One Plan, Two Plan

One Plan, Two Plan‎

WIM energia
17 | Endgames

The following position resulted from the Benko Gambit, a rather typical pawn structure. It happened recently in one of my games played in the Pittsburgh Chess League.
















During the game I felt there were good chances for me to draw the endgame. Here, Leverett is up a pawn but it is not easy to convert the advantage. The reason is that the d5-pawn is weak and the a2-pawn is blocked by my rook and thus lacks mobility.  I also have weaknesses: particularly the f5 and e7 pawns. Unlike white, I can defend these two weaknesses with the king on f6. My pawn structure is more compact and the weakness on h7 is hard to access.

Despite all the positive things happening in black’s camp, I am worse because he is a pawn up. However, he has to work hard to convert this pawn into a full point. The position is closer to a draw than to a win for white.

So now that we have assessed the position, let us draft some plans for both sides. For black, the play is straightforward – bring the king to f6, transfer the rook on f6 to a8 so both rooks are putting pressure on the pawn a2 and then wait and adjust depending on what plan white selects. My opponent can choose a plan now or wait for a while and then decide. Waiting will allow me to regroup with the above-mentioned plan so he better decide sooner rather than later on what path to take.

The first question is whether to trade the knights or to keep them on the board? Trading knights will make my life easier because rook endgames are often drawish and white will have less choice of plans. On the other hand, my knight ties white pieces to the defense of the d5- pawn, thus limiting their activity. The knight also supports the pawn break c4. We will look at the positions with the knights and without. So here are the major plans:

1.       Defend the pawn on a2 with Ra1 or Rb2 and then chase away my rook from the a3–square with Nc2. This will unblock the a2 pawn and make it possible to play a3 or a4. Black has to be ready to meet a4 with c4 – this will destroy the pawn formation on the queenside and simplify the position with the pawn exchange. The a3 move does not achieve much as it becomes a weakness and b4 is not really a threat for the same reason. As you can see in the following lines it is not that easy for white to untangle on the queenside because once black doubles on the a-file, all's well for black.


2.       The second plan consists of bringing the king over to b1 or b2 to defend the a2-pawn and free one rook from this task. Generally, it is useful to have the king near your passed pawn. The position doesn’t have open files so the freed rook does not really have a clear target for attack. One of the ways to continue is to open files on the kingside with h3-g4. The downside of this plan is that the white king is away from the kingside and the pawns h3-g3 can potentially be weak. As you will see in one of the lines black exploits this with the break c4, where the rook on a3 attacks the g3 pawn.


Of course there are other plans in the position besides the two mentioned above. However, the two above are most likely to be thought over during the game. We both saw the king transfer during the game, but my opponent missed the idea of the first plan. It also seems that white does not achieve much with h3-g4 on which black counters with h5 to trade as many pawns as possible.

Overall, it seems that the knight on b6 might be better than the knight on e3 and white might as well trade the knights. In next week's article, we will look at different positions resulting from the knight trade. If you uncovered some plans not mentioned here please make a note of them in the comments section!

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