A Visit from the Queenless Squad

A Visit from the Queenless Squad‎

WIM energia
15 | Endgames

Suppose you play a lower-rated opponent and the game steers into an endgame right away. This can be due to you trying to outplay your less-experienced opponent and prove that your endgames skills are worthy or due to your lower- rated opponent trying to get a draw (playing white) by exchanging all the pieces. Usually the higher-rated player ends up winning anyways, so resorting to artificial strategies does not pay off. However, you can be in the situation where the endgame is forced on you and there is very little choice but to head for it.

There are many openings where white can go straight into the endgame. Exchange King’s Indian is one possibility where white chooses to trade queens early on. The positions are not dry but are dynamic and require precise play. Heading for this position in an attempt to dry the position and get a draw is not the best idea, as black has plentiful opportunities to get the dynamics going. The two games that we will see today are from the same opening but feature me playing against one lower-rated opponent and one much higher-rated. We will explore typical ideas and game strategies employed.

In the first example I am facing the lower-rated player and involuntarily head for a queenless position on move 8. For an endgame aficionado such as myself there is no better gift, right? I am not sure whether two years ago I appreciated the finesses of endgames as much as I do now but back then I had a higher rating, so who knows? After the queen trade my opponent exchanged bishop for knight and opened up the position, which is not recommended when you face two bishops. Instead of getting into a peaceful endgame he had to face the problem of an uncastled king. He also had weaknesses on c4 and f4 that black aimed at perpetually. In the end he lost one of the pawns and later on lost the game. The lesson to be learned: don’t go into the endgame when the price is positional concession. In this game the concessions were: opened e-file, loss of the bishop and pawn weaknesses.


In the first example I was at the peak of my chess form and played lower-rated opponent who I suspect was not familiar with Exchange KID. The second example is back from the 2006 US Championship facing GM (maybe he was IM back then) Jesse Kraai. Jesse being a philosopher by nature (and by his PhD degree) is a master of quiet maneuvering play. He can grind endgames or quiet positions and squeeze a win where one sees only a dry draw. Of course being a grandmaster he mastered all kinds of positions and is a generally well-rounded player. In 2006 I was good at memorizing long theoretical lines, especially in the KID. For example in the game against Casella in the 2004 US Championship there were 33 moves of theory, my improvement on move 33 and then the loss of the game on move 62. Maybe Kraai did not want to lead any theoretical discussion that day and resorted to outplaying me based on his overall chess understanding.


In the aftermath of the game I evaluated this position as equal. Now the evaluation seems absurd to me. White has two bishops and can use them to put small pressure for the next 50 moves. I would need to solve many problems ahead and most likely will go wrong somewhere. With the opening choice Kraai reached the position that he was aiming for: safe with no chances to lose but enough advantage for a much lower-rated opponent (me) to go wrong. If he was playing someone of his strength the game most likely would end in a draw, however against a 250-rating point lower player he would probably win 8 out of 10 games in the worst-case scenario. What is his plan? He has to use his advantage of two bishops by placing the bishop on f3 from where it would put pressure on the knight and b7- pawn.


One of the principles of playing the endgame against a weaker player is to do nothing. Improve the position slowly and the weaker opponent will err trying to force the events toward a draw. The position looks fairly boring. White has an isolated pawn on d5 blocked by the bishop on d6. White also has two bishops but the position is not that open therefore it is hard to utilize them with maximum advantage. My rook is not in the game yet. White owns the e-file but the important e7-square is controlled by the bishop on d6. From the above thoughts we can conclude that the bishop on d6 is a key piece as it blocks the pawn and protects the e7-square. Black can improve the position by f5- Kf7 or f6- Kf7 and then Re8 – a straight-forward plan to follow. Instead, I went for the forced sequence of moves that resulted in a very favorable position for Kraai. Another lesson to learn is that lower-rated players cannot stand tension in the position as well as higher-rated players and will try to simplify the position and/or find forcing variations.


Today we looked at two games where the Exchange KID was used. The difference between the games comes in white’s playing strength. It is worth nothing that in the first game the lower-rated player freely gave up the bishop, while in the second game the GM waited until he got the advantage of two bishops. It is also interesting to note how Kraai avoided moves that led to long forced lines where the chance of a mistake is high. His moves were straight-forward and solid. Having enough patience paid off as eventually black erred and he collected a point. In order to play these endgames successfully one has to know a bunch of plans and general ideas and hopefully today we covered some useful ones. Next week we will continue with the topic of opening-endgame transitions.

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