John Nunn mentions the following in Understanding Chess: Move by Move (2002):

Pawn weaknesses vary in severity according to two factors: 1) whether there is any possibility of liquidating the weakness, ...

As an example of the first factor, a backward pawn may not be a real weakness at all if it is impossible to stop the pawn advancing aside another pawn.

How do these two statements tie hand-in-hand?


Normally a backward pawn is considered a potential weakness since it cannot be defended by other pawns where it stands, and if it's impossible to move the pawn somehow it can become a very serious weakness indeed. But if the backward pawn can sidestep any threat against it by moving forward it may not even be an issue. In many cases, a backward pawn will come under attack by an enemy pawn if it were to move forward, and this is probably what John Nunn meant in the provided text; the "weak" pawn is pushed forward and will be "liquidated" against the enemy pawn.

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The book is right. In chess, nothing is a weakness if it can't be exploited. In the following world championship game, Black had a backward pawn on d6. However, it was not a weakness.

Note b3, Rad8, Red2, d5!, the d5 push will liquidate everything. That was why Carlsen exchanged the pawn with his c4 pawn immediately.


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