Pawns are often considered the least valuable pieces on the board. However, their importance should not be underestimated, as they play a critical role in controlling space and restricting the movements of the opponent’s pieces. One of the most valuable types of pawns in chess is the protected passed pawn, which can often be a game-winning asset if played correctly.
A protected passed pawn is a pawn that has advanced to the opponent’s half of the board, has no enemy pawns on its file or on adjacent files, and is defended by a friendly piece. This pawn is considered “passed” because there are no opposing pawns that can block its advance to the eighth rank, where it can be promoted to a more powerful piece such as a queen.
Check the diagram. How many passed pawns can you find there?
- White: The answer is c6 and h5. Despite no blocks along its path, the pawn on a3 cannot be called “passed” because it didn’t reach the opponent’s half of the board yet.
- Black: Only the pawn on f3 is passed. However, if Black manages to get rid of the white pawn on g3 (1. … f4 2. gxf4), the other black pawn (g4) will become a passed pawn as well.
The value of a protected passed pawn lies in the fact that it requires the opponent to devote significant resources to stop its advance. If the opponent neglects to do so, the pawn can quickly become a powerful attacking force. In addition, the presence of a protected passed pawn can tie up the opponent’s pieces, limiting their mobility and forcing them to defend against potential threats.
A classic example of the power of passed pawns is the famous game between Mikhail Botvinnik and José Raúl Capablanca. Capablanca was a former World Chess Champion (1921-1927), while Botvinnik would later become World Champion himself (1948-1957).
To quote Garry Kasparov:
Botvinnik played what was altogether the “game of his life” against Capablanca. It was not just that it was judged the most brilliant in the tournament and to be worth two first prizes, but it was even suggested that, by analogy with the “immortal” and “evergreen” games, it should be called “peerless” or “classical”!