Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Quo vadis

During a break at the recently-concluded Grand Pacific Open in Victoria I happened to be in the hotel lobby watching a blitz game between two juniors. When the diagrammed position was reached both players commented that they had no idea how the play should continue or who, if anyone, was winning.

Does Black have the advantage because his rook is supporting an outside passed pawn from behind and tying up White's rook in the process? Or does White have the advantage because of his pawn duo and the opportunity to advance it and perhaps attack Black's king?

It is one of the paradoxes of chess that the fewer pieces remain on the board, the more difficult the game becomes for human players. A major reason is that many endgame positions cannot be assessed properly without a deep and accurate calculation of variations. When faced with a board consisting largely of empty space it can actually be difficult to keep track of where the pieces are, to say nothing of where they should be going or what they can accomplish.

From the practical side there is just no substitute for extended analytical work on as wide a variety of endgame positions as possible. Without absorbing the general principles and technical devices that apply to the endgame a player will never achieve even average proficiency in this phase of the game. Based on my own difficult experience I always advise players of all ages and playing strengths to dedicate a part of their chess experience to a study of the endgame.

Let's clear up the mystery of the diagrammed position: White is winning very easily. Yes, his rook is tied up. But if the blockade is lifted, Black's pawn will not queen for at least four more moves. In the meantime by combining the action of his forces White can carry out an enveloping manoeuvre against Black's king.

Here is how the game might continue:
1.g5 Kf7 2.h5 Kg7 3.Kg4 Kf7 4.Kf5 Kg7 5.h6+ Kh7 6.Kg4! Kg6
It looks as if Black has managed to blockade White's pawns, but here is where White's rook enters the picture.
7.Rd4! Kf7
If 7...b4 then 8.Rd7! and Black's king is caught in a mating net.
8.Kf5 Kg8 9.Rd7 Rf8+ 10.Kg6 Rb8 11.h7+ Kh8 12.Kh6 b4 13.g6
Black is faced with the threat of mate by 14.g7, and 13...Rb6 is no defence because of 14.Rd8 mate.

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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.