The Poisoned Pawn Variation is any of several chess opening variations where a pawn is said to be 'poisoned' because its capture can result in positional problems or material loss for the captor. The best-known of these, and that most often described as the "Poisoned Pawn Variation," is a line of the Sicilian Defense, Najdorf Variation that begins with the moves:
1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Bg5 e6 7. f4 Qb6 after which 8. Qd2 Qxb2 usually follows, accepting the 'poisoned' b2 pawn, although White can also play 8. Nb3, protecting the pawn
One of the pioneers of this line was David Bronstein, who tied the 1951 World Championship match against Mikhail Botvinnik 12-12. Bobby Fischer later became an exponent, playing it with great success. The line was most famously played in games 7 and 11 of the 1972 World Chess Championship Match between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky in Reykjavík. In each of these two games Fischer played Black and grabbed the pawn. In the first, he reached a secure position with a comfortable material advantage but only secured a draw. In the second, Spassky surprised Fischer with a theoretical novelty and won the game after Fischer defended poorly, allowing Spassky to trap Fischer's queen, handing Fischer his only loss with the Poisoned Pawn. The line was later taken up successfully for Black by other leading players, including World Champions Garry Kasparov, Viswanathan Anand, and even Anatoly Karpov. It remains one of the most theoretically important variations of the Sicilian Defense.
A "poisoned pawn" variation also exists in the French Defence Winawer:
1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. e5 c5 5. a3 Bxc3+ 6. bxc3 Ne7 7. Qg4 Qc7 8. Qxg7 Rg8 9. Qxh7 cxd4 10. Ne2 Nbc6 (or 10. Kd1 Nd7 etc).
Like the poisoned pawn variation in the Sicilian Najdorf, this line gives significant weaknesses for both sides and can lead to highly complex lines. White can attack on the King's side and try to exploit the passed h pawn, while Black destroys the centre.
There is also a poisoned pawn variation in the Latvian Gambit, which starts with the moves: 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 f5 3. Bc4 fxe4 4. Nxe5 Qg5?!
This variation leads to extremely sharp play, is considered rather dubious, and is thus rarely seen today. However, Graham Burgess states that it "Is not utterly, clearly bad."
'Poisoned Pawn' is a concept so it can occur in many games, not just openings, here is a game example. The following are the occurances in opening theory. List is likely incomplete.
- 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Bg5 e6 7.f4 Qb6 Najdorf Sicilian
- 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e5 c5 5.a3 Bxc3+ 6.bxc3 Ne7 7.Qg4 French, Winawer
- 1.d4 Nf6 2.Bg5 c5 3.d5 Qb6 4.Nc3 Tromposky.
- 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 f5 3.Bc4 fxe4 4.Nxe5 Qg5 5.d4 Qxg2 Latvian
- 1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Bf4 c5 4.e3 Qb6 5.Nc3 Queen's Pawn
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