Doubled Pawns

Doubled pawns in chess refers to two pawns that are on the same file. At the start of the game there are no doubled pawns, because each pawn is on a different file. But exchanges of pieces that are recaptured by pawns often results in doubled pawns. This most common such situation is a pinned knight being captured by a bishop, when re-captured by a pawn, that pawn is often a doubled pawn (on c3/c6 or f3/f6).

Doubled pawns are quite weak. They cannot protect each other, unlike connected pawns (adjacent pawns). Two doubled pawns with no other pawns around to protect them are called “isolated doubled pawns” and they have no pawns that can protect them.

Doubled pawns cause much damage to a pawn majority. A normal pawn majority without doubled pawns can usually create a passed pawn (later in the game, not early on). But if the pawn majority has doubled pawns, it’s often like not having a pawn majority at all. An extra pawn is not really worth a full pawn if that extra pawn is doubled.

Doubled pawns are often a weakness. Doubled pawns are often also isolated, or backward pawns. A backward doubled pawn on a half-open file is a common strategic weakness in many games. An enemy rook will try to attack the pawn down the half-open file, and the pawn must be defended by pieces (it cannot advance as it is backward).

Some general rules related to doubled pawns include:

  • Swap off doubled pawns: Often you can get rid of the weakness of a doubled pawn by exchanging it. Advanced it toward the enemy pawns, causing a pawn exchange.
  • Doubled center pawns can be strong (in the middlegame): It is an exception that doubled pawns in the center can often be quite useful in the middlegame. A group of three pawns, such as e4, d3, and f2, will still be quite strong if there is capture like “f2xe3” (e.g. commonly occurring in double King pawn openings resulting from White playing Be3 followed by Black’s Bc5xe3 or Ng4xe3). This results in doubled King pawns (doubled "e’ pawns). In such cases, the doubled pawn is helping control center squares during the middlegame.
  • Advance the first doubled pawn: This advanced strategy refers to doubled pawns in a pawn island or pawn mass, and not so much to isolated doubled pawns. The idea is that the foremost of the two doubled pawns should be advanced. This helps control space and facilitates exchange of the pawn at worst.
  • Tripled pawns: It is possible to have tripled pawns. They are even weaker than doubled pawns. And they tend to be isolated pawns as well, which means they are extra weak. They occur sometimes in games, but are not that common.

Related Chess Tactics

Read more about these related chess strategies: