Winning with the f-pawn Push

In my last post, I talked about how Grandmaster Fabiano Caruana won by gaining space with pawn pushes, particularly with the f4/f5 pawn push. I figured that for today’s post, I would show how placing your f-pawn deep into enemy territory is such a strong point in your position.

Going into this game I was rated 1799, and seeing that my opponent was similarly rated, a win would guarantee that I gain at least 1 rating point.

Wiseman – Steincamp (Kingstowne Action Plus, 2013)

1. c4 Nf6 2. d4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. e4 d6 5. Be3

5…O-O An immediate …Ng4 could have been more interesting, but seeing as this tournament had a shorter time control, I decided to stick to what I knew,

6. Bd3?! Already I know that my opponent is not too familiar with the King’s Indian Defense, as the traditional square for the light squared bishop is e2. From d3, it will be behind 2 pawns, e4 and c4. Right now I want to shut down the center to limit the scope of this poorly placed bishop.

6…e5 7. d5 Nbd7

8. b4 An unusual approach. White usually solidifies on the kingside before trying this pawn push and attacking on the queenside. Before I start my kingside play, I will eliminate White’s counter play on the queenside.

8…a5 9. a3 axb4 10. axb4 Rxa1 11. Qxa1

11…Ng4 With phase 1 of my plan mostly complete, I decided that I need to punish White for leaving his bishop on e3. In the King’s Indian this is a very common maneuver, and is sometimes even follow up with Ng4–h6–f7 in true Bronstein style.

12. Qc1 Nxe3 13. Qxe3 c5

14. b5 Locking down all of the light squares. Now I should aim for the thematic f–pawn push.

14…Qa5?! Not necessary, an immediate 14… f5 would have been solid, as after 15. exf5 gxf5, and I have a strong center.

15. Nge2 f5 16. O-O

16…f4! The critical point of this game. Now that I control the f4 squares, I can exploit White’s kingside weaknesses at my will. I will play for a fast g–pawn push, and White will need to become creative to find a defense.

17. Qc1 Qd8

18. f3 The typical response to the enemy pawn on f4. 17… f3 didn’t yield any play for me though, as after 18. g3, there is still some play for White. While this is a typical defense mechanism, it creates 2 problems for white. First, it helps make my g–pawn push idea very effective, and secondly, now he cannot put his knight on f3. Defending the h2 square will become problematic.

18…Nf6 Putting my knight on f6 gives me a further hold on the g4 square.

19. Qa3? Missing the point. White has no play on the queenside, and he takes away a piece for defending.

19…g5 20. Ra1 g4 21. fxg4

21…Nxg4! Since I have exchanged off White’s dark squared bishop, I need to take advantage of the weak squares in his position, made possible by my f4 pawn.

22. h3 Ne3

23. Nd1 A natural looking move. However, it blocks off the queen and the rook from defending the king. In these kinds of positions, it is very important to look for all forcing moves.

23… Nxg2! 24. Kxg2 f3+ 25. Kh2

25…Qh4 An immediate 25… Qg5! is much more effective, but this is winning too. It is critical to not take the knight however, as it does a nice job of blocking out my opponent’s pieces.

26. Ng1 f2 27. Nxf2 Rxf2+ 28.Kh1 Qg3 29. Bf1 Qh2# 0-1

While limited opening preparation certainly did not help my opponent, he lost because of my pawn on f4. By having a strong pawn on f4, my opponent could not easily defend his kingside, while I had all the space  in the world to attack. Furthermore, by closing off the center, I could safely attack with my g-pawn without risk to my king. For black, these dark-square openings like the King’s Indian Defense revolve around these f7-f5-f4 ideas, so for me, eliminating the opponent’s dark squared bishop was critical towards attacking his king.

Don’t believe in the power of the f–pawn push? Here’s another game!

Chava – Steincamp (Virginia Scholastic Chess Championships, 2013)

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. e4 d6 5. Nf3 O-O 6. Be2 Nbd7 7. O-O e5 8. d5 a5 9. Be3

9…Ng4 Again, the immediate Ng4, eliminating the dark squared bishop. Should black try 10. Bg5, I can play 10… f6 or 10… Qe8, both of which are respected theoretical lines for Black.

10. Qd2 Nxe3 11. Qxe3

11…Nc5 So far I have achieved my dream position. I have a knight on c5, and I can push the f–pawn whenever I wish.

12. a3 f5

13. b4? A critical thematic idea, but poorly timed. What is the winning intermezzo move?

13…f4! 14. Qc1 Nb3 15. Qb2 Nxa1 16. Rxa1

16…g5 Now up an exchange, and my opponent’s pieces far from his king, it is time for the g–pawn push. Since White’s knight is on f3 rather than a pawn, I ideally want to play g5-g4 then f4-f3 opening the g–file.

17. bxa5 g4 18. Nd2 f3 19. gxf3 gxf3 20. Bxf3

20…Bh3 Up an exchange, I am more than happy to give away a few pawns to open the enemy king. My pieces are all well–placed, and there seems to be no escape for the White king.

21. Kh1 Qh4

22. Nd1 Defending f2, but again blocking out his own pieces. White cannot move the knight on d2 to allow the queen to protect f2 because the bishop on f3 hangs, and white cannot afford to give up another exchange with 22. Rf1.

22…Bh6 Threatening the famous removing the defender idea. Generally in these pawns structures, if Black can activate his dark squared bishop without jeopardizing his king, White is in a world of hurt.

23. Bg2 Bxg2+ 24. Kxg2 Bf4 25. Kf1 Bxh2

26. Nb3 The knight must move, and the position collapses for white.

26…Qxe4 27. Qe2 Qh1# 0-1

In this game, my opponent allowed me to place a pawn on f4 and push my g–pawn to bust open his position. This time, by using the f4–f3 push, I created an open file and won by exposing the enemy king.

So how to defend against the f4 push? Surely, there must be a way! And there is. Here’s a rule of thumb my old coach taught me to protect yourself against these ideas. If your opponent plays f7–f5, planning f5–f4, you have three options:

1. Play f4 yourself, opening the position.

2. Play exf4, if your opponent isn’t prepared, you might be able to place a knight on e4 and grab hold of the position.

3. Find a move that renders kingside play obsolete. If you can eliminate the material needed to attack, it is only a small space advantage.

In most cases, #1 or 2 are the best option, but every now and the the pawn thrust is harmless. You must calculate in these positions, as a critical misstep can ruin a perfectly good game!

I hope you now know how to play not only as the side pushing the f–pawn, but also that you now know how to defend against it. This is a strong idea, and I hope you can implement it in your games!

Feel like I missed something? Feel free to comment below!

One thought on “Winning with the f-pawn Push

  1. Pingback: Central Dominance: A Bad Benoni Breeds Bad Play for Black – chess^summit

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