I am setting the question from black's perspective, but it holds the same for white too.

Many times in my personal games a position arises where a Bishop along the b1-h7 diagonal and a Queen on the h-file put pressure on the h7 square, sometimes even threatening a straight checkmate.

Not considering cases of using other pieces to defend h7, both pawn moves g7-g6 and h7-h6 prevent this threat.

My question is out of these two pawn moves, under my conditions, what is the decisive factor in choosing one over other?

For representative purposes I am using a position from round 9 match between Jan-Krzysztof Duda and Alexei Shirov that happened last day (27th December 2019) at world rapid chess championship, but my question is on general ideas of this threat by queen and bishop.

[fen "r1bqr1k1/pp3ppp/2pb1n2/3n4/3P3Q/P1NB1N2/1P3PPP/R1B2RK1 w - - 0 1"]

Ignoring your example game here are a few things I think about.

  • ..g6 weakens the dark squares around the castled king. Have a plan for protecting those squares. for example, do you have a dark squared bishop that can get to g7? Look out for direct attack on f7. for example, White queen on b3, bishop on c4 and rook on an open f-file. Can you prevent this set-up? Keep the f-file closed? ..g6 can be a great prophylactic against and white knight on g3.
  • ..h7 this is less weakening as the 6th rank squared are still protected by pawns. Can also keep White pieces off of g5 ( but look out for sacrifices ). the h7 pawn can be used by White to open up the castled king with g2-g4-g5. Can you prevent this, are your threats faster than whites? can you play ..h5 safely?
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  • 1
    Good points, i was expecting general view points like this. – srk_cb Dec 28 '19 at 18:33
  • @srk_cb if you like my answer please accept it. Thanks – Michael West Dec 28 '19 at 22:43

First, there is no hard-and-fast rule, but if I were to generalize, probably Pg6 in more cases as it blunts the incredibly dangerous Bd3. Playing h6 in some positions invites Bxh6 in many cases.

In the game you reference, Shirov played h6, but he also knows that Bh6 gh; Qh6 ideas will immediately be met by Bf8-g7, which is a common saving idea. In other words, he was prepared because his previous developing moves were good.

Black's best plan was obvious and it was to trade down, which Shirov did. The position was dangerous, and trading is the most common plan in such positions.

In the given position, black also has a couple of addition pluses that make h6 preferable, and they are that he can trade material on c3, potentially reducing white's attacking chances, and the biggest one is the Re8 controls the file, and allowed for the Bf8-g7 defense previously mentioned. Often these attacks for white require a rook-lift, with Re1-e3-g3(or h3), but it is clear that is impossible here.

Shirov only lost as the result of a blunder later in a winning position.

 [FEN ""]
 [Event "World Rapid 2019"]
 [Site "Moscow RUS"]
 [Date "2019.12.27"]
 [Round "9.11"]
 [White "Duda, Jan-Krzysztof"]
 [Black "Shirov, Alexei"]
 [Result "1-0"]
 [WhiteElo "2758"]
 [BlackElo "2684"]
 [PlyCount "111"]

 1. c4 c6 2. Nf3 d5 3. e3 Nf6 4. Nc3 Nbd7 5. Qc2 e5 6. cxd5 Nxd5 7. Bc4 Nb4 8. Qe4 Bd6 9. O-O O-O 10. d4 Re8 11. a3 Nf6 12. Qh4 exd4 13. exd4 Nbd5 14. Bd3 h6 15. Bd2 Nxc3 16. bxc3 Bg4 17. a4 Bxf3 18. gxf3 Nd5 19. Qg4 Qf6 20. Rab1 Bf4 21. c4 Bxd2 22. cxd5 Rad8 23. dxc6 Rxd4 24. Be4 bxc6 25. Rb7 Rxa4 26. Bh7+ Kxh7 27. Qxa4 Qxf3 28. Qc2+ f5 29. Qxd2 Re6 30. Rc1 Rg6+ 31. Kf1 Qh1+ 32. Ke2 Re6+ 33. Kd3 Rd6+ $4 (33... Qf3+ {Wins the queen.}) 34. Kc3 Qf3+ 35. Qe3 Qd5 36. Rg1 Qa5+ 37. Kb3 Qd5+ 38. Kb2 Rd7 39. Rxd7 Qxd7 40. Ra1 c5 41. Qxc5 Qd2+ 42. Kb3 Qd3+ 43. Kb4 Qd2+ 44. Ka4 Qf4+ 45. Ka5 Qd2+ 46. Ka6 Qd3+ 47. Kxa7 Qd7+ 48. Ka6 Qd3+ 49. Ka5 Qd2+ 50. Ka4 Qf4+ 51. Ka3 Qf3+ 52. Qe3 Qa8+ 53. Kb2 Qb8+ 54. Kc2 Qxh2 55. Ra5 Qc7+ 56. Qc5 1-0
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There is NO answer. It all depends on the exact position. You defend differently, then white will attack differently. The better move would be what worked best against the person you are playing.

Playing p-h6 stops the horsie from moving to N5 to attack h7, but opens up the BxP sacrifice to break through.

Playing p-g6 blocks the sacrifice on h7 but weakens the position without a fianchettoed bishop on g7.
And it would make B-g5 a real problem for you.

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