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.
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.