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A situation that often seems to confuse me is when I push a pawn alongside two pawns that are head-to-head and my opponent pushes the opposing pawn, such as when Black plays c5 to my c4.

rnbqkbnr/pp3ppp/4p3/2pp4/2PP1B2/8/PP2PPPP/RN1QKBNR w KQkq - 0 4

Suddenly, there are four moves to consider.

  1. I play dxc5.
  2. I play cxd5.
  3. Black plays cxd4.
  4. Black plays dxc5.

I find it challenging to quickly sort through the options and even understand whether I'm losing or gaining a pawn, let alone considerations like the resulting pawn structure. In this case, it looks like if I play cxd5, Black may end up with an isolated d pawn.

Are there any shorthand methods for quickly analyzing these two-pawns-facing-two-pawns situations to predict the outcome? Or, failing that, rules of thumb which lead to reasonable outcomes?

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  • I suggest a search in databases. My experience but a not exhaustive one, teached me that the first to capture is usually the first to lose its advantage. Just check under what circunstances it holds true. Look for the moves that defends attacked squares after some piece capture one of the pawns, particularly with an incomplete development as in position shown. – djnavas Jun 15 at 5:51
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    @djnavas forcing your opponent into an isolated-central-pawn type of structure is sometimes a good idea though – David Jun 15 at 7:57
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    @djnavas: Your experience is backed up by GMs - at least once I read that in Pd3/e4/f4/g3 vs Pd6/e5/f5/g6 you should not take first. (Disclaimer: chess is concrete.) – Hauke Reddmann Jun 15 at 8:16
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Since this is happenning so early in the game, the best idea is probably not to get involved in deep calculations, but rather to get some knowledge about the pawn structures that could arise from those trades (most notably, the isolated central pawn).

I see no particular gain from either 4.cxd5 (it'd liberate the c8 bishop) or 4.dxc5 (it'd speed up my opponent's development), so I'd continue with 4.e3, allowing me to retake with a pawn on d4 if Black attempts to take

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    hm, it depends on whether you'd like to play with or against an isolated queen pawn... usually whoever first plays cd ed leaves his opponent with an IQP. I'm mostly referring to the 1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 c5 variation, here black has Qxd5 too. – sleepy Jun 15 at 8:24

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