Collapsing in the Face of Brilliance

Collapsing in the Face of Brilliance

| 13 | Endgames

This week we will look at an endgame where black has to show some good defensive skills to get a draw. However, the position is not as bad as it looks.

A computer engine would evaluate it as a half-pawn advantage for white. The real material on the board shows that white is a whole pawn ahead. Assuming the computer is correct, we have to wonder what positional factor could account for the half-pawn variance here. It must be the king!


White's king does not have a sufficient pawn shield – having three disfigured pawns around him. The bishop on h3 is planted very uncomfortably for white, and the potential rook lift to g6 can make the situation for the white king even worse. White has an open e-file, already controlled by a rook.

Note there are several reasons black cannot really fight for the e-file because rook exchanges will benefit white:

1. White is up material and piece exchanges usually favor the side with more material;

2. White has a knight vs. black bishop in a configuration where the black pawns on the queenside will become potential targets for the knight;

3. Black wants to attack the king and not trade anything.

How about white's plans? White wants to get into the black camp by doubling rooks on the e-file. White needs to play Re5-Rae1 or Re7-Rae1-Ne5 and the rooks' domination, along with the weaknesses on d5 and b5, will give him a decisive advantage. With these basic ideas, my trainer and I played some speed games starting from this position. I chose black for the first game, to try my hand at defense/king attack. My approach turned out to be too obvious and straight-forward; with a few calm moves my opponent neutralized my attack and achieved a decisive advantage. Here is the game:


What are the ideas that we can extract from the game?

  • The rook lift to the 6th rank is promising but not in combination with Rh6-f6 where the rook will have only one hope of Rg6 check and nothing else.
  • White can adjust his plan to what black is doing. In the game he didn’t rush to double on the e-file but first played Ne5, and only then Re3 and Re1.
  • Re3 is a powerful idea that has two functions: defending the king with Rg3, while chasing away the bishop from h3 and at the same time allowing the doubling of the rooks with Re1
  • The endgame knight against bishop is highly advantageous for white, after the creation of a passed pawn black has no chances for defense.

The first game explicitly shows the dangers of black's position, and that black must be creative and original in order to successfully defend. The second game was richer in ideas because we had the experience of the first game - not perfectly smooth but it uncovered more ideas lurking in this position:


These are the important ideas from the game:

  • The combination of the rook lift to the 6th rank and a3 is consistent; a3 creates a weakness in white’s camp on c3 and the rook lift allows black to double rooks on the c-file to press that weakness.
  • Black should almost always play Bf5 after Ne5 so after f6 the knight will not find a safe retreat on d3 because of the exchange. Black has more chances to draw in the rook endgame.
  • If black does not trade the bishop for the knight, then the knight will get to the c5-square and it will be over for black because the bishop has no weaknesses in white’s position to attack.

I would have gladly played one more game, having gained much insight from the first two, but we should move on and see what the real game looked like. Here, black found the right combination of the first few moves. From the comfort of my desk, it is hard for me to tell how hard moves like 25… Bf5 are to find over the board. It seems that Ra3 is very tempting or f6 – Rc8. However, he rightly evaluated that the 6th rank has to be under control so there would be no threat from Nc6-Ne7.

At first black’s play was very impressive, matching the engine analysis four moves in a row. The rook endgame looked really close to a draw until one rushed decision turned the table and gave white a big advantage. However, black defended precisely and equalized again before falling for a completely study-like position. You should definitely examine the final part of the endgame and evaluate the resulting position, which is given to you below.


Evaluate the position after Kg6. Try to calculate the resulting pawn endgame.


Anyone can fall a victim to a brilliancy… Black lost because white captured the opposition and an extra pawn was a doubled pawn, which usually is not an advantage in pawn endgames. Another big advantage that white had in this pawn endgame is that the f-pawn was still on f2, this gave white always a possibility to waste a tempo with the f3-move.

Overall, the general ideas that were important in the game and not mentioned previously:

  • Making a window for the king in the endgame is always an important safety consideration.
  • It's a good idea to keep the king close to the side of the board with the most pawns.
  • For the side with the passed pawn, having a rook behind the pawn is the best placement; the defending side should try to block the pawn with the rook.
  • Pawn endgames are deceptive.

The position for the next week is the following:


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