How the Ending Slips Away

  • GM BryanSmith
  • | Oct 10, 2013

It's not an unusual event for a stronger player — or, let's say, a better endgame player — to outplay a weaker one from an equal endgame. But what does this "outplay" really mean? To simply play stronger?

I don't think this quite illustrates it sufficiently, since chess isn't a race — the two sides come into contact and fight with each other. One player finds a more proper course of action and more accurately anticipates his opponent's best ideas, while the opponent fails to find the best play, or plays in an entirely planless way. The failure to fully comprehend the position in all its details may not be evident on every move - an experienced chess player can make reasonable moves on general principles, and sometimes those moves will turn out to also be the best moves in the position — but eventually will add up to various inaccuracies, which will cause the game to slip away.

Here we will be seeing a very instructive example I cam across recently, from an old game between Siegbert Tarrasch and Frank Marshall in their 1905 match. While of course both players were world class in their day, Tarrasch was significantly stronger (he won the match 8-1), and in particular Marshall's strengths were located in another phase of the game — not the endgame. Thus Tarrasch outclasses Marshall. We will see how, specifically, this happened.

The rook and pawn endgame began with the following position:

It is worth noting that Marshall had just captured a rook on f8 from his rook on f1, and Tarrasch had recaptured on f8 with the king. Thus we can see that Tarrasch understood that centralizing the king was important, and the f-file was relatively meaningless at this point, something which Marshall apparently misunderstood.

Frank Marshall | Image Wikipedia

Basically the position is about equal. Black has the open a-file (the doubled pawns are not really a disadvantage for him at all) but there is not much he can achieve with it, since the white pawn on a3 is solidly defended. The main problem white faces is that the pawn on d4 is blocking two of his pawns and provides Black a sort of small space advantage. However, this situation could be easily fixed. Before checking out how the game continued (and how Marshall ought to have played), think for yourself - what would you play here? You may find the answer to be a revelation...

It wasn't easy, but White managed to lose this equal, nearly symmetrical position with only rooks and pawns. This same thing happens every day, and games such as this repay close study.

Siegbert Tarrasch | Image Wikipedia



  • 3 years ago


    Fantastic game and very good annotations.

    Thanks IMBryanSmith!

  • 3 years ago


    32.Kc1 Kf6  

    I have to edit this now: 32. ..Kf6?, 33.Kb2 c5, 34.Rf1 Kg5??, 35.Rf7 and Re7;  and white winns.

  • 3 years ago


    Another helpful article.  Thanks for all of them.

  • 3 years ago


    Amazing Title!

  • 3 years ago


    thanks i really learnt a lot

  • 3 years ago


    Nice explanation .. but what would u suggest for white to move in 19 ?

     i would suggest 19.e5 !

  • 3 years ago


    Fantastic article.  This is exactly the material that separates "A" players from Experts.  Thanks.

  • 3 years ago


    Really instructive.

  • 3 years ago


    will there be article 2? I need more of this.

  • 3 years ago


    Very nice article indeed! It just shows how important the endgame study is!

  • 3 years ago


    This is a great article -- including all of your commentary in the PGN, along with the variations, made it much easier to play through the game and made your writing more accessible.  I really appreciated that.  Well done!

  • 3 years ago


    Getting the King central, and prefereably in front of your pawns is always preferable, but it is impossible to get him there with pawns locked together. The rook must find forks on pawns and the other king too so as to eat up pawns, but preferably staying off the same file as your king to avoid being stolen after check. Sacrificing a rook can be a very good strategy in a rook and pawn ending, even if all it does is win you a single tempo with which to create a protected passed pawn with your king. It is very difficult for a rook to stop a pawn from queening and usually the rook must be traded for a pawn that is queening under the king's protection. If you are a move ahead, allow your opponent to advance his pawn as much as he likes, just stay that move ahead and your early queen will win you the game as long as your king stays clear of his queening lines.

  • 3 years ago


    How about 19. Rc1 Ra4    20. c3  c6 ...  and black is still a bit better..

  • 3 years ago


    Nice lesson.

  • 3 years ago


    Frasier!  I always thought Tarrash looked like Frasier for some reason!  But now that I've actually seen a picture.  Imagine hearing, "To look like a dashing player at the cost of losing the game" in Frasier's voice ^_^

  • 3 years ago


    O...M...G look at it!  Look at Terrasch mustach! :D He is such a hipster ^_^

    I always imagined him to look like a fuddy duddy with Squidward's personality. 

  • 3 years ago


    very instructive lesson

  • 3 years ago


    Short and to the point = Great.

    Thanks for the article!

    (I, too, would have played 19.Rf1+, but then I would have followed immediately with 20.Rf2 and transferred the King to d2/c1, staying passive, but flexible. I think that that plan would hold the draw even with the a3 weakness. In my opinion, 25.b4 was the big error.)

  • 3 years ago



  • 3 years ago


    Nice article!!

Back to Top

Post your reply: