An outpost is a strongly controlled square in enemy territory, commonly occupied by a knight, and always guarded by a pawn, preferably two. You have probably heard the word before, and will undoubtedly hear it again: in some cases, just having an outpost can win the game for you. If you have an outpost, it is your job to occupy it; much strategy in many games is commonly devoted to controlling outposts, and how best to use theme.
Outposts are strong in the middlegame, and depending upon the position, can hold great strength in the endgame. Consider this: if you have a black-squared bishop, firmly entrenched on your opponent’s 5th or 6th ranks, and your opponent only has a light-squared bishop and no knights, they will need to sacrifice at least a rook if they want your bishop.
Some things to know about outposts:
- They can be occupied by pieces other than knights (but not pawns or queens), and still be called an outpost; you can still have firm control of a square, but perhaps not have a piece occupy it at a moment.
- Outposts by definition can’t be attacked by neighboring enemy pawns; they must either be gone or past the spot of the outpost.
- Great places for outpost include the squares in front of weak pawns. As we will see in the next few weeks, during lessons about the backward pawn and the isolated pawn (and how to blockade them), the square in front of the weak pawn is the weakest, and form a natural spot for you to place your pieces.
- You can, and if the position demands it, should create an outpost through pawn play in your opponent’s territory. We will be covering some of this today.
- A strong square is a square on your side of the board, that you have firm control of as opposed to your enemy.
- Outposts can be naturally created by holes on your opponent’s side (as a result of his poor play), or can be created by you.
The square in front of an isolani (or isolated pawn).
- It is protected from frontal attack by the isolated pawn.
- There are no pawns next to the square to attack it.
- To immobilize the pawn , you MUST occupy the square in front of it. This is a very good rule of thumb for attacking any pawn weaknesses; counterintuitively, this type of square can make the best outpost.
The outpost on e5 or e4.
This arises often, for instance in the French Defense, when this square beckons the knight; often, it will be too weak for Black to play …f6, because that creates major positional problems. Outposts on d5 and d4 are common as well, and generally more secure.
Advantages of an outpost.
They are many, starting with space advantage, better piece play, and cramping of opponent pieces; there are a lot of them. You can occupy an outpost on general principles without calculation, unless it can be attacked by pieces or exchanged, especially when you would need to plug the station by recapturing with a pawn.
In some openings, Black dare not swap the outpost due to tactical considerations.
Outposts can occur on the sixth ranks, and are generally more solid (for if otherwise, the piece wouldn’t be there in the first place!).
How to Plug your Opponent’s Outpost
Just like central control, outposts bring along a host of other advantages and detriment to the opponent; if your opponent has a strong one, you should try to destroy it or neutralize its effects. Some notes:
- Do it sooner rather than later! Attack your opponent’s outpost quickly, and make it your priority, or else you may not have time later.
- Guard it with enough pieces to prevent occupation; this will prevent your opponent from ever using his outpost.
- Swap off your opponent’s dangerous pieces, so that either he can’t use the outpost, or using it will be pointless.
- Position your pieces on squares not affected by the outpost (i.e. outside of a knight’s range).
- Plug his outpost, by making him recapture with a pawn on his outpost.
In conclusion, outposts are effective conduits for effective piece play; they often carry several advantages in their wake, including space advantages, cramping the opponent, ability to reach the seventh rank, tactical considerations, etc. As with any other advantage, it’s not the be-all or end-all of any chess game; however, it is a force to be reckoned with, and opponents may well concede other advantages (e.g. a protected passed pawn) to destroy the outpost.