Isolated pawn

Isolated pawn

In chess, an isolated pawn is a pawn for which there is no friendly pawn on an adjacent file. An isolated queen's pawn is often called an isolani.

In the endgame, isolated pawns are a weakness because they cannot be defended by other pawns. In this diagram, the white pawn on the e5 square and the black pawn on a7 are isolated. (Also see backward pawn and doubled pawns.)

Isolated pawns are weak for two reasons. First of all, the pieces attacking them usually have more elasticity than those defending them. In other words, the attacking pieces enjoy greater freedom to do other things (threaten to win pieces, checkmate, etc.), while the defending pieces are restricted to the defense of the pawn. This is because a piece that is attacking a pawn can give up the attack to do something else whereas the defending piece must stay rooted to the spot until the attacking piece has moved. The defending piece is thus said to be "tied down" to the pawn.

The second reason is that the square immediately in front of the isolated pawn is weak because it is immune to attack by a pawn (often providing an excellent outpost for a knight). Thus an isolated pawn provides a typical example of what Wilhelm Steinitz called weak squares.

An isolated queen pawn (IQP), called isolani (it is not clear why this term is used rather than the singular form, 'isolanus', which is ironic considering that the pawn stands alone) is often a special case. An isolated queen pawn is one in the queen's file (d file). Assuming that it is a white pawn on d4, the weakness of such a pawn consists in its having to be defended and the weak square in front of it (i.e. d5 for white) being of particular importance. However the presence of open files in the important king and queen bishop (e and c) files as well as the outposts at e5 and c5 enable the player with the IQP very favourable attacking chances in the middle game. Once the game reaches the endgame the isolated nature of the pawn becomes a greater weakness than these strengths. Therefore the player with the IQP must take advantage of the temporary strength before an endgame is reached. With four minor pieces each, an IQP is an advantage; with three minor pieces each, it is about even; and with two or fewer minor pieces each, it is a disadvantage . Sacrifice of the pawn by white and blockade of the pawn by black are common themes.

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Further reading

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