How a pawn becomes backward, and why is it often a weakness?
Let’s check the definition: A backward pawn in chess refers to a pawn that lags behind all other pawns of the same color on the neighboring columns and cannot be moved forward without risk.
In the following diagram, the pawn with the blue background is backward because it cannot move forward without being instantly endangered by the white pawn, and it isn’t protected by any other pawn.
So, the general idea is to avoid creating backward pawns of your own. Backward pawns generally pose a positional drawback since they lack support from other pawns, making them vulnerable. Additionally, the opponent can safely position a piece, typically a knight, in the space directly in front of the pawn without fear of being ousted by a pawn. Moreover, the presence of a backward pawn hinders the ability of its owner’s rooks and queen on the same column to attack the piece occupying that position.
The white knight in the diagram below occupies a perfect outpost. There are no black pawns to drive it away, and the black rook’s path is blocked by the backward pawn.
However, in modern opening theory, there are several openings where one player intentionally accepts a backward pawn in exchange for other advantages, such as gaining initiative or achieving superior development. A good example is the Pelikán/Sveshnikov Variation of the Sicilian Defense:
In summary, it is advisable to avoid creating backward pawns in your own pawn structure unless you are fully aware of how to offset their drawbacks. On the other hand, if you identify backward pawns in your opponent’s position, capitalize on them by establishing powerful outposts and employing various strategies to exploit these vulnerable points.