Cannot Defend Without Sacrifice

Cannot Defend Without Sacrifice

| 14 | Endgames

The following game happened in the fifth round of the annual National Open tournament in Las Vegas. GMs Shulman and Friedel had a perfect score of four out of four. Josh captured the initiative out of the opening and did not let the advantage slip. He has the advantage here due to numerous factors. First of all, white does not have weaknesses. The pawn structure is not damaged, while black has weaknesses on a6, c6 and potentially on e4. Notice, that all the black pawns are on light squares-- the color of the bishop. The other advantage of the white position is that he controls the d-file. Let us look at piece activity. The knight on a4 bothers white as it can eventually take on c5 or fork white pieces on c3. The bishop on f5 does not do any active role besides defending the e4 pawn. The black rooks are poorly coordinated. White has a nice looking c5-bishop but it does not have a target to attack, only the weak d6 square. The knight on b3 would like to get to c5 instead of the bishop, white is dreaming of the exchange of the Bc5 for the Na4. I also think that it would benefit black to exchange the rooks as the black king will be able to enter the game to defend the weaknesses. With the rooks on the board black is under too much pressure.

In the first game I chose to defend as the black side. I felt like exchanging a couple of pawns on the queenside which would make my defense easier but it turned out that the position of the Re6 is not too favorable for me and I had to sacrifice an exchange. The resulting position was worse for me but we both played without a clear plan and at the end white, having an advantage but not having a clear plan agreed to my draw offer. Maybe, it if was a tournament game it would have ended differently but we saw no educational purpose of playing the resulting endgame another 50 moves until one of the sides committed a blunder.


The ideas that the game featured:

-          White’s main plan is to play Bd6-c5-Nd4 forking the rook, bishop and the c6-pawn. This plan also cuts the knight on a4 from the game.

-          Black can either counter this plan by moving the e6-rook away and the Bf5 away, or sacrificing the exchange on d6.

-          The bishop on d6 would be too powerful to be ignored.

-         The resulting endgame where black is down the exchange for a pawn is not that clear because of the well-defended e4 and c6 pawns.

-          White can try and exchange the b-pawn for the e-pawn in the resulting endgame but this will give black counterplay connected to the passed c-pawn.

The first game featured an exchange sacrifice. In the second game we tried a different defensive method: to take away the rook and the bishop from the knight for on d4. Black has to do it so both the e4 and the c6 pawns will be protected. It is not an easy task, maybe manageable for computer only. The game showed that the passive defense would not work with a strong bishop on d6 and that an exchange sacrifice still was a necessary step for black in order to hold the position.


The following ideas were presented:

-          Black’s setup of Rg6 and Bd5, which did not allow the Nd4 fork allowed Nf5, after which Ne7 is threatened and black must sacrifice an exchange.

-          The only way to defend the position without sacrificing an exchange is to set up the following defensive scheme: Rc8 (protecting the c6- pawn in advance), Be6 and Nc3-Nb5.

-          Black countered white's queenside attack by pushing their own pawns on the kingside. This gave black a fair play and certainly made white’s life less sweet.

The second game featured multiple kinds of positions. At first, white was up an exchange then black was up an exchange, it is a surprise that the game ended in a draw. Nevertheless, we agreed that the exchange sacrifice is the best way for black to defend in this position. The setup where black does not sacrifice the exchange requires patience and good nerves for black as the position is extremely cramped with the bishop on d6.

I think that the real game was even more interesting than the two that we just played. Josh Friedel showed an example of long-term planning in endgame, truly a masterpiece. When I asked him about the game he said that he saw the plan of catching the knight all along. Josh said that he had other interesting possibilities connected with f3 but accepted that taking the knight was the easiest path to victory. He also pointed out that the knight on a4 is a source of many problems for black. Initially, I thought that the knight is useful on a4 but after these two games I would agree with Josh that the knight is rather poorly placed there.


I like the idea of analyzing the endgames that were just recently played. First, they are fresh and not many commentators have analyzed them yet. Endgame theory moves ahead too although not with such a high speed as opening theory. Analyzing new endgames gives me the opportunity to ask the players (if I happen to know them) what they were thinking during the game, this is very helpful in building a better endgame understanding. Also, this allows us to participate in analytical discussion (an example is last article on Koneru- Hou game). Thus, the endgame for the next week is also taken from a very recent tournament.

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