a7 black pawn
c7 black pawn
g7 black pawn
d6 black pawn
h6 black pawn
b5 white pawn
h5 white pawn
b4 white pawn
c4 white pawn
e4 white pawn
g4 white pawn
White's e-pawn, and Black's a-pawn, are isolated.

In chess, an isolated pawn is a pawn that has no friendly pawn on an adjacent file. Isolated pawns are usually a weakness because they cannot be protected by other pawns. The square in front of the pawn may become a good outpost for the opponent to anchor pieces. Isolated pawns most often become weaker in the endgame, as there are fewer pieces available to protect the pawn.

Isolated pawns can, however, provide improved development and associated opportunities for counterplay that offset or even outweigh their weaknesses. The files adjacent to the isolated pawn are either open or half-open, providing two lanes of attack for the rooks and the queen.[1] The absence of adjacent pawns may also aid mobilization of the player's knights and bishops.

An isolated pawn on the d-file is called an isolated queen pawn or simply an isolani.[2] In addition to the open or half-open c- and e-files, the isolated queen pawn can provide good outposts on the c- and e-file squares diagonally forward of the pawn, which are especially favourable for the player's knights. The isolated queen pawn position favours a kingside attack, freeing both the light- and dark-squared bishops due to the absence of friendly pawns on the c- and e-files.[3] Isolated queen pawns, however, suffer from the same weaknesses as other isolated pawns.[4]

Several openings can lead to isolated pawns, such as the French Defence, Nimzo-Indian Defence, Caro–Kann and Queen's Gambit.


In the endgame, isolated pawns are a weakness in pawn structure because they cannot be defended by other pawns as with connected pawns. In the diagram, the white pawn on e4 and the black pawn on a7 are isolated.

Isolated pawns are weak for two reasons. First, the pieces attacking them usually have more flexibility than those defending them. Namely, the attacking pieces enjoy greater freedom to make other threats, while the defending pieces are restricted to the defense of the pawn. A defending piece is said to be "tied down" to the pawn, since it must stay rooted to the spot until the attacking piece has moved.

The second reason is that the square immediately in front of the isolated pawn is weak, often providing an excellent outpost for a knight or other enemy piece, since it is immune to attack by a pawn. Also, an enemy piece on this square cannot be attacked by rooks, since the file it is on is blocked by the isolated pawn. Thus an isolated pawn provides a typical example of what Wilhelm Steinitz called weak squares.

Isolated queen pawn

An isolated queen pawn (IQP), called an isolani, is often a special case. An isolated queen pawn is one on the queen's file (d-file). Its weakness arises from two factors:

The presence of open or half-open king (e-) and queen's bishop (c-) files, however, as well as the outposts (for White) at e5 and c5, enable the player with the IQP favourable attacking chances in the middlegame. Once the game reaches the endgame, the pawn's isolation becomes more of a weakness than a strength. Therefore, the player with the IQP must take advantage of its strength before an endgame is reached. Gallagher (2002) proposed that 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.[5]


Kramnik vs. Kasparov, 2000[6]
a8 black rook
d8 black queen
f8 black rook
g8 black king
a7 black pawn
b7 black bishop
d7 black knight
f7 black pawn
g7 black pawn
h7 black pawn
b6 black pawn
e6 black pawn
f6 black knight
g5 white bishop
b4 black bishop
c4 white bishop
d4 white pawn
c3 white knight
f3 white knight
a2 white pawn
b2 white pawn
f2 white pawn
g2 white pawn
h2 white pawn
c1 white rook
d1 white queen
e1 white rook
g1 white king
Position after 12.Rc1. White has an isolated queen pawn but better piece development.

The diagram shows some of the optimum piece placements for both sides in an IQP position.


Making use of this arrangement of pieces White may plan to either advance thematically with d4–d5 opening the position and dissolving the IQP, or use the greater activity of his pieces to launch an attack probably making use of the e5-square for a knight and possibly lifting a rook to the kingside. Typically there may also be a sacrifice on e6 or f7. It is important that White try to use the IQP to support an attack or dissolve it before the endgame as it would then become weak. The advance d4–d5 or a tactic forcing Black to capture a piece on e5 and then recapturing with the d4-pawn would be typical ways of achieving this.


Black may decide to blockade the pawn on d4 with a piece (most likely a knight) or prevent its advance long enough to increase pressure on it until it falls. It is likely Black will try to place rooks on the open c-file and semi-open d-file to increase their activity and to increase the pressure on d4. It is crucial that Black prevents the d4–d5 break or otherwise renders it harmless. Black will try to exchange pieces as much as possible since the fewer the pieces on the board, the weaker the IQP becomes. Black needs to be wary of White using the e5-square to launch an attack, and keep vigilant for sacrifices on e6 and f7.

See also


  1. ^ Nimzowitsch (2016), pp. 31–32.
  2. ^ Nimzowitsch (2016), p. 241.
  3. ^ Nimzowitsch (2016), pp. 241–243.
  4. ^ Nimzowitsch (2016), pp. 241–242.
  5. ^ Gallagher (2002), p. 140.
  6. ^ "Vladimir Kramnik vs. Garry Kasparov, Classical World Championship Match (2000), London".


Further reading