Carlsen's Unlucky Endgame

Carlsen's Unlucky Endgame

| 30 | Endgames

In the age of endgame tablebases and engines rated 3300+, it is difficult to imagine a relatively basic endgame that even grandmasters have difficulties to play and evaluate.

The endgame "two bishops vs. a rook" with all pawns on the same side is one of them, as it is not very common and therefore not well explored. I don't recall any endgame book that deals with an endgame like this:

Here is what GM Emil Sutovsky says on his Facebook page: "we discussed [this endgame] with [GM Boris] Gelfand back in 2014. The position is not examined in any endgame manual. Black should be able to hold with the best defense - not easy though."

I totally agree with this evaluation, especially the last part. Look for example at the following game:

The endgame where each side has just one pawn is supposed to be an easy draw for a defender. Especially if as in the above game, he has active pieces.
And yet, let's examine the next position from the game:
So, even though the endgame was drawish, Tal could have won the game. Another world champion, Vassily Smyslov, was more successful:
In these two games the world champions delivered their message pretty clearly: if the white king manages to directly attack Black's pawns, then the defender is in trouble.
Now take a look at the impeccable defense by Hikaru Nakamura in the following game. He never let Carlsen's king to come close to the pawns by either pinning White's bishops or attacking the g3 pawn.  
Also notice a very important source of Black's defense: in some variations he threatens to give up his rook for a bishop and reach the "bishop of the wrong color" draw. It is difficult to see where Magnus could pose bigger problems for Black.
As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, this endgame is not very common and many chess players (including me) never had it in their games. What are the odds that Carlsen got it twice in his games in the span of 15 months?!  
Moreover, the second time he had this endgame, his opponent committed a cardinal sin and allowed Carlsen's king to attack Black's pawns. When a win was pretty simple and straightforward, Carlsen missed it! 
Karjakin's final drawing combination is very beautiful and instructive! What amazes me the most is the fact that Carlsen scored just one point out of two games where he could torture his opponents almost indefinitely.
This is precisely the kind of position where Carlsen is especially strong since nobody can squeeze water from a stone like him. I just cannot believe that he missed the simple idea of moving his bishop to f8, creating decisive mating threats -- especially since this idea was already shown by Svidler in a very similar endgame against none other than Karjakin!
In conclusion, I would like to mention that while the world champion wasn't particularly successful in this endgame, I would still recommend Carlsen's future opponents to avoid it! 
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