Endgame Obsession

Endgame Obsession

| 7 | Endgames

When you try solving a problem you try to do it the simplest way. Before resorting to complex means, one needs to try at first all the simple solutions. This time I tried to play out the position with the most brutal means. Passive defense is usually not a good option, if you have a choice. In the given position there is a choice but sometimes curiosity takes over. Of course, if this was a tournament game I would weigh all the possibilities and choose the one that gives me the highest chances for counterplay. However, this was just a training game and sometimes I can afford myself such small “luxuries” as going into a passive position and trying to hold it. I should put a disclaimer that playing such passive positions will result in loss of rating. Black is down a pawn. The knight is very strong on c4 but it is only a knight and has to fight against a bishop, which is not particularly active but can become so one day. Black can transfer into the rook endgame with the pawns on the same flank. This would be very favorable for black if he manages to exchange one pair of rooks too. Playing this endgame with minor pieces bears a danger in itself: white might bring the king into the centre and defend the c3-pawn. Having pawns on opposite wings is to the advantage of the side with extra material. I was not sure if the endgame with four rooks and an extra pawn on the queenside is winning for white. What if passive defense holds easily? So, the first game features this heroic defense.


The surprising conclusion:

-          Passive defense does not work!!

-          In the four rook endgames it is ideal for the stronger side to have the rooks on the 2nd/7th ranks.

-          White can march the pawns either with h4-g5 or f4-e5, the ultimate goal is to put pressure on the f7-pawn.

-          White has to be careful of getting rid of the pawn shield that covers the king; black will use side checks to improve his position.

Finding a drawing trick in the losing position did not change the evaluation that the passive defense with four rooks on the board does not work. Black should have tried exchanging one pair of rooks. Even then if black does not have the pawn on h5 to stop the white pawns' advancement, he is in trouble. The next game is more sophisticated. I saw that in Karjakin’s game they transferred to the two-rook endgame. So we decided to test out the idea of leaving the minor pieces on the board.


The important ideas:

-          Black has to capitalize on his advantages: the active knight on c4 and the passed a-pawn. Pushing the pawn right away is the direct way of using these advantages.

-          White must blockade the a-pawn before it gets too far.

-          Having the knight on the board complicates the position greatly, therefore black should not trade the knight for the bishop unless the resulting position is clearly more favorable than the initial position, before the trade.

The second game was rather messy. The evaluation of the position changed almost immediately. This is because I thought that white has a solid edge and completely missed black's counterplay connected with the a-pawn push. It is rather a common situation, when one side is too absorbed in her own plans and completely misses the opponent’s idea. After black pushed the pawn to a3 I started panicking and did not defend too well. The knight trade was a controversial decision as it simplified the position and my life greatly. Overall, in order to decide what is the most favorable defensive strategy for black we must look into the two rooks endgame. The game itself featured the two rooks endgame. The annotations are mine.


What is our take-away from today’s games? Even players at a super-high level make mistakes in endgames because it is, as any other stage of the game, highly complex. Some of the decisions, like not trading one pair of rook were rather weird. I think that patience is, if not the most, then one of the most important qualities of a good endgame player. Aronian had it all but let it slip at the end by pushing the e-pawn too early.

My friend told me that she lost an endgame in a recent game and since I became “obsessed” with the endgames she sent it to me to figure out what was going on there. I don’t think obsession is the right word but I do have to play out some endgames and analyze them on a weekly basis… I shall call it endgame commitment. Anyways, we will look into her game next week and here is the position. White has just played Rc2, black to move:

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