Christmas holidays at last, and some spare time for chess & blogs! I read a chapter in Bruce Pandolfini's Weapons of Chess the other day on the topic of pawn centres. I thought I could start a mini-series on the various types of pawn centres, illustrating each with a game of the masters.
The importance of knowing about pawn centres ought to be evident. Pawn centres are an essential -- if not the most important -- factor in determining the course of a game. You probably know what style of play you enjoy (aggressive, tactical, positional, flank attacks, centre attacks, ...) -- but do you also know how to bring about the positions you excel at? This is where knowledge of pawn centres comes in handy!
The open centre, as you might have guessed, favours aggressive, tactical play. The defining feature of an open centre is the absence of pawns: no pawns (or one at most) occupy the central files.
An open centre guarantees free passage for the pieces -- your own and your enemy's -- so speed is paramount. Fast development and an aggressive attack are key. If your opponent offers you a pawn or even an exchange, beware! The time it takes to snatch that pawn could easily give your opponent an opportunity to mate your king on the other side of the board. So don't be materialistic and keep your king safety in mind! Castle early, for a king on an open e-file is a sitting duck.
The game (with annotations) between Spielmann and Tartakower, Munich 1909 illustrates the nature of open centre play very well, I think; both players play aggressively, but in the end Spielmann is one notch faster than his opponent, forcing him into the defence and finishing him off with a powerful attack.