Friday, February 2, 2007

Late slip

At the recent Tal Memorial tournament in Moscow the young grandmaster Magnus Carlsen did not manage to save a rook and pawn ending so basic that the drawing method is in all standard textbooks. The complaint is being heard that an unintended casualty of accelerated time controls in modern chess has been a deterioration in the general quality of endgame play. This certainly squares with my own experience although I cannot claim any special capability in this department.

Some time ago I spent several days studying the ending of rook and pawn vs rook. The standard textbooks can be a bit dry so to give the material a practical aspect I hit upon the idea of searching my database for grandmaster games featuring this ending. After analysing about a dozen examples I came to the conclusion that even experienced players often make simple errors that change the normal result of a game.

One of the endings in my notebook arose in the encounter between Ludek Pachman and Peter Biyiasas at the Manila Interzonal in 1976, which ended in victory for the future Canadian grandmaster. In fairness to grandmaster Pachman it must be said that the particular ending he faced was a difficult one to defend correctly. When the proper method – a combination of methods in fact – is illustrated it becomes quite simple if only in retrospect. The action starts from the first diagram where Black has just captured a White pawn on c5.

This is the only move to draw. The pawn ending is clearly hopeless so by default White must keep rooks on the board and he must attack the pawn in order to restrict Black's movements. If White plays 55.Rh1 intending to check the king from the front his own king will be fatally cut off along the rank after 55...Rc2.
If 55...Rc2 56.Rd6+! Kc5 57.Rh6! Kb4 58.Ke3 c5 59.Kd3 and White is clearly out of danger.
The only move to draw.
56...Kc3 57.Ke3
Other moves also draw, including rook anywhere along the 6th rank (except c6!) but the text is simplest.
57...Rc4 58.Rd3+ Kc2 59.Rd2+ Kb3 60.Rd6
The rook must go behind the pawn; everything else loses.
60...c5 (see the second diagram)
White has defended perfectly so far but this natural move turns out to be a mistake. The only way to draw is 61.Rb6+! Kc2 and now 62.Rb5 Kc3 63.Rb1 Rd4 64.Rc1+ Kb4 65.Rb1+ Ka3 66.Rc1 Rd5 67.Ke4 Rh5 68.Rb1! and Black cannot make progress. This defensive plan illustrates two principles of rook endings: checking the enemy king along a file in order to drive him in front of his pawn (and his rook); and defence by frontal attack where the enemy pawn is on its fourth rank.
61...Rc2+! 62.Kd1 c4! 63.Rc6 Kb2!
It has been Black's turn to play perfectly and he now threatens the forced manoeuvre 64...Rc1+ 65.Kd2 c3+ 66.Kd3 Rd1+ 67.Ke2 c2 with a simple win. If White's rook starts checking from the rear Black just walks his king up the a- and b-files until the checks run out and then he queens his pawn.
64.Rb6+ Kc3 65.Rc6
If White tries the plan of checking from the side with 65.Rh6 then Black drives the White king out with 65...Rg2 66.Rc6 Rg1+ 67.Ke2. Now the most accurate move is 67...Rc1! in order to secure the pawn's advance. White can drag things out slightly with 68.Rc8 but after 68...Kb2 69.Rb8+ Kc2 70.Ra8 c3 71.Ra2+ Kb1 72.Ra8 Rh1 73.Rb8+ Kc1 74.Rb7 c2 75.Rb8 Rh5! (the fastest way) 76.Ke3 Re5+ 77.Kd4 Re7 78.Rb3 Rc7 the win is ironclad.
White's king is now driven off the queening square onto the long side of the pawn, which in this situation is quite hopeless for him. Put the White king on b1 instead of d1 and Black cannot win. White's king goes to the short side of the pawn and his rook goes to the long side. Black's king is then harassed with checks and he gets no chance to queen his pawn.
66.Rc8 Rh1+ 67.Ke2 (see the third diagram)
Yet again the accurate way to win. Peter Biyiasas has obviously studied rook endings in some detail!
68.Rc7 Kb2 69.Rc8 c3 70.Rc7 Kc2 0-1

A very instructive display illustrating several important ideas in the ending of rook and pawn vs rook.

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About Me

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Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, Canada
National master (Canada) since 1984. B.C. Champion 1977 and 1984. Runner-up 1991 and 2002. B.C. Open Champion 1972 and 1982. B.C. U/14 Champion 1964-65-66. Mikhail Botvinnik once wrote that publishing your analytical work forces you to be accurate because it exposes you to criticism. Hence this blog.