you not specifically referred to my earlier question.)
– thb
Commented Aug 3, 2012 at 20:29
• To answer your question directly, to the extent to which my terminology is correct, d7-d5 would constitute a pawn break in the position diagrammed, because the likely and intended effect of such a pawn move would be to open, or half-open, one or more files by trading off the pawns that occupy the files.
– thb
Commented Aug 3, 2012 at 20:35
• OK, your diagram was helpful in understanding it as well as Andrew's explanation, so this was a team effort :) Commented Aug 3, 2012 at 20:38

In his excellent book The Giants of Strategy Neil McDonald proposes a slightly different definition of pawn break. Reviewing games of Capablanca & Nimzowitsch he defines pawn break as "putting another pawn alongside your most advanced pawn" (p 111). An interesting idea, although narrower and somewhat different from other answers.