Two weeks ago we looked at my game against Shahade and learned the importance of categorizing endgame mistakes. The article featured the importance of king activity – something I neglected during the game; and going through Lasker’s game I hope we all got a better feel for the importance of king placement in the endgame. Today, we will look at another factor that I underestimated: advanced passed pawns. Just for your refresher here is the game with Shahade.
There are two ideas associated with pawns that I misevaluated: 1) the pawn break (c4-c5); 2) advanced pawns vs. a rook. Don’t get me wrong, I knew about these ideas from endgame studies I did in the past but seeing them happen at the board, during my game in time-trouble was quite a different experience. I did not see c5 coming, although if you glance at the position after the 38th move this is the first move that should have come into my mind. Let me tell you that I knew that if pawns are on the 6th rank the rook can no longer stop them on its own. Here, the situation is even worse – the pawns are on the 6th and the 7th while the white king is close to them. When I saw c5 played I felt like being struck by lightning as it was quite obvious that the game is lost. So, where should one start to patch the holes?
1. Identify the endgame problem.
My first instinct was to solve 100 problems with pawn breaks … The problem is that those would probably be straight-forward problems, where I would know in advance that “there has to be a pawn break that wins the game”. Although, solving the problems would raise my awareness in such situations it would not eliminate the problem. Because I think that the problem to fix is how to evaluate the position correctly when one side has pawns for a piece after a series of forced moves in time trouble.
2. Choose examples that address the problem.
I would look for positions in databases and endgame manuals that have material of pawns vs. rook, possibly with other pieces. Alternatively, one can look for a chapter in a book that is named something like “the strength of advanced passed pawns.”
3. Play them out under conditions that maximize benefit.
The conditions that I chose are setting up the position and giving myself two minutes, after which I have to make a decision and give an evaluation of the position. The two minutes would simulate time-trouble, making a move is also close to the game, and giving the evaluation would let me know where I stand. After recording the move and evaluation, I would study the position for another 10-20 min, and then record a second move choice and evaluation, based on longer thought.
4. Look up the solutions and study your two-minute and longer time decision-making.
After two minutes of thought I came up with Ne5 as it is a generally good move – placing the knight in the centre, it also helps the pawns to advance. I thought that black at least is not worse, maybe better due to the possibility of a passed b-pawn. The bishop on a3 controls the important e7 and f8 squares and it is not clear how to advance the pawns for white.
After 10 minutes of thought I thought that white might be doing all right. I found the set-up Kg6 (not allowing Kg7 after f7), f7+ after which the black king has to go to h8 (although the rook sacrifice should be fine too), where Ne5-Nd7, maybe Nc5 blocking the bishop, should be enough for a draw.
Ok, now I overestimated the power of passed pawns. The game with Shahade had impacted my evaluation criteria. It is important to see more endgames like this, so that no single endgame biases my evaluations.
2 minutes: White might be better. With passive defense black risks losing. If black chooses the Bc6-Ra8 set-up, white would play Bb4-a5 defending all the pawns and then push e6 after which black must play f6, in order not to allow the king to e5. Black has the active defense with placing the bishop on b7 and the rook on the 1st rank (as Kramnik did in his game above). The move I would play with white is a5.
10 min: Conducting the 1st rank attack after Bb7 would be hard because white has Kc4-Bc3 or Kb5-Bb4 set-ups, after which the a6 and c6 breaks threaten. In the passive defense set-up black might need to take on e6 after white plays e6 because otherwise with an e7-e8 pawn sacrifice white gets in with the king anyways. The move still would be a5, the assessment: white is pressing.
This time the plans and positional evaluations were close to the two-min and ten-min play. It gets better with more positions played out. Overall, designing and implementing training methods to improve can be a lot of fun. For example, I really enjoyed the two-min and ten-min play, and felt the difference in my decision-making process and understood (finally!!) that being in time trouble does harm this process. Next week we will look at how professionals play theoretical endgame positions.