One Slip and the Win Takes a Dip

One Slip and the Win Takes a Dip

| 13 | Endgames

Once again, we see an endgame that is more equal than winning, or heavily advantageous for one side or the other. I am interested in the endgames that have this almost-balance but where one side has a slight advantage. You start to feel the pressure the side with the advantage exerts on the opponent. The pressure builds up and at some moment the opponent loses patience and creates a breach in the position. This procedure of making the breach can last for 20 moves but the longer it lasts the harder it is psychologically on the opponent. The best recipe in such positions is not to allow the defending side counterplay. It is natural for example, that the defender would want to turn the tables at material cost but gaining some initiative. The best way is to cut every counterplay at its root, unless you see that it worsens his position greatly. We will concentrate today’s lesson on developing this thinking method, by asking the question often: what does the opponent want?

My coach and I played out the following position. I chose an attacking side: black. Let us evaluate it together. Black has a rook and a bishop against a rook and a knight. A tandem rook+bishop works much better than the rook+knight, thus here we have a small advantage already. When I first looked at the board I thought that the knight is super strong. It defends the weaknesses on c5 and on b2 and controls an important and weak square b4. What else can one ask from a piece? Surprisingly, when I talked about this position with GM Josh Friedel, whose game this is, he told me that his bishop totally dominates the white knight. I stated my arguments and he agreed but added that the knight is passive and later on it will show up as one of the main positional disadvantages. We saw different angles of the raised question, this is why I encourage you to play out positions such as this with your friends and discuss later: you will be surprised how diverse thinking processes are. Let us get back to the evaluation. On the kingside black has a significant space advantage. White's rook is passive, while black's rook controls the e-file. Naturally, you start thinking about a breakthrough on the kingside but wait a second... Is there a plan for white that can help ease the pain of the defense? Of course, b4 is the main idea to rid himself of a backward pawn and to create a passer on the a-file. I found a way to prevent a freeing b4, which is an obvious move but one had to ask the question 'what is his next move' to find this simple-looking move.


The following ideas are important in the given endgame:

-          Black must not allow white to break through with b4 because then the passed a- pawn will be dangerous and the white rook on the open file will also be too powerful;

-          Black tied down the white forces on the queenside but it is not enough to have just one weakness in order to win, one has to create a second weakness. And this weakness in the given position has to be on the kingside.


-          However, rushing with the pawn breaks on the kingside before it is completely ready can be dangerous as the white rook and knight get active as the game demonstrated.

-          One of black’s main ideas is to take the pawn on c5 and to advance the c- and d- pawns as quickly as possible.

To get a better feel for a position it is useful to take off some pieces from the board in your mind and see who would be better in the resulting endgame. If we take off all the pieces from the board and end up in the pawn endgame, what do you think would happen? White would push b4 and create an outside passed a- pawn. This usually would be a good advantage but black will counter this advantage with having the passed and defended pawn on the d- file. I would say the position would be unclear. A knight vs. bishop endgame will benefit the side with a bishop generally if the position is open and if there are pawns on both flanks: such as our position is. The rook endgame most likely will end up in a draw. Why did we go though this procedure before presenting the second game? In the next game my opponent overevaluated the power of the bishop and ended up in a worse endgame.


The game had some important ideas:

-          Surprisingly, after the b4 break it is white who is better in the knight vs. bishop endgame because of the outside passed a-pawn and because of all the pawns being located on light squares and the bishop being unable to attack them.

-          Black instead of keeping passive defense guarding the a-pawn has to try sending the king to the kingside to gather some pawns there.

I was rather surprised that my opponent let me so easily off the hook in the initial position blundering the b4-idea (more precisely a tactic behind it). The game did not have a moment where I was worse. The advance of the king to the kingside was premature. Maybe, we will find all the answers in the game. I asked Josh a few questions about what his plans were. I recommend going through the game and stopping at the moments addressed in the answers that GM Friedel provided.

“I liked my bishop with his knight and rook dominated but I realized I had to open up a second front to make progress, which is why I played for g4.” Josh felt that his bishop is limited and needed more space, that is another reason to push g4. “And it worked out well, I felt my piece coordination was very good after Bg5- Re2 even his king isn’t doing so hot but it still isn’t easy to break through.” Later on he misplayed the winning rook endgame by playing Ra5, while Kc8 was a winning move. The reason is that he missed the Ke5-d4 idea being too focused on the d4-Kd5 maneuver. Also time trouble contributed to his poor decision but other than this incident he felt that he played the endgame well and that he had good winning chances with his king on b4 but white defended very well. A dramatic perspective on the black side of this game.


As we are aware, the World Women's Championship is underway in Turkey. The surprise of the second round matches was a loss of one of the tournament favorites Tatiana Kosintseva to Y. Dembo. The following endgame is from their game. Black to move.

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