Endgame Attacks, Part 1

Endgame Attacks, Part 1

| 13 | Tactics

Endgame attacks? Aren't these two words mutually exclusive? Indeed, with limited material left on the board, the king is usually able to play a crucial role in the battle without worrying about its own safety. Nevertheless, you should not forget that a deadly attack can be orchestrated without the help of a queen. In fact, an active rook, a king, and a pawn (or any piece tandem for that matter) are more than capable of whipping up deadly threats against the opponent's king. Therefore, the next two articles will be devoted to this frequently neglected aspect of the endgame

In single rook endgames, the possibility of a full-on attack on the king does not arise very frequently, but you should never assume that your monarch is out of the woods, especially if it is incarcerated on the eighth (or first) rank. In the following instructive endgame, GM Savielly Tartakower falls prey to a vicious regal assault.

Notice that White had all of the ingredients in place: an unassailable rook on the seventh rank, an active king, and a treacherous protected passer on g5. Tartakower hugely underestimated the danger and left his king to the wolves. 

Savielly Tartakower| Image Wikipedia

In double rook endgames, total king safety is out of the question nine times out of ten. Two rooks - with or without other pieces - constitute a menacing force, and they can often coordinate in an instant. In the following gem from the 2014 Chicago Open, multitalented 16-year-old IM Luke Harmon-Vellotti vanquishes his strong opponent with a gorgeous mating attack. 

The addition of a minor piece spices matters up even further. When fully mobilized, both rook-and-minor-piece tandems are fearsome attackers. I learned my lesson the hard way!

By all accounts, 50.Ne7 is an elementary tactic, but the nature of my blunder was purely psychological - I was under the fallacious impression that my king was untouchable due to the limited material. Indeed, tactical negligence in the endgame is often driven by an unreasonable feeling of immunity, a simplistic belief that endgame and king safety are synonymous. 

I will end by showing one of the most amazing endgame battles I have ever seen. In an extremely complex situation, White puts on a jaw-dropping attacking display. 

White has been in the driver's seat for most of the game, but it appears that Sutovsky has successfully navigated the dangerous waters and reached a tenable endgame. His king is vulnerable and his bishop is passive, but the two hyper-active rooks, coupled with his far-advanced passer, balance things out. 42.e6, threatening 43.Bd4+, comes to mind immediately, but Dautov understandably feared 42...Rbc2 43.Bd4+ f6, when Black has the highly unpleasant threat of ...Rh2 followed by Rh3. But White has another reserve that can be mobilized: the f4 pawn! 

Modern grandmasters are able to consistently look at various aspects of the game from new, unexplored angles, and the endgame is a prime example. Even with almost no pieces left on the board, you should never assume that your king is safe. Next week, we will examine a few more instances of stunning endgame attacks, and try to understand how you should develop your endgame tactical intuition. Kwaheri! (Yes, that does mean goodbye in Swahili :)


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