From Middlegame to Endgame
Today we will look at my endgame against GM Joel Benjamin from the recent Washington International chess tournament. The endgame was worse for me and usually such a small advantage is enough for a GM of Joel's class to win. However, this time I defended well and the game ended in a draw. My only endgame studying is for this weekly column. I guess my recent good results in endgames have to be attributed to the column-writing activity. But before looking at an endgame I would like to present part of the middlegame as well just to give an idea of how the endgame was a relief compared to the middlegame I had to defend.
Joel won the opening stage of the game: he implemented an unusual line and I did not find a good plan to counter it and after a few bad moves ended up in a worse position. The key to defense is to realize that one's position is worse. Here I knew that if I don't give up the e4-pawn then his blockade on the e5-square as well as the control of the f-file give him an easy and comfortable game. e5 is the best try in this position and Joel after the game confirmed that.
The last two moves were more or less forced but the critical position happens now. Two years ago I would have played Bg5 without much thought but nowadays I like more solid/sound continuations. The Bg5 move leads to a position where I either have a successful attack or resign. The accumulation of white pieces on the kingside guarantees white some chances in attack but how much it is hard to determine at the board. Joel thought that the attack would run short but still thought it was worth a try because at least he has to find a few good defensive moves. In my opinion, Bg5 and Bf4 are equivalent continuations and it is a matter of taste and mood to choose one or the other. Maybe, if it was a 2200 sitting across from me I would have risked and chosen the more aggressive continuation but against a GM a draw with white is sufficient.
The move 18.Qe2 that I played in this position is very strong. It serves several purposes: 1. From e2, the queen defends the knight on e4, so the other knight is free to jump to b5 and attack the d6-pawn, 2. the queen opens the 1st-rank for the a1-rook, 3. it attacks the g4-pawn and fights for the e-file. A good move is usually a multi-functional move.
I am threatening Rf4 and taking the pawn on d6. Joel did not like the h5 move the minute he made it. The main drawback of the move is that he loses the d6-pawn. The g4-pawn is not as important as the d6-pawn for two reasons: 1. the d6-pawn blocks my potentially passed d5-pawn and 2. I will not have time to create a passed g-pawn; and even if I do, the black king is ideally placed to stop it. So black should try and keep the d6-pawn alive; then the c-pawn will be very dangerous.
I was pretty sure in the game that I would draw this endgame. However, I didn't see one major defensive set-up that Joel spotted right away. This set-up consists of giving up the d-pawn but putting the king on d4 and the knight on c3 to block the c4-pawn. Black's knight is tied to the defense of the c-pawn and black's king cannot move away because Kc5 would be a threat. Without this defensive set-up white might run out of moves and get in zugzwang because the knight has to stay on e4 to protect the d6-pawn and the king needs to be on e3 to shoulder black's king.
This was a good quality game, which neither of us could complain about. My opening play was of low standard, but once I realized that there was a need for defense, the e5-Bf4-Qe2 moves were very strong. The endgame might look dry to you but there were plenty of chances to go astray, so the overall result of the endgame is consistent.
The next week we will look at endgames from the Washington International played by some top-seed GMs.