What is it called when your opponent opens with their pawns in a zigzag formation, leaving the front line defended by the back? (Pawn Chain) Also what is the best way to counter this move?

chess diagram

3 Answers 3


It is, indeed, called a "pawn chain". It does not have any other special designation. There is no single best way to counter any specific pawn chain, as it is much more complex than that. Here is a bit on that.

Pawn chains, and where you attack them, is the basis for all opening play. Where the pawns on both sides clash is called a pawn break. Knowing where your pawn break is, and which one is feasible, is the difference between having a freer game for your pieces, and being smothered to death.

Part of that is also knowing if you should extend the pawn chain, and thus, change the point of attack for your pawn break.

  [FEN ""]
  1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 c5 4. c3 Nc6 5. Nf3 Nge7 6. Bd3 Nf5 7. O-O Be7 8. Bc2 c4? 9.b3 b5 10.a4

Here extending the pawn chain, intending b5-b4, is too slow due to the undefended rook on a8. The q-side is about to open up much to white's favor.

You have to realize that changing the pawn break, and moving it up one file, while usually great in principle, it also is much slower, so especially if your pawn break is on the q-side, and your opponent is breaking on your k-side, his could become much more dangerous much more quickly.

Learning about opening pawn structures, and the pawn breaks associated with them, can be learned in the following books:

  1. Complete Chess Strategy” volumes 1,2 and 3 by Ludek Pachman. (This teaches about many basic plans, and what you are striving for with your pieces and pawns, especially. THIS is what made me a master.)
  2. Pawn Structure Chess” by Andy Soltis. (This extends the above to specific opening structures.)
  3. Chess Structures: A Grandmaster Guide” by Mauricio Flores Rios (This is an extension of “Pawn Structure Chess”, and is deeper, and covers more structures. It is outstanding especially if you have already covered “Complete Chess Strategy”.)

Here is a good link with some basics.

  • 2
    Everytime you make a pawn chain you make weak spots that can be leveraged or attacked by your opponent. B2, later C3 in your example. It also creates undefended squares, notably light colored ones in this example. A knight would do well on F4! Having all pawns on the same row presentas a flawless front with no undefended squares in the line in front of them. the pawns themselves, are undefended. So, a pawn chain is sacrificing your control over the "front" line, while gaining central squares and defended pawns.
    – Stian
    Nov 12, 2019 at 10:58
  • 2
    @StianYttervik What you are missing is that they have to be able to be taken advantage of, and the player, who is better developed in that area, is the only one, who can do that in my example...white. Unless white makes mistakes later, black has not shot at taking advantage of those squares any time soon. Nov 12, 2019 at 12:05

What is it called when your opponent opens with their pawns in a zigzag formation, leaving the front line defended by the back? (Pawn Chain)

Erm ... I think you've answered your own question.

what is the best way to counter this move?

Every pawn chain has a base and a head. The standard way of attacking them is to attack one or the other or both with pawns.

The classic example is the Advance French Variation.

[fen ""]

1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 c5 {attacking the base of the pawn chain} 4. c3 Nc6 5. Nf3 Bd7 6. a3 f6 {attacking the front of the pawn chain}

Here the black move 3. ... c5 attacks the base of the pawn chain at d4, so white extends the pawn chain with 4. c3. Then a few moves later black attacks the head of the pawn chain with 6. ... f6.

The idea is to try and break up the pawn chain and neutralise it.


There's a lot of ways to describe the position (such as closed) but no specific name.

How to play in the position-

1) First of all you want to make favorable minor piece exchanges. Generally knights are going to be better in these types of structures especially if they can find advanced outposts. White's g2 bishop is an example of a "bad" bishop and is practically worthless in the given position. White should either trade it or make it active. If, for example, the bishop were on f5 it would be a much more active piece. But since there isn't any way to to improve its mobility without a significant change in pawn structure, white should be looking to trade the bishop and black to avoid the trade at all costs.

2) Exploit the weak squares- weak squares are those that can't be defended by pawns. In this case white is weak on the dark squares so black should look to trade for white's dark square bishop and place his pieces on the undefended dark squares.

3) Pawn breaks- Both sides should be looking for pawn breaks. Rooks are completely useless without open or semi-open files. The only real pawn break here for both sides is the h-file. (although black might be able to pull something off with c6 followed by d5). Both sides should looking to move their heavy pieces to control the h-file since once the break is made you need to be able to control the open file.

4) Attack the base of the pawn chain- In this case there is no true base but black should be looking to attack the pawns that can't be defended by other pawns (ie backward)

If I were black I'd be looking at a plan like Qf7 followed by Ne7. Then looking at the minor pieces and pawn breaks. From e7 the knight can go to c6 supporting the d4 knight or g6 eyeing both h4 and f4. Black's heavy pieces can also swing to the h-file very quickly.

If I were white I would try to develop and coordinate my pieces, then make some favorable exchanges and try to reach an equal game. a5 looking to pressure the b-pawn looks like it could be feasible at some point but white probably needs to coordinate his pieces better first.

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