In our previous instalment we looked at the open pawn centre, which is characterised by the absence of central pawns and open e/d-files. In the closed pawn centre, on the other hand, the pawns stand in each other's way:
This structure resembles a road block: the pawns hamper piece movement through the centre and block the e/d-files. Players preferring a slow, defensive game may feel more at ease in such positions. Attacking players could resort to flank attacks or attempt to open up the centre using the c/f pawns.
Closed centres guard against early tactical onslaughts; therefore king safety is less crucial than in open positions. Sometimes, a king behind a closed pawn centre is safer even than a castled king. Development is less urgent, too: if you wish to attack, you have to manoeuvre your pieces around the pawn centre, giving your opponent ample time to set up a defence. Knights are often more powerful in closed positions than bishops because the pawns block the bishops' diagonals, whereas knights can move around rather easily and occupy outposts in the enemy territory.
In a closed pawn centre strategic planning is paramount. Spotting potential weaknesses in your opponent's pawn structure and piece placement will help you determine the right time for further pawn advances. Be patient. If you encounter an opponent who is used to play tactically and aggressively, see if he or she is trying to force things; an early attack in a closed position, once fended off, likely leaves certain squares and pawns in the attacker's camp vulnerable.
Further, players equipped with some endgame knowledge often benefit from closed centres in that they have something to ponder in a seemingly innocuous position (e.g. transpositions, piece & pawn exchanges, pawn structure) that might help them making slightly better moves. In any case, as soon as the pawn centre locks down, keep an eye out for endgame tactics involving doubled pawns, passed pawns, connected passed pawns, rook pawns, etc. and place your pieces accordingly.
Here now is a game between Heinrich Wolf and Akiba Rubinstein, Teplitz-Schönau 1922. Midway through the game, Wolf decides to close the centre -- a mistake Rubinstein is "quick" to exploit.