Poisoned Pawn Variation

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The Poisoned Pawn Variation is any of several series of opening moves in chess in which a pawn is said to be "poisoned" because its capture can result in a positional loss of time or a loss of material.

Sicilian Defense, Najdorf[edit]

Poisoned Pawn Variation
a8 black rook
b8 black knight
c8 black bishop
e8 black king
f8 black bishop
h8 black rook
b7 black pawn
f7 black pawn
g7 black pawn
h7 black pawn
a6 black pawn
d6 black pawn
e6 black pawn
f6 black knight
g5 white bishop
d4 white knight
e4 white pawn
f4 white pawn
c3 white knight
a2 white pawn
b2 black queen
c2 white pawn
d2 white queen
g2 white pawn
h2 white pawn
a1 white rook
e1 white king
f1 white bishop
h1 white rook
Moves1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Bg5 e6 7.f4 Qb6 8.Qd2 Qxb2
ParentSicilian Defence

The best known of these, called 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. 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 a proponent, playing it with great success.

The line was most famously played in game 7[1] and game 11[2] of the 1972 World Chess Championship match between Fischer and Spassky. In both 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 and handing Fischer his only loss in the poisoned pawn variation.

The line was later taken up successfully by other leading players, including World Champions Garry Kasparov, Viswanathan Anand, and Anatoly Karpov. It remains one of the most theoretically important variations of the Sicilian Defense. In recent times, the line has become a popular battleground in computer chess, with operators trying to "out-book" each other by going progressively deeper into the different poisoned pawn lines. As a result, the line is extremely well researched. Writing in 2010, FM Graham Burgess commented that current theory suggests that the b2 pawn is "not too heavily laced with arsenic", but it would be suicidal to enter the line without specialist knowledge.[3]

French Defense, Winawer[edit]

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). 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 kingside and try to exploit the passed h-pawn, while Black destroys the centre.

Latvian Gambit[edit]

There is also a Poisoned Pawn Variation in the Latvian Gambit: 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".[citation needed]

London System[edit]

Within the London System, the Poisoned Pawn Variation follows after: 1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Bf4 c5 4.e3 Qb6 5.Nc3 Qxb2?![4] Black is lost after 6.Nb5 Na6 7. a3 Bf5 8.dxc5 Bxc2 9.Qc1 Qxc1+ 10.Rxc1 and the c pawn is too strong.

Trompowsky Attack[edit]

The Poisoned Pawn Variation of the Trompowsky Attack goes 1. d4 Nf6 2. Bg5 c5 3. d5 Qb6 4. Nc3. The continuation 4...Qxb2 5.Bd2 Qb6 is the Chepukaitis Gambit.

Use in popular culture[edit]

The variation was used in the Monk episode "Mr. Monk and the Genius".


  1. ^ "Boris Spassky vs Robert James Fischer (1972) - Game 7". Retrieved 2008-01-19.
  2. ^ "Boris Spassky vs Robert James Fischer (1972) - Game 11". Retrieved 2008-01-19.
  3. ^ Burgess, Graham (2010), The Mammoth Book of Chess, Running Press
  4. ^ "London System: Poisoned Pawn Variation". Chess.com. Retrieved May 13, 2021.