Endgame Tragicomedies

Endgame Tragicomedies‎

WIM energia
12 | Endgames

When the most famous chess coach of all time Mark Dvoretsky writes a book about endgames his first chapter is usually dedicated to the endgame tragicomedies. The tragicomedies happen when one or both sides do not know some theoretical and usually simple ending. The players start to come up with their own ideas where the position does not ask to be creative but rather asks for a good memory. The resulting play is very funny for someone who is familiar with the theoretical position. Dvoretsky’s introductory chapter shocks a reader from the first pages. One asks himself: “How is it possible that such a strong grandmaster didn’t know this position? – Even me an A class player knows it!”. The reader develops a confidence and desire to learn more and moves to the next chapters, which are less entertaining but of no less value.

I will adopt Dvoretsky’s idea but instead of showing tragicomedies from the other players play I will show from my own play. What can be better than a 6-hour good game with 80 moves blown in a single move in the endgame? Can one fall asleep after that? Particularly, for me such games are the most painful and dreadful. I rather blunder in the opening and relax for the remaining four hours than to play for a very long time, only to destroy all my previous efforts with one careless step. Of such endgame moments I would like to speak in today’s column.

This was the last round of the Atlantic Open in 2009, when my grad student life did not suck my energy out, and I was still able to play five games in two days. I got a close to winning middlegame but he put up a tenacious defense and we ended up in the following endgame, which is most likely drawn. White has only the one plan of bringing the king to the queenside, advancing a pawn and with some tricky maneuvering getting to the c6 square and then the d6 pawn. If black finds the right defense it will still be a draw. To my surprise the opponent did not play well in this stage of the game. I managed to create a zugzwang position and win the h-pawn after which almost anything wins, almost… The only way not to win was a shocking study-like continuation that he found, that I could not have even imagined existed in that position.


The moral of the story is: don’t blitz your moves in winning positions. Endgames are full of hidden study-like resources that can destroy your good night's sleep.

The next example belongs to the classification of “blindness”. White has an extra pawn but black has an opposition which in endgames is a great strategical advantage to have. We repeat the position a couple of times and both of us do not see how white can sacrifice a pawn for opposition and win the game. Such a paradox: this was the last game to finish and we had a crowd of people who saw the idea of the pawn sacrifice right away but surprisingly neither of us spotted it. There is a link that develops between players during the game that when one notices the unexpected idea the opponent picks up the signal and sees it too. Here, everyone was saying how lucky I was that I did not see the idea because most likely it would have transmitted to my opponent. I don’t claim here to be a specialist in telepathy or other subconscious phenomena; rather I'm just sharing the maybe-superstitions or common wisdom of a tournament player.


The following game features the material imbalance: a rook and a pawn for two minor pieces. In most situations with such material the side with a rook has a better hand. This position is no exception. White put his hopes on a pawn and on the possibility to sacrifice a minor piece for two pawns with a draw. Black has two advanced passed pawns and active rook and king. These should be enough for a win. What happened next is similar to the first example: I missed white’s idea completely. This might be due to tiredness at the end of a long day or alternatively due to not paying enough attention to the opponent’s play. I thought the position is completely winning and started playing quickly again, making the same mistake as in the first example. As a result of his study-like idea white managed to get his half of a point.


Don’t let the closeness of a win disturb your attention and lure you into believing that the opponent’s position is hopeless. It is never hopeless unless the score sheets are signed and the result is marked. The endings where one side blew everything in one move are common and one has to work on technical skill and also on self-discipline to decrease the number of such occurrences.

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