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Various articles and books mention the following advantages of having an isolani:

  1. Better development
  2. Outposts on e5 and c5
  3. Constrained Black position

What I don't understand is how are the above mentioned advantages specific to isolani? Any side which gains centre control will get these advantages, right?

So back to the question, what makes isolani special? If I have an isolated pawn at some other file say c-file or e-file, the same rules will apply right? I'll still get the same advantages while having the disadvantage of being isolated.

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It is mainly so special because it can arise from many different openings, both open and closed, e.g. the Queen's Gambit, Nimzo-Indian, Caro-Kann and the Alapin variation of the Sicilian. It is simply much more common than a mirrored situation with an isolated pawn on e4, which would require exchanging the white f-pawn, which often stays on f2 to protect the king. In general, an early isolated pawn on the n-file requires an early n4 move by White and n5 by Black, followed by undermining pawn moves in the adjacent files. Those are most likely to happen on c-, d- and e- files.

An IKP (Isolated King's Pawn – an isolani is often called an IQP) would give the same advantages, but in addition:

  • it would be harder to defend than an IQP
  • assuming kingside castling, the half-open f-line would give White even more attacking chances, at the cost of being more exposed as well

A isolated c-pawn is even rarer, and has less influence on the center than a d- or e-pawn. All other things being equal, this is definitely a disadvantage for the side having an isolated pawn.

Hanging pawns are another commonly occurring structure where (potentially) weak pawns have compensation in the form of center control and space advantage.

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  • Much better than the answer I was working on. Additionally, an IQP can be reached from a French Tarrasch where black plays 3. ... c5. I suspect that an IKP would likely only occur in an odd Dutch Leningrad, or maybe a Bird's opening. – Herb Wolfe Mar 19 '17 at 14:56
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The IQP is the most common so it is easiest to talk about all isolated pawns from this one example. Isolated pawns have rook support, on a half-open file, for the outposts, and they would be attacking a weakness (e6) if a pawn ever chased the Knight away. This would not be the case in the Stonewall where the e3 pawn blocks the rook's activity. The e5 outpost allows the knight to close to the opponent's king with possible attacks on f7 and g6. The c5 outpost allows for the knight to attack the queenside pawns and hampers the queen's bishop movement.

In Sicilians, black plays e5 to attack white's powerful center and may give white an isolated King's pawn and two outposts. These outposts are mostly balanced by black having an outpost on e5 or equal control of the center. The f-pawn can provide support for e5 and g5 outposts. Knights on these outposts usually provide great support for an attack, but moving the f-pawn weakens you own king position.

Even without it being an outpost, there are many sacrifices on d5 and f5. These are found in many Sicilians and Indian defenses. Since accepting these sacrifices bring about a ferocious attack, most black players try to refuse the pieces and make the square an honorary outpost.

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An isolated queen pawn can be both a strength and a weakness. It's obviously a weakness in the sense that it can't be defended by other pawns but will require piece defense, potentially limiting their scope. If it's far enough advanced, it can be a strength as would any other advanced pawn, for its promotion potential. Since that would generally occur later in the game, its earlier liability will probably predominate until then.

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An IQP is a great plus in the middlegame and it is a great minus in the endgame.

If you look at the games in database you, would find that as white the objective would be to give a centre break causing d4->d5. The pawn would be supported by rook on d1, bishop on b3 and knight on c3. This isolani attacks the e6 pawn and thereafter white gains a good attack on centre and black's K-side. After the exchange of the pawns from d5 to e6 white's pieces get very mobile. The IQP generally arises in QGA .

In the endgame the reverse happens. If the isolani is not exchanged in the middlegame then after all pieces are exchanged black's King takes the centre stage and occupies the d5 square and white's king is always on d3, e3 squares to hold on to the isolani. In extreme cases, white loses the d4 pawn and black wins the game at the end promoting one of the extra pawn to a queen.

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