World champions vs. CWAP (Common, Weak, Airy Pawn-structure): Introduction

      Improving players are instructed to study old games. Bronstein and Tal — two legendary attacking players — said most combinations are inspired by the player’s memories of earlier games.

      CHESS TEACHER: Study old games.

      STUDENT: How old, and by whom?

      CHESS TEACHER: Eh, you’ll figure it out.

      My chess teacher said that the games to learn from are masters beating amateurs. In games between two masters, the mistakes are too few and too small for a student to discern. Games between two amateurs aren’t desirable models. Games between a master and a non-master demonstrate two things: The mistakes our opponents make in every game, and the manner in which those mistakes should be punished.

      Required reading in his classes includes Chess Master vs. Chess Amateur by world champion Euwe. I don’t know of others of the kind (Aagard’s Grandmaster vs. Amateur is about the difference in grandmaster and amateur thinking, and he crammed that into one book?!). In this book, I collected wins by world champions — at some stage in their careers — against inexpert players in casual games and simultaneous exhibitions (there are several master vs. master games if those were the only I could find to fit the everyday positional theme).

      Which world champions, and from which era?

      All of them. Some of today’s players won’t believe anything they see unless it’s from a game played last week, while the oldest games are more classically understandable (which is why I included Morphy, who played before the world champion title existed, though he was clearly the best and most instructive player of his era).

      I also selected games for this book for sharing one positional feature.

      If you go back 50 years, books related to pawn structure were limited to Pawn Power in Chess by Kmoch, and Pawn Structure Chess by Soltis. About 20 years ago, Marovic produced Dynamic Pawn Play in Chess and Understanding Pawn Play in Chess (if those are the same book with different covers, I would not be surprised). In the last few years, there’s been a glut: Chess Structures: A Grandmaster Guide by Rios, The Power of Pawns by Hickl, and Winning Pawn Structures by Baburin.

      None of those books is helpful for students and club players. They’ll show us which pawn structures are good, but after an inexpert player sets one up, then what? Those books are like opening books, which a student can follow perfectly until the end of the line, and then get lost.

      A book of pawn structure for average players ought to show which frequent setups can be blown up, and how. Players get a lot of mileage from familiarity with this layout:

      It’s very, very common. Players set it up of their own volition.

      Players also effect this pawn arrangement under positional coercion, or slight suggestion.

      Chernev understood what inexpert players need to know, so a handful of games in his classic Logical Chess, Move by Move demonstrate methods to induce that layout, and its demolition:

      Knowing this pawn structure conserves study time because three different blows to the setup result in the same weakening of the enemy position.

      Whether Black captures on e6

or on f7

or on g6

the outcome is

      I heard a chess master describe this poor king position as “the shield pulled too far from the king’s body”. It’s a Common, Weak, Airy Pawn formation: CWAP.


      All we’re talking about here is a poor pawn cover for the enemy king. While king safety trumps other positional considerations, don’t think you have an easy win coming just because your opponent separated the king from his pawn shield.

Look at this structure:

      It’s just two moves from our key position — where the e- and g-pawns are one square back — but the qualitative difference is huge.

      The e5-pawn indicates a greater central presence for Black then an e6-pawn, while the g5-pawn secures f4 as an attacking post for a knight. Many players strive for this “Lion” formation.

      Pawn structure and king safety are just two features to examine while forming a middlegame plan. Books that tout “winning pawn structures” sell the same snake oil as opening books offering “win with this” or “a complete system against that”. Opening books are just maps toward a playable middlegame, not to buried treasure. Pawn structure books are just maps of the middlegame forest; the gold is in the endgame, at the end of the rainbow.

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