Pawn Structure 101: e5 chain

Welcome to yet another stop on the pawn structure journey: this time, we are headed to an exciting destination, the e5 chain pawn structure.

If this name sounds familiar, it might be because you have already read the article on its sister structure, the d5 chain pawn structure.

However, as much as these structures may be sisters, they are not twins: they share some common characteristics, but others completely tell them apart.

This structure is absolutely essential in chess. Not only it comes up often in practice, from many different openings, but it also has general principles that apply to many other structures and positions.

As you know by now, there are seventeen pawn structures – and as we cover every single one of them, you will know what to do in every single chess position you encounter, and feel more and more confident in your goal to outplay your opponent.

If you have read the previous article carefully, you are already familiar with the concept of a pawn chain, and know that it implies a closed position, in which precise piece maneuvering and opposite-side attacks will be a part of the menu.

If you have no idea what this is all about, keep reading, as by the end of this article you will be a true expert in pawn chains and all things related to them.

Let’s get started and ask ourselves the first question that comes to mind…

What does the e5 chain pawn structure look like?

 

Diagram 1a: The e5 chain pawn structure.

As you can see from the above diagram, the e5 chain structure gets its name from White’s further advanced pawn, which stands on e5 supported by the d4 pawn. Black’s pawns are blocking White’s right in front of them, on e6 and d5.

Knowing what this structure looks like is the first step to identify it on any chess board you come across in the world – and you will know exactly what to do once you spot it.

As mentioned before, if this structure looks or sounds familiar to you, that’s because you’ve taken a look at the d5 chain pawn structure, its mirror structure, in which White’s pawns stand on d5 and e4 as opposed to Black’s on d6 and e5.

Naturally, there is a common ground between these two structures.

Once again, we find the concept of a pawn chain, which can roughly be explained like this: it is a locked pawn formation, each supported by a pawn diagonally in the back and blocked, straight ahead, by an enemy pawn.

For instance, here we have White’s e5 pawn, supported by d4 and blocked by e6; and we have Black’s d5 pawn, supported by e6 and blocked by d4.

When we are faced with a pawn structure, we can immediately discover who is supposed to be attacking on each wing simply by looking at the most advanced pawn. If the chain “pointing” towards the Kingside, that’s where the attack must be carried out – and the same is true for the Queenside.

Think of “pointing” as simply prolonging the pawn chain, adding pawns in the squares which continue the chain as much forward as possible by the rules of chess.

White’s pawn on e5 is pointing towards the Kingside – we consider this because it controls or captures on the f6 square, right at the heart of Black’s Kingside. On the other hand, Black’s pawn on d5 exerts control over the c4 square, located on the Queenside.

Take a look at diagram 1b to get a better understanding of the concept of “pointing” pawn chains.

Diagram 1b: “Pointing” pawn chains in the e5 chain structure.

Now that you know where which side will be attacking, a reference must be made to an essential concept of chess strategy concerning pawn chains, which you will also be familiar with if you have had the chance to read the article which covers the d5 chain structure.

It is the concept of the base of the pawn chain.

The base is a role played by the pawn which stands further backwards on the chain. It is the foundation and the most essential support for the remaining pawns on the chain.

In closed positions such as this one, the best way to weaken a structure is to attack its foundation – the base of the pawn chain. Both White and Black will aim to do so by directing their play near the opponent’s structure, as you can see on diagram 1c.

Diagram 1c: Bases of White and Black’s pawn chain.

The whole of White’s structure is supported by the b2 pawn in this situation – more often than not, White plays c2-c3 to support the central formation.

At the same time, Black’s foundation is the f7 pawn, supporting e6 and d5.

Therefore, we can conclude these basic aspects just by looking at the position and knowing basic concepts of pawn chains:

  • White’s chain is “pointing” at the Kingside and that’s where he will attack, keeping an eye on f7, the base of Black’s pawn chain;
  • Black’s chain is “pointing” at the Queenside and that’s where he will attack, keeping an eye on b2 (or d4 if White does not play c2-c3), the base of White’s pawn chain.

A little goes a long way, and by keeping these ideas in mind you will have valuable information on how to play the position.

If you are curious and excited to play this structure in your own games, let’s evolve these ideas and make them deeper and more concrete.

What are the characteristics of this pawn structure?

 

From the previous section, you grabbed some valuable knowledge: first of all, you have learned to identify this pawn structure on the board. Together with each of the other sixteen pawn structures in chess, identifying it is the first step to master any chess position you may face!

In addition to this, you have also learned or refreshed the concept of pawn chain, which is crucial in positional chess. Two concepts that are related to this are those of the base of the pawn chain and “pointing” pawn chains.

These ideas are the foundation of this pawn structure. By putting them into practice, we see how they orientate each side’s play: White will develop a Kingside attack, aimed at Black’s King and the base of Black’s chain, the f7 pawn. Black will develop a Queenside attack, trying to create weaknesses in White’s field and put pressure on the base of White’s chain, either the d4 pawn or the b2 pawn.

If you look closely at the placement of pawns on the board, you will realize that White has a spatial advantage, as happens in many similar structures.

This happens due to the placement of the e5 pawn, the most advanced one in the position. This pawn also increases White’s chances for a successful Kingside attack, as it controls the crucial f6 square.

Another important characteristic to note about this position is that it is a closed one, due to the blocked centre: the e-pawns block each other and so do the d-pawns, not allowing any breakthrough in the centre for the time being.

As you may know, Knights are especially strong in closed positions due to their ability to jump over other pieces.

Bishops, on the other hand, need space to reach their full potential, as they move on diagonals that must be open.

In closed positions, the colour of the Bishops is especially important: since White’s pawns stand on dark-coloured squares, they limit his own dark-squared Bishop (the c1 Bishop).

At the same time, Black’s light-squared blocked pawn formation also limits his own light-squared Bishop (the c8 Bishop).

Take a look at diagram 1d for a better representation of this concept.

Diagram 1d: Bad Bishops in the e5 chain pawn structure.

These Bishops are considered to be bad pieces due to their limitations, and have a tendency to be limited even further with the attack’s progress.

What each side manages to do with his own bad Bishop can largely determine the outcome of the game.

As in all opposite-side attacking positions, games in the e5 chain pawn structure will be exciting and full of possibilities.

However, the concept to attacking in chess holds a lot more than simply placing your pieces in an aggressive way and looking for direct threats against your opponent.

Our analysis of the display of pawns on the board is, ultimately, our guide on how to attack. For instance:

Diagram 1e: Attacking ideas in the e5 chain pawn structure.

White’s attacking ideas largely depend on the f2-f4-f5 advance. This is not only a very intuitive and dangerous way to open up a path against the enemy King, but also makes perfect sense in structural terms, as it brings White closer to f7, the base of the pawn chain.

This advance can be supported by the g2-g4 advance and the f1 Bishop coming into the d3 square.

After the pawn reaches the f5 square, White will have a decision to make.

He can either take on e6 and weaken Black’s structure even further, moving the base of the chain to that square; or he can aim at pushing the pawn to f6, which will give him potential to have direct checkmate threats on the g7 square.

All the way across the board, and as is also pictured on diagram 1e, Black must also carefully conduct his own attack.

The most logical breakthrough on the Queenside is c7-c5. This usually happens early on in the game, as Black wants to develop his pieces behind the c5 pawn: the Knight to c6, Rook to c8 and Queen to b6 is the most common setup.

This also makes perfect sense if you consider Black’s aim of weakening White’s Queenside, and also in structural terms, as for the time being White’s base of the pawn chain is the d4 pawn – and with the c5 push, Black immediately puts pressure on it.

Much like White, Black is also faced with a choice once the pawn reaches the c5 square.

One idea is to take on d4 to put as much pressure as possible on the base of the pawn chain. This also opens up the c-file and may lead to an invasion along it.

Another valid idea is to close the position with c5-c4, leading White to block this pawn with the c2-c3 push, and then proceed to breakthrough with b7-b5-b4 to put pressure on the new base of the pawn chain, the b2 pawn.

Diagram 1f: Attacking choices in the e5 chain pawn structure.

The fact that this structure offers a choice on how to direct the attack for both sides opens up a wide range of possibilities and makes it one of the richest and most fundamental structures in chess.

In the next section, we will look into details on what each of the players must take into consideration to make this choice, and how to proceed after that.

In the meantime, let’s draw a few conclusions about the characteristics of the e5 chain pawn structure:

White’s position

  • Generally, White enjoys a space advantage;
  • White will have a dark-squared pawn chain. If he plays c2-c3, the base of the pawn chain will be b2. If he doesn’t, the base of the chain will be d4;
  • In general, White will try to play on the Kingside in order to generate an attack towards Black’s King;
  • White’s logical breakthrough on the Kingside is f2-f4-f5;
  • White will be faced with the choice to either play fxe6 or f5-f6;

Black’s position

  • Black will have a light-squared pawn chain. The base of Black’s pawn chain will be f7;
  • In general, Black will try to play on the Queenside in order to provoke weaknesses in White’s field;
  • Black’s logical breakthrough on the Queenside is c7-c5;
  • Black will be faced with the choice to either play cxd4 or c5-c4;

If you have made it this far, you are already close to being an expert on the e5 chain pawn structure – but these ideas must turn into concrete plans in your head before you are fully ready to face it on the board.

How do you play in this pawn structure?

 

If you study concrete plans in a given structure, you are certainly closer to mastering it – if you do that with each of the seventeen pawn structures we are covering, you will be ready to play any kind of position that crosses your way on the chess board.

If you truly wish to outplay your opponent in the e5 chain pawn structure, this section is the gold mine you have been looking for.

As you know by now, this position is characterized by play on both flanks, and White will try to succeed in his attack against Black’s King, as much as Black will try to generate deadly weaknesses on the other side of the board.

You also know that each side will be faced with a choice that will shape the character of the attack to a great extent.

Let’s start by looking at this position from White’s point of view.

White’s plans

As you have read before, White has a choice between two main ideas once the pawn reaches the f5 square.

Let’s start by looking at a game in which White chooses between fxe6 and f6 based on the situation in particular. This game was played between the Chinese Grandmaster Yu Yangyi and the Hungarian Grandmaster Thanh Trang Hoang, in the Jakarta Open of 2012.

Diagram 1g: Yangyi – Hoang, 2012: Position after 19.f5.

White already has a favourable position, as you can see in the above diagram. He has an extra pawn and Black’s attack on the Queenside did not manage to create any particular weakness, while White’s pieces are still ready to be launched forward on the Kingside.

In the game, Black replied to 19.f5 with 19…exf5 – but before we see what happened, you might be asking yourself why doesn’t Black play the most natural move: to take with the Knight on b5 and re-establish the balance in material.

Let’s take a look:

  1. f5 Nxb5
  2. f6! gxf6
  3. exf6 Bxf6
  4. Ng5
Diagram 1h: Yangyi – Hoang, 2012: Position after 22.Ng5 (19…Nxb5 variation).

With the f5-f6 push, White has managed to create deadly threats all over Black’s King. The major pieces, namely the f1 Rook and e2 Queen, are ready to join the attack together with the g5 Knight, putting Black in a difficult situation where precise defense is required in order to survive – and might not even be enough.

A warning sign for why the attack works so well for White is that Black’s major pieces are all the way across the board on the Queenside, and cannot join their fellow counterparts in the defense.

Let’s get back to the game after this variation.

Certainly having gone through this f5-f6 idea in her mind, Thanh Hoang made a compromising decision: to take the f5 pawn so that no more trouble could be caused by it near the King.

However, this damages the pawn structure. It splits the chain in two lonely parts: the f7 pawn and the d5 pawn. You could say that each of these is the base of its own chain, even if, at this point, it is not supporting any other pawn

Yu Yangyi perfectly exploited this situation and largely increased White’s advantage, as you can understand by analyzing the next moves.

  1. f5 exf5
  2. e6 fxe6
  3. Bf4
Diagram 1i: Yangyi – Hoang, 2012: Position after 21.Bf4.

The e5-e6 push was a great idea. Black was forced to take the pawn, and by playing the Bishop to f4, attacking the b8 Rook and largely controlling the crucial e5 square, White perfectly exposes all of the weak points in Black’s structure.

A few moves later, we see the advantage becoming decisive for White.

  1. Bf4 e5
  2. Nxe5 Nxe5
  3. Qxe5 Rbe8
  4. Qc7 Qxc7
  5. Bxc7 Nc8
  6. b6
Diagram 1j: Yangyi – Hoang, 2012: Position after 26.b6.

White’s advantage is simply unbearable, due to the advanced position of the b-pawn and pressure on c5 and down the a-file.

Perhaps the most curious thing about this positional masterpiece by Yu Yangyi was the fact that White shattered Black’s Kingside to then go on to win due to pressure on the Queenside: this happens because a pawn chain connects the two sides of the board, and once it is broken or split up, weaknesses start to show all over the place.

However, even if these positional ideas are interesting and should not be disregarded, most chess players reading this section with the intention of playing the e5 chain with the White pieces are here for the fireworks – to be precise, the checkmates and tactics around the enemy King.

Let’s take a look at a recent game, played between the Grandmasters Anish Giri and Saleh Salam in the Moscow Grand Prix tournament.

Diagram 1k: Giri – Salem, 2017: Position after 20.g4.

As you can see from the above diagram, White has a dominating position due to the huge space advantage. Enjoying Black’s somewhat passive setup, Anish Giri seized the chance to expand on both sides of the board. This leaves Black without a clear plan to attack on the Queenside.

Now that the g2-g4 push has joined the f2-f4, the well-placed Knight on f5 must leave, and this leaves White with many attacking possibilities: namely Nf3-g5 and the typical f4-f5 push are aces up his sleeve.

While the position isn’t desperate for Black, it is a tough one to defend, mainly due to the fact that there are no active chances for counterplay.

The game went on:

  1. g4 Nfe7
  2. Ng5 Bg6
  3. Bc5 Rd7
  4. Nf3 Na5
  5. Nd4
Diagram 1l: Giri – Salem, 2017: Position after 24. Nd4.

The Knight on d4 is a majestic piece, looking at both sides of the board and preparing f4-f5, while also keeping an eye on e6 as a potential weakness.

Black tried to play as actively as possible, carrying out the natural plan of Na5-c4; however, White’s position is just too dominating and things will happen too fast. The f4-f5 push will unveil an excellent square for the Queen on g5.

A few moves later:

  1. Nd4 Nc4
  2. Bxc4 dxc4
  3. Bxe7 Rxe7
  4. f5 exf5
  5. gxf5 Bh5
  6. Qg5
Diagram 1m: Giri – Salem, 2017: Position after 29. Qg5.

At this point, the attack develops itself in a natural way. White will be able to choose between pushing f5-f6 or e5-e6 depending on the situation, and the Queen stands on the open file in front of the King. At any moment, the Rook will be able to join the party, and the pressure will be unbearable for Black.

Before we move on to Black’s plans, let’s take a final idea for White into consideration.

Similarly to what you can read on the d5 chain article, it often happens in opposite-side attacking positions that it is a wise choice to play on your weaker side, as paradoxical as it may sound.

The point of this plan is to limit the opponent’s play on their stronger side, by blocking it or even actively breaking through, to then have a free hand to attack on your own stronger side.

In pawn chain structures, this is a recurring theme since the position is of a closed nature, with a clear definition of stronger and weaker sides for each player.

The e5 chain is no exception, and there is no one better than Garry Kasparov to show us exactly how to do it.

In a game against Grandmaster Alexei Shirov, the following moves were played:

  1. e4 c6
  2. d4 d5
  3. e5 Bf5
  4. Be3 Qb6
  5. Qc1 e6
  6. c4 Ne7
  7. c5
Diagram 1n: Kasparov – Shirov, 2002: Position after 7.c5.

Kasparov’s idea is to block the Queenside from early on, preventing Black’s active play and grabbing as much space as possible before beginning the attack on the other side of the board.

This is often an idea to take into consideration: even if Black is not necessarily worse or desperate in such a position, you may agree that it is far harder to play when your opponent doesn’t allow you to be active and pose him problems!

Black’s plans

If you’re planning on playing this position from across the board, don’t be discouraged by the ideas we have just looked at: this is where the fun starts for you.

As you remember, Black also has a choice between two different plans in this structure: either to close the position with the c5-c4 push or to dynamically attack the d4 pawn, while at the same time exploiting the open c-file.

Let’s start by the latter.

In this 2015 game between Alexei Shirov and the young German Grandmaster Rasmus Svane, we see this idea being put to the practical test.

Diagram 1o: Shirov – Svane, 2015: Position after 7…Rc8.

Having quickly developed with Bc8-d7 and Ra8-c8, Black is clearly preparing to take on d4 and exert control over the c-file.

The c2 square is one of the critical squares of White’s position, and the one Black will try to invade. If a Rook or Knight gets to this square, Black will have a serious chance to grab an advantage.

The game proceeded:

  1. Na3 cxd4
  2. cxd4 Qb6
  3. Nc2 Nb4
  4. Ne3 Nf5
Diagram 1p: Shirov – Svane, 2015: Position after 11…Nf5.

This move has the creative idea of deviating White’s Knight from the protection of the c2 square. Quickly we see Black achieving his goal.

  1. Nxf5 exf5
  2. Qb3 Be7
  3. Bg5 Nc2

The Knight arrives to the c2 square, and many exchanges will take place, which means we will transpose into an endgame – which will be favourable for Black.

  1. Qxb6 axb6
  2. Bxe7 Kxe7
  3. Rac1 Rc7
  4. a3 Rhc8
Diagram 1q: Shirov – Svane, 2015: Position after 18…Rhc8.

Black has tremendous control over the c-file, and is threatening to take the d4 pawn exploiting the fact that the c1 Rook is insufficiently defended.

Even if the endgame will clearly still be a complicated fight, Black has the better chances due to the better placement of the Rooks and Knight on c2. The young German Grandmaster ended up winning a great game.

Let’s now consider what may happen should Black decide to close the position with c5-c4.

One of the obvious ideas behind this move is to gain space on the Queenside, creating a spatial advantage.

It is also important to note that White will almost always block the c-pawn and defend the d4 pawn with the c2-c3 push. The new base of the chain is b2, and in order to attack it with effectiveness, Black’s b-pawn will have to be launched forward.

However, many times, after playing c5-c4 Black gets in a somewhat surprising idea: to castle Queenside!

Since that side of the board is blocked, doing this is a way to prevent White from having the direct Kingside attacks that we have seen before.

Certainly this idea has its own dangers, but it’s a very interesting way to play.

In the game Zhigalko – Radulski, from 2010, we see how Black made this idea work – and even built a Kingside attack himself!

Diagram 1r: Zhigalko – Radulski, 2010: Position after 17…f5.

After closing the position and bringing the King over to the Queenside, Black has started the process of dominating the other side of the board – supposedly his weaker side.

The plan will be to bring the Rooks and Queen over to the f and g files, and eventually try to open up a way towards White’s King.

  1. Bh3 Qf7
  2. Ng5 Qg8
  3. Bf4 h6
  4. Nf3 Qf7
  5. Nfe1 Rg8
Diagram 1s: Zhigalko – Radulski, 2010: Position after 23.Kh1.

Black’s ideas begin to gain shape as the major pieces approach the files that will potentially open.

  1. Kh1 Be7
  2. Ne3 Rdf8
  3. Bh2 Be8
  4. g4 f4
  5. N3c2 f3
Diagram 1t: Zhigalko – Radulski, 2010: Position after 27…f3.

Black’s advantage is massive as White’s King has way too many weaknesses in the surroundings. The next step is clearly to breakthrough with g7-g6, giving all of Black’s pieces meaning and leaving White simply tied down.

In only a few moves, the game came to an end – we can conclude that this idea definitely holds an interesting possibility to steer things up for Black and try to reach an advantage in quite a surprising way.

This may remind you of the last idea we mentioned for White: to play on the weaker side in order to try and prevent the enemy from reaching their goals.

However, there is something else that Black will often do on the Kingside, before or during the typical Queenside assault: and that is to breakthrough with f7-f6, challenging White’s central formation.

In the game between Geetha Narayanan Gopal and Viktor Bologan, from the Gibraltar Masters tournament of 2012, we see how this idea may work to perfection for Black.

Diagram 1u: Gopal – Bologan, 2012: Position after 18…f6.

White has tried to carry out the typical f4-f5 break, but the pieces are fairly discoordinated: the Knight on b3 does not help the attack at all, and neither does the g2 Bishop.

Black’s pieces simply have more potential, and this strong central breakthrough will make this evident in no more than a few moves.

  1. Bc3 fxe5
  2. fxe6 Rxe6
  3. dxe5 Nxe5
Diagram 1v: Gopal – Bologan, 2012: Position after 21…Nxe5.

At this point, Black holds a very comfortable advantage: he is a pawn up, has the stronger centre and the better pieces. The game came to an end in 20 moves’ time.

Now that you certainly feel confident to play this with either color, let’s take a brief moment to summarize all of what we have just learned:

White’s plans

  • Attack the base of Black’s pawn chain with f2-f4-f5-fxe6;
  • Create a Kingside attack with f2-f4-f5-f6, followed by direct mate threats on the g7 square;
  • Block Black’s play on the Queenside with c4-c5;

Black’s plans

  • Attack the base of White’s pawn chain with c5-cxd4, Nb8-c6, Qd8-b6, and exert control over the c-file with Ra8-c8 and, sometimes, Nb4-c2;
  • Advance c7-c5-c4 and either attack the new base of the chain, b2, with b7-b5-b4, or castle Queenside and proceed to attack on the Kingside;
  • Breakthrough in the centre with f7-f6;

And that’s a wrap in which concerns ideas & plans in the e5 chain pawn structure. There is, however, one question left to ask…

How do you reach this pawn structure?

 

You know all about this structure already, except for when you can come to find it on the board.

By reading this section you will know exactly the openings that you must play to reach this structure – and that is the last step before mastering it and boosting your chess rating with all the knowledge you’ve acquired from this article.

The most common way to reach this structure is with the French defense.

Many variations of the French defense lead to this chain, but the most straightforward is with the advance variation.

  1. e4 e6
  2. d4 d5
  3. e5
Diagram 1w: The French Defense, Advance variation.

However, it is also possible to reach it with the Tarrasch variation of the French defense.

  1. e4 e6
  2. d4 d5
  3. Nd2 Nf6
  4. e5 Nfd7
Diagram 1x: The French Defense, Tarrasch variation.

Another opening that frequently leads to this structure is the Caro-Kann defense, namely by its own advance variation.

  1. e4 c6
  2. d4 d5
  3. e5 Bf5
  4. Nf3 e6
Diagram 1y: The Caro-Kann Defense, Advance variation.

However, something that shows how versatile this structure is is the fact that you may also come across it in closed games, starting with 1.d4.

You can find the e5 chain after the following moves in the Catalan opening:

  1. d4 Nf6
  2. c4 e6
  3. Nf3 d5
  4. g3 Be7
  5. Bg2 0-0
  6. 0-0 e6
  7. Qc2 Nbd7
  8. Nbd2 b6
  9. e4 Bb7
  10. e5

Diagram 1z: The Catalan Opening, position after 10.e5.

You know what the structure looks like, what its characteristics are, how to play it and how to reach it – it’s time to conclude by settling some of the most important points from this article.

Conclusions

 

This is the section where we end yet another pawn structure article – this is one more to add to your “mental library” of pawn structures, that is becoming fuller and fuller.

Remember that pawn structures are simply essential in chess, and that studying them will provide you with valuable strategic knowledge that will certainly come in handy to achieve your goals.

This one, the e5 chain pawn structure, is an extremely rich, versatile and common structure – so let’s break it down in a few essential points to remember:

  • The e5 chain pawn structure offers chances for tactical, rich play for both sides;
  • Similarly to its sister structure, the d5 chain, it leads to opposite-side attacking positions;
  • The concept of pawn chains, bases of the pawn chains and “pointing” pawn chains are essential in chess strategy;
  • White will try to expand on the Kingside, attacking near the base of Black’s pawn chain, the f7 pawn;
  • Black will try to expand on the Queenside, attacking near the base of White’s pawn chain, either the d4 or the b2 pawn;
  • Both sides may consider inhibiting their opponent’s counterplay before carrying out their own plans;
  • This structure can be reached from the French or Caro-Kann defenses, but also from closed openings, such as the Catalan

Congratulations on finish yet another pawn structure article!

As you know, there are seventeen pawn structures and we will cover every single one of them – so why not check out another article or put what you’ve just learned to the test in a few games?

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