What should Black's plan be in Isolated Queen Pawn Openings like this one arising from the Caro-Kann Panov attack?

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    1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 cxd5 4.c4 e6 5.Nc3 Nf6 6.cxd5 Nxd5

3 Answers 3


First of all, the isolated pawn is a dynamic strength, and a static weakness.

But what does this mean?

This means that he represents a pawn weakness, but compensates this weakness in some other way. In short, Black should strive towards endgame, while White must obtain some sort of pressure/attack in order to compensate for his weak d-pawn.

Why is this so, and can Black/White achieve his plan? This will be the topic of the text below.

Characteristics of the Isolated pawn:

If left alone and unhindered, it will expand and cramp the enemy, yet if blockaded it becomes a target and a bottleneck.

The shortcomings of the isolated pawn are inability to defend it with another pawn and the fact that the square in front of him ( and sometimes the squares around him too ) is weak and can be used as a strong-point for the opponents pieces. This is most evident in the endgame. Aside from that, the benefits of the isolated pawn are seen in the middlegame in view of space advantage,open lines and aggressive strong-points in the center, especially the e5 square.

What should Black's plan be in Isolated Queen Pawn Openings like this one arising from the Caro-Kann Panov attack?

These plans are typical and well explored. Opening moves just make some plans possible and some not.

Plans for both sides in the position with Isolated pawn:

Here is a short summary of the plans for both sides:

Plans for the side with the isolated pawn :

  1. Attack on the kingside;

  2. Favorable opening of the center;

  3. Advancing the isolated pawn in order to cramp the opponent;

  4. Development of initiative on the queenside;

Plans for the side fighting against the isolated pawn :

  1. Simplification of the game with goal to transpose into favorable endgame;

  2. Transposing into the position with hanging pawns;

In order to help you better grasp these plans here are the illustrative games:

Plan for side with the isolated pawn: Attack on the kingside :

Botvinik-Tolush, Moscow 1965 is a good example for this. The key idea is to push f4!, which gives White the attack. Smyslov-Ribli, London 1983 seventh game is another good example.

Plan for side with the isolated pawn: Favorable opening of the center :

Spassky-Avtonomov, Leningrad 1949 is a good example. Pay attention to White's d5! push, opening lines and activating his pieces.

Plan for side with the isolated pawn: Advancing the isolated pawn in order to cramp the opponent :

Novoteljnov-Bondarevski, Moscow 1951 is one good example. Pay attention to 12...d4!.

Plan for side with the isolated pawn: Development of initiative on the queenside :

This happens rarely, but I was able to find illustrative game. Notice how Black exploits queenside weaknesses with 16...Qb5 to increase his initiative in the game Bitman-Zlotnik, Moscow 1979. I can not find online resource for this game.

Now after seeing plans for the side with isolated pawn we must examine plans for the side fighting the isolated pawn:

Plan for side fighting the isolated pawn: Simplification of the game with goal to transpose into favorable endgame :

Karpov-Spassky, Montreal 1979 is a very good example.

Plan for side fighting the isolated pawn: Transposing into the position with hanging pawns :

Zukertort-Steinitz, Vienna 1886 is a classical example. Notice how Steinitz exchanged pieces, thus reducing White's attacking potential. As soon as White is not able to attack he starts to stand worse due to the weakness of the isolated pawn.

Furman-Kholmov, Kiev 1954 and Taimanov-Karpov, Moscow 1973 are very good examples of a positional approach. However, you might be forced to destroy hanging pawns dynamically like in Petrosian-Smyslov, Moscow 1961. Pay attention to 18...Rxc3! strike.

But how does all this apply for your line in Panov attack?

Typical plans in the position with isolated pawn are not opening dependent. Opening moves can only enable some plans and make others impossible to execute, but no matter what opening you play the typical plans remain the same.

This is very important to know. In order to choose proper plan you must know the current opening theory.

I believe that little has changed and that you will have to implement the plan of transforming White isolated pawn into hanging pawns, and then attack them.

You should also cement a piece on d5 and avoid transformation of the current pawn structure, unless it favors you ( hanging pawns as I have said, are the only good pawn structure for you, others favor White ). As said, 4 minor pieces on the board are good for White, 3 is unclear and everything else favors Black.

Just exchange smart and you will be on a good way to at least draw.

The paramount importance is the opening play. If you get good position from opening, then it will be easier for you to play the position as your plans are clear and straightforward. White on the other hand has to generate an attack which is not that easy, and usually will have to be satisfied with a small space advantage.


We shall analyze games #2 and #6 from Kamsky-Karpov, Elista 1996 which will hopefully help you grasp the above mentioned concepts:

First quickly play through the games 2 and 6. You will notice that everything was the same until move 12 where Black first played Bd7 and Rc8, sticking to passive defense, while in the game 6 he played more active Qb6 which allowed him to exchange few pieces.

Notice how in the second game Black was cramped due to the presence of 4 minor pieces on the board and because he had no counterplay. Also pay attention to 45.f4! that launched a kingside attack. This is the topic we covered above under kingside attack. The attack was possible due to the 18.d5! which opens center favorably, again we mentioned that too under favorable opening of the center.

Now look how Black stood much better when he played actively, and when he exchanged a minor piece. Notice how he had more space to maneuver, and notice how he immediately took d5 square, and other ones around the d4 pawn, under his control. This is important! "Cementing" a piece on d5 hinders opponent's attacking potential. Pay really good attention to this. After 23.Bxf5 we can see that White has lost his space advantage, and now Black got fully equal game since only 2 minor pieces were left. Black equalized by keeping the squares around isolated pawn "in check". Also, he had enough space to properly regroup his pieces for defense and counter attack.

Another highly instructive game is J.Polgar-V.Smyslov, Aruba 1992. Just look how Black exchanged the queens with 9...Qb6! and 10...Ba5!and then look how White's isolated pawn became instantly weak when he was not able to attack anymore. Black had pressure in that game in the end but since there were 4 minor pieces White had enough defenders for his weak pawn.


I used to play Caro-Kann, so in the position you mention my plan would be:

  1. To finish my development.
  2. Exchange at least one minor piece.
  3. Solve the problem of developing my light-squared bishop, usually by playing b6+Bb7 or by playing Rd8+Bd7+Be8. These are typical maneuvers for Black.

At that point opening ends and starts the middlegame. There you can try to implement one of the 2 above mentioned plans. It all depends from White's moves. Still, you will probably exchange knights on c3 and maybe dark-squared bishops, which will result in the pawn structure with the hanging pawns.

About the move order in your post:

White takes on d5 too early, so all kind of options are possible for you. Still, you have 3 good moves as Black after he plays: Nc6, Bb4, Be7. Personally, I prefer solidity above all, so I would choose Be7 but the best move in my opinion is Bb4.

Again I must stress that it is of paramount importance to leave the opening with equal position. The same goes for White too.


For detailed explanation of plans in the Isolated pawn position consult the following books:

I.Sokolov-Winning chess middlegames, Baburin-Winning Pawn Structures and especially B.A.Zlotnik-Typical middlegame positions. The last book is pure gold and is out of print, but still try to find it.

As for Caro-Kann, Panov attack you should get Karpov's book A.Karpov & M.Podgaets-Caro-Kann defense Panov Attack, Batsford 2006. It is entirely devoted to Panov attack, and I think it is outstanding.

Sorry for scarce information, but there is just too much to be said for this topic that it wouldn't fit here. So if you have follow up questions just leave a comment.

Best regards.

  • 2
    To the book list, add the classic Winning Pawn Structures by Baburin, which is entirely about IQP positions (and hanging pawn positions that often lead to IQP positions). It's the best, but also hard to get. Commented Apr 20, 2014 at 14:33
  • @RemcoGerlich: Added. Best regards. Commented Apr 20, 2014 at 14:35

Positions with the isolated d-pawn (d4 for white or d5 for black) are indeed an important case to study.

For the side with the isolated d-pawn

  1. You and your opponent should have 3 or 4 light pieces each.
  2. Use the outposts created by this pawn (c5 and e5 for white) and attack.
  3. Remember the dynamic force of this pawn (d4-d5 for white).

For the side defending against an isolated d-pawn

  1. Exchange off light pieces.
  2. Control and later invade the weak squares around the pawn (c4, d5 and e4 for white)
  3. Exchange down to an endgame and try to win there.

Alexander Baburin has actually written a whole book on the IQP called "Winning Pawn Structures". Although his personal bias is evident from the title his book is relatively even handed with a large section dedicated to "Disadvantages of the isolated d-pawn" which basically gives many examples and principles of how to deal with the isolani.

Whether you want to make a study of the IQP or not this is a useful book which gives many examples of attacking play in IQP positions which can carry over into the rest of your play.


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