What is the disadvantage of backward pawn in chess?

By Gary Flores •  Last Updated: 2 weeks ago •  9 min read

There is a tactic behind why some chess players can win even with a disadvantage. I said that because after losing a game because of a weak pawn structure – I told my daughter that if a chess expert played my game… That chess expert would go home winning the game. 🙂  

Because…   I'm almost sure that a chess player is going to lose a game whenever I see a weak pawn structure or having a disadvantage pawn…   But…  

I've also seen a chess player win with a weak pawn structure or turns that disadvantage pawn into its advantage.   One of the types of pawn structures disadvantage is of the backward pawn…

What is the disadvantage of backward pawn in chess?

The main disadvantage of a backward pawn in chess is that it will be defenseless. This type of pawn is exposed to possible attacks – and even moving them forward can be a disadvantage. It's because the squares in front of a backward pawn are also weak.  

Sometimes losing a chess game will depend on one backward pawn…   If you have identified or created a backward pawn during a game, you have to learn how to work your way out of it and improve your chess pieces positioning.  

But first, let's define backward pawn…

Also read: What is the point of en passant in the game of chess?

What is a backward pawn in chess?

You can start by searching Wikipedia about backward pawn definition… (some chess experts are saying it was confusing though)  

But…   I read this more elaborate explanation about backward pawn, and I do agree with this chess experts definition. There were five different criteria to consider a pawn a backward pawn.  

I'll just share what I think is the main idea of a backward pawn.   A backward pawn is the one on the base or bottom of a pawn chain (easy huh…), these backward pawns are a target of an opponent and which they can easily apply pressure on – readily available for capture.  

I'm defining it as a backward pawn is a big problem for chess players, but actually, you just need to make the problem go away…

How to improve your chess game with a backward pawn?

The very first thing you need to do is make it difficult for your opponent to attack your backward pawn. Make sure that you are aware of a backward pawn on your chess play and you have a way to protect your backward pawn without compromising with your chess pieces mobility…  

What do I mean by chess mobility? When you have your chess pieces tied down to a backward pawn to protect it – your opponent can easily improve their chess pieces for an attack by simply making you focus more on a backward pawn.  

For you to successfully protect a backward pawn you should consider having options for defensive and offensive plan at all times (practice and learn more about middle game chess books).

You may also be interested to find out if you “can you undo a chess move?

Three ways you can do to make up for having a backward pawn

You'll almost always have a backward pawn in your chess play no matter what you do…It would be challenging to avoid any backward pawn in a chess game.   But there are three ways you can do with a backward pawn.

  1. Have an active chess pieces
  2. Control front square of a backward pawn
  3. Get rid of your backward pawn

Have an active chess piece; strategically you can have active chess pieces at the same time having a backward pawn. What I think this means is you need to play with your strengths and don't dwell too much on your weak pawn structure.

In this case, you might think that a weak backward pawn can pull your game down but instead what you need to do is compensate with better or useful moves.  

Control front square of a backward pawn, we now know that with backward pawn we have created a weak square in front of it. To make up for that weak square, you need to control it with other chess pieces if possible. Having control of the front square will turn your backward pawn disadvantage into an advantage.  

Get rid of your backward pawn; if it's essential to do so and you'll end up with a positional advantage, then it's better to get rid of your backward pawn. If you really don't need to protect your backward pawn and it's just really weighing your game down – then it's time to give it up but create an active chess piece or a better move.  

During every game, you can start to think about these three ways to somehow improve your weak pawn structure.

Other weak pawn structures in a chess game

The backward pawn is not the only weak pawn structure in a chess game, but there are at least two more weak pawn structures that you should be aware of.  

When I learn how to play chess, I don't really like making weak pawn structures on my game, but I just realized that you couldn't just merely avoid having weak pawn structures.  

Below are two of what I think are the most common weak pawn structures besides backward pawns.

  1. Doubled Pawns
  2. Isolated Pawns

Doubled pawns, this usually happens when you capture a chess piece with your pawn and landing your pawn on a square in front of your pawn. This doubled pawns will have difficulty moving since the pawn in front will have to advance first before you can move the pawn behind it.  

Some experts say that the advantage to a doubled pawn is that you have more square controls, but the disadvantage of doubled pawns especially in the end game is they can easily be attacked by your opponent.  

Isolated pawns, this type of pawn is similar to a backward pawn in the sense that it is defenseless. It will be one of your opponent's target and the same thing with backward pawns the front square of an isolated pawn can be used as an outpost of your opponent for better positioning.  

Now, the chess experts are saying that the isolated pawn can be of an advantage by posting your chess pieces as a protector. And you can also use your isolated pawn to destroy the pawn structure of your opponent if ever possible.  

There are other pawn structures not necessary weak pawn structures you need to learn, but this is the basics you just need to keep in mind while playing chess.

A bit of pawn history

Pawns may it be strong or weak pawn structure like backward pawns, doubled pawns, or isolated pawns…it is considered to be a significant chess piece.  

One of the great Chessmaster in the 18th Century, Francois – Andre Danican Philidor, says that pawns if played well or lousy can determine the result of a game of chess.  And you know what, pawns are so cool that I found out that they were given a name of commoner's occupations in the medieval times. They were called (from left to right) Gambler (also messenger), City Guard or Policeman, Innkeeper, Doctor, Merchant/Moneychanger, Weaver/Clerk, Blacksmith, Worker/Farmer.  

It is a given that pawn is considered weak chess piece, but together they can be very powerful especially if you understand the advantages and disadvantages of pawn structures.

You may also want to read our article about “can you get two chess Queens” click the link to find out!

Quick summary

Now that you have learned about backward pawn structure and other weak pawn structures…   You can quickly identify what type of pawn structure you're opponent is having and your type of pawn structures as well.  

Let's have a quick summary of what you've learned:

If you have reached this far then congrats to you! 🙂   If you skip the whole posts – I think it would be best if you check the “three ways you can do to make up for having a backward pawn” it's quite remarkable, although you have read the last part in this section.

Wrapping Up

This an excellent overview of playing with backward pawns, and another type of weak pawn structures…  

I have a feeling that you are one of those serious chess learners – that's why I know you'll do the right thing, practice more pawn structures and keep on improving your chess game.  

If you are teaching your kids, and want to show them better tactics with pawn structures, check out some excellent chess books that will help you develop good middle game strategies.  

As for me, I developed the understanding of taking advantage of backward pawns…and so far so good…   I'd been winning some chess games online with opponents with higher ratings, and it's incredible!  

Hope you have fun learning and don't stop playing chess! 🙂

Before you leave do check out our chess recommendations here.

Gary Flores

Gary created the ChessDelights website to help individuals who struggle with navigating the realm of online chess. The website provide various tools and resource guides to help users learn and master the game of chess. He is also the co-author of "Chess Fundamentals" digital interactive book a ChessDelights Edition. Whether you are a beginner in online chess or seeking to use tools and chess resources to improve your skills, the ChessDelights website is for you.

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