What exactly is a backward pawn? Is it a pawn that can't be defended by its own pawns or if other pieces can defend it, is it still considered backwards.

As an example, in the following is e5 and d4 backwards`.

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1. e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 d6 4. d4

Also, if a pawn is backwards if it can't be defended by its neighboring pawns, then doesn't this mean that every pawn starts off as backwards in the initial position of the game.

  • There are no backward pawns in the above position for either side. In particular, e5 is already defended by d6, and d4 can easily be defended by a fellow pawn by playing either c3 or d5.
    – dfan
    Mar 11, 2013 at 21:58
  • @dfan - Thanks for clearing that up. I actually meant to say is e4 backwards, but your comment leads me to another question: Is a pawn backwards if it does not have the potential to be protected by other pawns. For example, in the current diagram, is e4 backward or because it can be protected by f3 or if is able to get to e5, then it would be protected by d4, is it still considered backwards even though it has potential to be protected?
    – xaisoft
    Mar 12, 2013 at 3:49

2 Answers 2


According to Wikipedia:

"...it is a pawn that is behind a pawn of the same colour on an adjacent file and that cannot be advanced without loss of material, usually the backward pawn itself. In the diagram, the black pawn on the c6-square is backward."

enter image description here

"Pieces can become weak when they are devoted to protecting a backward pawn, since their obligation to defend the pawn keeps them from being deployed for other uses."

So it is still a backward pawn if it is protected by another piece. Perhaps it is protected, but now it has become a burden on a more valuable piece.

The backward pawn creates an obligation upon (and therefore decreases the value of) whatever piece is defending it. There is a penalty if the piece defending the backward pawn moves elsewhere (loss of the pawn).

  • +1 - I had never heard of a "backward pawn", but maybe that is because I try not to off my pawns :P Couldn't help but laugh at "cannot be advanced without loss of material, usually the backward pawn itself"
    – Travis J
    Mar 13, 2013 at 9:24

I don't remember which of the chess books defined it this way, sorry, but I have seen a backward pawn defined as a pawn where the pawns on either side of it are ahead of it or missing. Although if both are missing it is an isolated pawn not a backward pawn.

Using this definition at the start of the game no pawns are backward. In the example none of the pawns are backward since they all have a neighbor pawn on one side or the other that is not ahead of them. Backward pawns are weak points precisely for the reasons mentioned above, requiring another piece to defend them.

In the example if instead of 4.d4 white played 4.Bxc6+ and back responded by playing 4. .. bxc6 then the pawn on c7 would become a backward pawn, and a doubled pawn since there are two pawns on the same file.

In the example as played if black responds 4. .. g6 then he would create 2 backward pawns on f7 and h7. Either of them could stop being backward by advancing though.

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