Chess: The Tudor Pawn

Solution: 1. Qf4
Solution: 1. Qf4

About 460 years ago Lady Jane Grey was called the ‘Tudor Pawn’ but to see her as one whose life was simply moved around by others is totally inadequate.

The life and death of this 16-year-old girl is far from simple. The full tragedy and triumph of her life were encompassed within the far-reaching political and religious changes that were shaking England at that time.

The Reformation touched the whole population; from palace to university; from emerging town to peasant cottage. Like a complicated game of chess, the pieces mesh together giving a picture of a girl with outstanding natural abilities whose strength of character and remarkable faith shine out despite the darkness.

Faith Cook tells us: “Kneeling down on the hard wooden scaffold Jane turned to Feckenham who stood by her. “Shall I say this Psalm?” she faltered. Overcome with emotion …he simply said, “Yea”. Jane then began to repeat Psalm 51 in English, David’s great prayer of contrition. Jane recited all nineteen verses. She called out to God in a clear voice. “Lord, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” Then with a stroke, swift and sharp and terrible, Jane’s short life was ended.”

In the middle of the 18th century a Frenchman, F. A. Danican or Philidor, as he became more famously known, coined the phrase that ‘pawns are the soul of chess’. He was light years ahead of his contemporaries in his thinking and today the figure of the pawn as an object of serviceability and expendability has entered the English language.

The openings are usually classed as king pawn or queen pawn, the latter tending to be more positional than the tactical KP, but this is not absolute. The pawn sacrifice is a common theme in many situations, gaining time for development and freeing lines for attack as well as inflicting long-term strategic weaknesses on your opponent. Quite often the king will fall to a sacrificial attack just because the pawn structure has been weakened.

An ‘isolated pawn’ by implication can only be guarded by pieces so it is usually avoided as it can tie up your forces. A ‘passed pawn’ has no pawns stopping its advance to promotion and needs to be captured, blockaded or at least restrained. A ‘backward pawn’ which is restrained from moving by pawns and pieces is a potential liability because of its fixed nature. A ’pawn chain’ or pawns that are permanently fixed on the same colour of squares as your bishop makes that bishop ’bad’ because of its lack of scope.

Pawn majorities versus pawn minorities will yield passed pawns which can promote if played right and are major factors to be considered before going in for mass exchanges as sometimes the pieces are needed to force the issue The king cannot always reach a commanding position supporting the pawns. In the final analysis, Philidor’s vision seems logical today but only because of the empirical nature of chess theory.

There is an affinity, though sometimes conflicting, between chess and music, which Mark Taimanov embodied. He was ranked among the world top ten grandmasters for the best part of a decade while simultaneously touring the USSR giving piano duets with his first wife Lyubov Bruk.

This week’s position, where white’s queen and rooks are in harmonious control of the board, suited Taimanov’s style but were just the opposite for his hard-drinking opponent, Alexander Tolush, who liked dashing and offbeat attacks. In this position, material is level but white’s E5 pawn is attacked twice so the game looks drawish, but Taimanov’s next move proved so strong that Tolush conceded defeat.

White to play and win.