Endgame Practicum

Endgame Practicum

| 11 | Endgames

This week we will do something different. Currently, I am playing in the US Women’s Championship in St. Louis. It is hosted along with the US Men’s Championship in the already well-known St. Louis Chess Club and Scholastic Center. This year the women’s championship format features 8 players playing in a round robin and then four players going on to a playoff. The men’s championship features 2 round robins with 8 players in each. Two players from each round robin get to play in the final for the title.

This format is stressful as you fight for the limited number of places to get into the final rather than for the title directly. Also, there are only 7 games instead of the normal 9 games. If you start a tournament badly then there is basically no chance for a recovery. No wonder that under such conditions one tries to win at all cost. There were a lot of endgames switching evaluations from win to loss or from equality to loss.

This week, since I haven’t had a chance to play out last week’s endgame position due to Championship’s preparation I will give you positions to solve from the Championship. They are fairly simple, some require calculations; try to simulate the players’ conditions by giving yourself no more than 5 min. per position. This will test your instincts and your panic-resistance as with the time limit we tend to make rushed and sometimes not best decisions. Most of the positions shown in this article were played in time trouble.

You may wonder at the low quality of endgames played and attribute it to poor technique. True, endgames technique is not at its best these days compared to a century ago. But what also contributes to the endgame quality is the time control. Although we have thirty seconds increment per move there is no way one can think of a constructive plan within the given thirty seconds. One can see principal threats and try to counter them or find a simple two moves sequence, but not deeper than that. Also when you get to the endgame you are psychologically and physically exhausted after fighting hard in the opening and middlegame, raising the chances for a blunder.

The first position is from my first round game against Goletiani. I spent the whole game defending and ended up in a pawn down endgame. It looked pretty gloomy for me for the better part of the game but in the endgame some weird things happened. It is white to move here and maybe you can do better than we did in the game.

The next example is from my good friend Tatev’s game. She missed a chance in this endgame and ended up drawing a few moves later. Before going into the solution, try to find it yourself.

The following endgame is from my game against Foisor. We got into severe time-trouble when the first moves of the queen endgame had to be played. I showed poor understanding of queen endgames and lost. In fact, the following endgame is rather easy to draw and I hope you find the defensive structure without much trouble.

The next endgame is hard to understand if you don’t take into account the tournament standings. Krush is a leader while Melekhina has only half a point out of four. A draw leaves Melekhina with no chances to qualify for the finals. She could have drawn this endgame a long time ago with solid moves but this situation did not satisfy her. However, in the following position there are no chances for a win already and she must fight for a draw. It is hard to find the continuation that does not lose a pawn but one exists.

We are done with the positions from the Women’s Championship. I would like to mention a few endgames from the Men’s Championship that were the most shocking ones. For example, Onischuk’s game against Hess was a definite surprise. Onischuk is an elite chess player – it is expected of him to know endgames well. And he does know endgames well. The endgame that he got against Hess looks like an easy draw but it is deceptive to view it this way. He made a normal move and ended up in a bad position. This proves that even the most simple looking rook endgames are hard to play and require a lot of understanding and calculations.

The next game is similar to inventing a bicycle. Sometimes, the most normal looking moves are the best ones. Although, white is up a pawn his position is hard. Black has active pieces including an active king and can take back a pawn on a3 anytime.

We will end the practicum with a paradoxical blunder. As Ben Finegold mentioned after the game virtually any move in the following position for white could have drawn the game. The move that he chose turned out to be the only way to lose. He couldn’t explain the reason behind this blunder, my guess is that he over estimated the pawn endgame, or moved by instinct in time trouble.

I hope this was a good endgames refresher and the next week we will continue with our regular articles format. One of the ideas I would like you to bring home is that studying endgames and playing them out are two different things. You might be an expert in theory but under the pressure of a tournament game anyone can buckle even such elite players as Onischuk. Become extremely good in endgames and practice them in training games like I do regularly here for this online column; only then you can avoid weird blunders.

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