Friday, March 16, 2007

Fighting for the draw

There were some interesting moments in the game Wu-Pechisker, British Columbia Championship 2006. In the first diagrammed position Black is to play his 52nd move. He is a pawn up and the natural question is whether this gives him any real winning chances. In effect there is only one meaningful plan: create a passed pawn and try to queen it. Before executing this plan Black could have tried improving the position of his other pieces but in the end he decided not to wait:
52...d5 53.exd5+ Kxd5
White must now decide on a plan of defence. The most natural move is 54.Rg4 aiming for a blockade on the square e4. After 54...Ra8 55.Nd2 Ra3+ 56.Ke2 Be7 57.Nc4 Ra2+ 58.Kd3 Bc5 59.Re4 Black appears to have no way of breaking White's blockade; for example 59...Bd4 60.Rg4 Rh2 61.Ne3+ Kc5 (if 61...Bxe3 62.Kxe3 Rh3+ 63.Ke2 and Black cannot win) 62.Nf5 Rh3+ 63.Ke4 Rh1 64.Nxd4 exd4 65.Rg8 Re1+ 66.Kd3 and again Black can make no progress. White must have seen some problems with this plan because instead he chose the radical
sacrificing his knight to reach the theoretically drawn ending of rook vs. rook and bishop. I have given this move one exclamation mark for hubris and two question marks for impracticality. Unless White is completely certain of his defensive technique, taking on this endgame is a very risky enterprise.
54...Bxe5 55.Rh3 Ra8 56.Rh5 Ra3+ 57.Kc2 Rg3 58.Rf5 Ke4 59.Rh5 Rc3+ 60.Kd2 Rc6 61.Rh7 Bf4+ 62.Ke2 Rc2+ 63.Kd1 Rd2+ 64.Ke1 Rb2 65.Kd1 Be3
White's king has been driven to the edge of the board, and he must now play absolutely perfectly in order to survive.
The only move to draw; for example, 66.Re7+ Kd3 67.Rd7+ Bd4 68.Rc7 Ra2 69.Rc8 Rf2 70.Re8 Bf6 71.Re6 Bc3 72.Rd6+ Bd4 73.Re6 Rd2+ 74.Ke1 Ra2 75.Kf1 Rf2+ 76.Ke1 Rf5 77.Rd6 Rg5 and White must give up his rook to avoid immediate mate.
66...Rh2 67.Rd8 Bd4
(second diagram)
White has defended accurately until now, but this move is a mistake because the king will run into trouble in the restricted space on the queenside. White could maintain a defensible position with 68.Rf8!; for example, 68...Kd3 69.Ke1 Rg2 70.Rf3+! Be3 71.Rf8 and Black has not made any progress.
68...Kd3 69.Kb1 Rb2+ 70.Kc1 Ra2 71.Rb8 Rc2+?!
Black does not notice the winning manoeuvre 71...Rf2! 72.Kb1 Rf1+ 73.Ka2 Ra1+ 74.Kb3 Rb1+, picking up White's rook.
72.Kb1 Kd2?
A second error that allows White a clever drawing resource. It was not too late to get back on track with 72...Rf2 73.Rc8 ( 73.Rd8 Rb2+ 74.Kc1 Ra2 75.Rb8 Rf2 transposes to the previous note) 73...Rb2+ 74.Kc1 Ra2 75.Kd1 Rf2 76.Re8 Bf6 and wins as in the note to White's 66th move.
73.Rb4! Bc3 74.Rd4+!
With this rook sacrifice White forces stalemate, and so the players agreed to a draw here.

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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.