Sometimes beginners are referred, somewhat in jest, as being mere “pawn-pushers”. Try telling that to these Grandmasters.
Typically, most pawns are pushed towards the end of the game with the goal of eventually promoting. But pawns don’t need to promote and pawn pushing can happen at any stage of the game. In fact, it is possible to win a game with pawn moves only.
R. Kujoth – Fashing-Bauer
1.e4 c5 2.b4 cxb4 3.a3 Nc6 4.axb4 Nf6 5.b5 Nb8
[The (in?)famous game, Frank Marshall-Viacheslav Ragosin, New York, 1940, continued instead with 5…Nd4 6.c3 Ne6 7.e5 Nd5 8.c4 Ndf4 9.g3 Ng6 10.f4 Ngxf4 11.gxf4 Nxf4 12.d4 Ng6 13.h4 e6 14.h5 Bb4+ (And now, after 14 moves, Marshall had to finally move a piece.) 15.Bd2 Bxd2+ 16.Nxd2 Ne7 17.Ne4 Nf5 18.h6 g6 19.Nf6+ Kf8 20.Nf3 d6 21.Ng5 dxe5 22.dxe5 Qxd1+ 23.Rxd1 Ke7 24.Rh3 b6 25.Bg2 Rb8 26.Ngxh7 1-0.]
6.e5 Qc7 7.d4 Nd5 8.c4 Nb6 9.c5 Nd5 10.b6!
John Hurt (1831)-Morris Busby
Bluff City Open, February 17, 1979
1.e4 c5 2.b4 cxb4 3.a3 Nc6 4.axb4 Nf6 5.b5 Nd4 6.c3 Ne6 7.e5 Ne4 8.d4 d5 9.f3 N4g5 10.h4 1-0
Pawn pushing can be used in the middle game. To good effect.
GM Vassily Ivanchuk (2740)-GM Veselin Topalov (2670)
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be3 Bg7 7.f3 Nc6 8.Qd2 O-O 9.Bc4 Bd7 10.h4 Rc8 11.Bb3 h5 12.O-O-O Ne5 (The Soltis Variation of the Dragon.) 13.Bg5 Rc5 14.g4 hxg4 15.f4 Nc4 16.Qe2 Qc8
[This appear to be Black’s best move. Sarunas Sulskis (2505)-Dr. Evarth Kahn (2350), Budapest 1995 continued with 16…b5!? 17.h5 Nxh5 18.f5 a5 19.Qxg4 a4 20.Bxc4 Rxc4 21.Rxh5 gxh5 22.Qxh5 Rxd4 23.Rh1 f6 24.Qh7+ Kf7 25.Bh6 Bxf5 26.Qxg7+ Ke6 27.exf5+ 1-0.]
17.Bxf6 Bxf6 18.Nd5 Rxd5!! (This move certainly looks like it gives the initiative to Black. Can it be sustained? Or is it an illusion? White several plans to try to counter Black’s threats. But first, the most obvious move.) 19.exd5 b5 20.h5 (Now here is where it starts to get complicated.) 20…g5!? (It’s obvious Black intends to push his kingside pawns. Doing so will put a cramp on both White’s attack on the kingside and more importantly, the coordination of his pieces.) 21.fxg5 Bxg5+! (Black will use the extra tempo to push another pawn.) 22.Kb1 f5 23.Rd3 (It’s been recommended that 23.h6, pushing White’s pawns to counter Black’s advancing pawns, is the better move.) 23…f4 24.Bxc4 Qxc4 0-1
[Ivanchuk was criticized for resigning here. It’s not an easy position to hold. Some sample lines: (1) 25.Qd2 Kh7 26.Qg2 Kh8 27.b3 Qc8! Black’s king is hiding and his queen can reposition herself., (2) 25.Qg2 Kh8 26.Re1 b4 and Black’s queenside pawns start advancing, (3) 25.Rc3?! Qxd4 26.Rc7 Bf5 (a “fantasy” position for Black). In addition to Black’s dangerous kingside pawns he now has both bishops aiming for White’s castled position, (4) 25.Ne6?! fails to 25….f3! 26.Qd1 Bxe6. Maybe Ivanchuk saw all of this.]
Obviously, one has to be careful pushing pawns. When a pawn is advances it leaves holes where the enemy pieces can hold or attack.
The following games illustrates this point. And features some serious pawn pushing.
GM Boris Spassky-GM Bobby Fischer
World Ch., Game #13
Reykjavik, July 11 1972
1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 3.d4 d6 4.Nf3 g6 5.Bc4 Nb6 6.Bb3 Bg7 7.Nbd2 (ECO gives this move a “?!”, suggesting 8.Ng5.) 7…O-O 8.h3!? (8.O-O!?) 8…a5! (To create space and threaten …a4.) 9.a4 dxe5 10.dxe5 Na6 11.O-O Nc5 (-/+ ECO) 12.Qe2 Qe8 13.Ne4 Nbxa4 14.Bxa4 Nxa4 15.Re1 Nb6 16.Bd2 a4 17.Bg5 h6 18.Bh4 Bf5 19.g4 Be6 20.Nd4 Bc4 21.Qd2 Qd7 22.Rad1 Rfe8 23.f4 Bd5 24.Nc5 Qc8 25.Qc3 e6 26.Kh2 Nd7 27.Nd3? c5! 28.Nb5 Qc6 29.Nd6 Qxd6 30.exd6 Bxc3 31.bxc3 f6 32.g5 hxg5 33.fxg5 f5 34.Bg3 Kf7 35.Ne5+ Nxe5 36.Bxe5 b5 37.Rf1 Rh8 38.Bf6 a3 39.Rf4 a2 40.c4 Bxc4 41.d7 Bd5 42.Kg3 Ra3+ 43.c3 Rha8 44.Rh4 e5 45.Rh7+ Ke6 46.Re7+ Kd6 47.Rxe5 Rxc3+ 48.Kf2 Rc2+ 49.Ke1 Kxd7 50.Rexd5+ Kc6 51.Rd6+ Kb7 52.Rd7+ Ka6 53.R7d2 Rxd2 54.Kxd2 b4 55.h4 Kb5 56.h5 c4 57.Ra1 gxh5 58.g6 h4 59.g7 h3 60.Be7 Rg8 61.Bf8! (Locking in the rook.)
61…h2 62.Kc2 Kc6 63.Rd1 b3+ 64.Kc3 h1=Q 65.Rxh1 Kd5 66.Kb2 f4 67.Rd1+ Ke4 68.Rc1 Kd3 69.Rd1+ [Gligorić, writing in Informant 14, (Game #165) give this move a ??, claiming that 69.Rc3+! Kd4 70.Rf3 c3+ 71.Ka1 c2 72.Rxf4+ Kc3 73.Rf3+ Kd2 74.Ba3! is equal. He appears to be correct.] 69…Ke2 70.Rc1 f3 71.Bc5 Rxg7 72.Rxc4 Rd7 73.Re4+ Kf1 74.Bd4 f2 0-1