I frequently face situations in the late middle game (perhaps only a one minor piece and a rook or two on each side, no queens) where I can force a position (via exchanges) where both players are materially equal but I have an isolated passed pawn on the 4th or 5th rank. I have heard that isolated pawns are bad (because they cannot be supported by other pawns) but also that passed pawns are good. Are isolated passed pawns generally good or bad? Is it good to create them?

I realize the answer probably depends on the position, so guidelines for determining when such pawns are good or bad would make for a great answer.

  • 3
    You're right when you say it "depends on the position". Honestly, I think the question is so broad that a whole book could be written on it by considering the different types of positions. But perhaps some brave-heart will venture to answer this. – Wes Jun 20 '14 at 17:04
  • @Wes Any references to books that address this question would also be welcome. – Potato Jun 20 '14 at 17:05
  • A google search shows some, but I'm not familiar with these books, so I won't recommend any - google.com/#q=isolated+pawn+book – Wes Jun 20 '14 at 17:06
  • this is too broad, there are entire chapters/books dedicated to this. Just a sumup: depends (100%) on the position and stage (middle/end) of the game. – Francisco Corrales Morales Jul 17 '14 at 22:01
  • Passed pawns are usually isolated, so if isolated passed pawns are a liability, them most passed pawns are a liability. Doesn't sound right to me, but I don't know much. Protected passed pawns, as I understand it, are especially strong. – bof Feb 8 at 1:03

I'm happy when I have a passed pawn, and my opponent has none. Yet, connected passed pawns are much better than isolated passed pawns.

Here are the raw advantages of a passed pawn:

  • A passed pawn can no more be exchanged against a pawn, so if it gets exchanged, it will be against something bigger.
  • If a passed pawn is defended by a non-passed pawn, and the opponent decides to exchange a minor piece against your passed pawn, the defending pawn becomes a passed pawn in turn, keeping your passed pawn advantage, in addition to gaining material. It makes it a little more difficult for the opponent to actually do this.

Still, there are caveats with regards to an isolated passed pawn:

  • Since your passed pawn can't be defended by another pawn, you'll have to mobilize something bigger to defend it. (leaving less material to act on the issues of the rest of the board)


  • If you can have a rook defending your passed pawn from behind, you have one less rook on the rest of the board, but you can easily threaten to gain material by appropriately pushing your pawn.
  • If your opponent decides to block your pawn with a piece, to prevent you from pushing, well, that's one less opposite piece playing on the rest of the board.
  • If your opponent decides to exchange your pawn, you end up with a rook on an open file.

In the endgame, connected passed pawns beat the opposite king:

  • If they are side-by-side, they setup a wall of 4 controlled squares, so can't be threatened by the opposite king.

    [fen "8/4k3/8/3PP3/8/8/8/8 w - - 0 1"]

  • If they are connected, one row apart, the king has to capture the rear pawn first, effectively leaving the front pawn's promotion square.

All these are limited to what the specifics of every position allow.

  • This question on Meta can help you to generate chess diagrams so you can improve your answer. If you need further help leave me a comment. +1 for the answer. Best regards. – AlwaysLearningNewStuff Jun 23 '14 at 17:26

I frequently face situations in the late middle game (perhaps only a one minor piece and a rook or two on each side, no queens) where I can force a position (via exchanges) where both players are materially equal but I have an isolated passed pawn on the 4th or 5th rank. I have heard that isolated pawns are bad (because they cannot be supported by other pawns) but also that passed pawns are good. Are isolated passed pawns generally good or bad? Is it good to create them?

If you could provide just a little bit more info, I could try to help you with greater confidence. For now, I must make following assumptions before answering your question:

  • The endgame is one with rook + at least one minor piece;
  • You have an isolated passed pawn, but your opponent does not, meaning he has pawn majority on one side so is able to create a passed pawn;
  • Your passed pawn has advanced far ahead ( 4th or 5th rank will be far enough for any color );

In such cases it is important to tell us about following:

  • You must list exact type of minor pieces for both sides ( bishop vs knight, bishop pair vs knight and bishop... ) since we already know there is a rook on each side;
  • The exact pawn structure since the position of the isolated pawn is crucial, as well as the opponent's ability to create a passer of its own;

Only after having this info, will you be able to decide whether the isolated pawn will be strength or weakness.

I realize the answer probably depends on the position, so guidelines for determining when such pawns are good or bad would make for a great answer.

Since your current question does not fulfill all the criteria listed above, I will try to "cover as much ground" as possible, while trying to keep this answer brief.

OK, now let us begin:

The basic outline is to use the passer to deflect the opponent's pieces so you can make a decisive break on the other side of the board.

The best way for this would be if isolated pawn is far away on the wing, and the worst would be if it is in the center.

Furthermore, you must secure your passer from being blockaded ( this is mandatory! ). Do not be afraid to exchange pieces if the ending is good for you. This is very powerful weapon in such endgames.

Next, R + minor piece(s) type of endgame is all about minor pieces. Pawns are irrelevant at the moment.

Here, you would like to have R + B vs R + N scenario, since R + B usually overpowers R + N. The passer will be only an asset, because it will deflect the opposing pieces and you will be able to use long range of the R + B to wreak havoc on the other side of the board. Do not forget to not allow opponent to block the isolated pawn.

N + R vs B + R will be harder for you, since the bishop is so fast that he can control the passer and aid in creation of its own passed pawn. Here, you should aim for a draw by exchanging the isolated pawn for the opponent's extra pawn ( and still it might get tough for you to hold the endgame! ). The best case scenario would be for both sides to have pawns at only one side of the board.

R + B vs R + B depends on the color of the bishops. With opposite colored bishops remember that the side with the initiative wins. Otherwise everything depends on piece activity and placement of your isolated pawn. I would not push him too far since it will become a weakness most of the time. Prepare for a long defense..

2B + R vs 2B + R is all about piece activity and square control, pawns are irrelevant. The side with the initiative wins. This is entirely position-specific, and if I were you I would probably keep all the pieces on the board while exchanging pawns only if it is forced or can help me get initiative/create a weakness.

2N + R vs 2N + R is all about initiative and pawn structure. Every piece position counts, and side with the initiative will usually win. This is so fragile, that you can probably assess the outcome immediately!

2B + R vs N + B + R should be heavily in your favor. Keep the pieces on, and use bishops to restrict the knight. Passed pawn is not a problem, since your long ranged pieces will protect it while also attacking the opponent's pawns. Passer will further restrict the opposing units, which will allow bishops to create weaknesses ( never underestimate their speed and ability to swiftly reposition themselves! ). Again, it is very important not to allow your passer to be blockaded. If that happens you always seek counterplay that is based upon breaking on the other side of the board by creating weaknesses there. Please remember this plan, it is crucial.

N + B + R vs 2B + R, might not be so bad since neither of opposing pieces is good at blockading. Still, their long range and speed will compensate for that and they will be able to support the creation of their own passer. Again, I would head for a draw here, by exchanging pawns so that they remain only at the one side of the board. Exchanging knight for a bishop is excellent here, but remember one important rule: If by any chance you end up in an ending with opposite colored bishop and a rook on each side, remember that side with the initiative wins.

2N + R vs 2B + R is not good, but if your knights are close to the passer and you can create swift action for promoting the pawn you can win. Otherwise, your opponent will use the bishops to both attack and defend, which will be hard to meet. Again, I would head for a draw by exchanging pawns so they are all at one side of the board and would exchange at least one knight for a bishop.

2N + R vs 2N + R is all about piece activity and pawn structure. You should concentrate on the positioning of the knights, and try to use rook to enforce a pawn weakness.

I have "ran out of steam" at the end but you get the picture...

Keep the bishops, and exchange knights for his bishops. Post your pieces actively and use the passer to restrict the opposing pieces. Create swift action on the other side of the board.

Are isolated passed pawns good or bad?

It really depends a lot from the position so if you could edit your post I would be able to provide better help.

Hopefully this was helpful. If you need further help leave a comment.

Good luck and best regards.

  • Thanks for your answer! This is a great amount of detail. – Potato Jun 20 '14 at 21:04
  • 1
    @Potato: No problem, I am glad to help. If you need more info please update your post with 3+ positions and leave me a comment. I could do a much better job that way ( I promise there will be no bold text anymore ). Best regards :) – AlwaysLearningNewStuff Jun 20 '14 at 21:56

One attribute is generally an advantage and the other is a disadvantage.

  • Isolated pawns are weaker than connected pawns because they cannot be supported by other pawns.
  • Passed pawns are an advantage because of the threat to promote.

When you combine the two, whether it is an advantage or disadvantage is dependent entirely on the position. You can have a passed pawn on the 7th rank, which is not defendable and is just a target. Or, the passed pawn can be supported by your other pieces and threatens promotion making it an advantage.

Note: Connected passers are generally better than isolated passers.


Sure, it all depends. But usually the most important question is can the pawn be blockaded. For example you have isolated passed pawn on d4, Black puts N on d5 and laughs at you. To play against an isolated pawn, Nimzovitch said it best..First restrain, (get several pieces controlling the square in front of it),then blockade (put one of them on that square; if it gets taken another piece will replace it), then destroy (attack and win it). But perhaps Black takes so much time to set that situation up that you can mount a big attack against his King. It all depends.

A pawn that cannot be blockaded is often a strength, but the exploitations can be various. A diversion to set up an attack elsewhere. Tying down the opponents pieces to allow you to march in with your King. And sometimes you can just promote the thing. If the Pawn is far advanced it may cramp your opponent more, but it also might be cut off from support. It all depends.

At some early stage of the game, there is often a choice between capturing/recapturing in ways that do/do not create such a pawn. If you are feeling aggressive, or if you believe that you are stronger than your opponent, you will tend go for the position with the isolated pawn, whether you or your opponent will have it. This is because you will (probably) be creating an unbalanced position with more chance of a decisive result, even if at the moment you do not see an advantage either way.


Read My System by Nimzowitch. You need to see examples where the isolated passed pawn is weak, and examples where it is strong. If your judgement on the matter can be consistently more accurate than that of your opponents, you will win a lot of games

  • It is always good advice to read My System (+1) and it is clearly relevant to the topic, but wouldn't this be a better source for situations where the isolated pawn is weak than for where it is strong? – John Coleman Feb 12 at 11:31

Of course everything depends on the position, but isolated passed pawns have two properties that usually make them more of an asset than a liability:

They are fast:

3K4/8/8/5ppp/8/8/P4P1P/2k5 w KQkq - 0 1

In this position, although the black majority is already advanced, white still promotes first (and wins) even if black moves first. If the kings were on more realistic squares, this would mean, that the black king has to hurry to the passer and the white king could try to attack the black kingside.

Often losing them is a tolerable worst case scenario:

6k1/5ppp/8/8/8/8/6PP/6K1 w KQkq - 0 1

This pawn ending is lost, but … this position is generally still holdable for white IF there are still pieces on the board. So quite often you can try to promote your passed pawn on the queenside or the centre and still be confident to hold the draw if you mess it up and lose the pawn.

So I think the most likely scenario of a bad isolated passed pawn is one, where that pawn is safely blockaded and the other side still has the possibility to create an own passer on the queenside. So something like this:

8/4kppp/1p1n4/p2P4/8/2N6/1P2KPPP/8 w KQkq - 0 1
  • Are you 100% certain that White is lost in your second diagram ? I'd would have thought that he can hold as long as he keeps his h-pawn on h2. – Evargalo Dec 7 '17 at 12:52
  • @Evargalo Stockfish shows a crushing lead for black in the second diagram, regardless of whose turn it is. – Kef Schecter Mar 22 '18 at 7:00

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