How To Build A Chess Fortress

How To Build A Chess Fortress

Gserper
GM Gserper
|
49 | Endgames

The recently concluded Tata Steel chess tournament was very memorable for the U.S. grandmaster Sam Shankland.

From now on he will be forever remembered as a chess player who the beat the former world champion Vladimir Kramnik in his last professional classical game. But Sam will also be remembered as a grandmaster who resigned in a book-drawn position.

Sam Shankland Tata Steel Chess 2019Sam Shankland. | Photo: Alina l'Ami/Tata Steel Chess.

I bet you've already seen that game:


A resignation in a dead-drawn position is so unusual that this game quickly became well known in the chess world. As a matter of fact, they even updated the old meme that I discussed in my old article. Now it looks like this:

Here is what some of super grand-masters would do:

Nakamura: Qg8

Caruana: Qg7

Giri: Qg6

Shankland: I resign!

It should be noted that Sam has always been a good sport, so he also laughed at this episode on his Twitter:

It is funny that less than a week later, the same fortress was reached in the following game:

Here even World Champion Magnus Carlsen couldn't resist. Here is what he wrote about the position after Black played 53...Be8:

Not all people got the joke, but Sam was a class act again:

I hope the tragicomic episode that happened to Sam Shankland will urge you to study basic fortresses that can happen in endgames. It is not so uncommon to see a lonely king able to survive against a much bigger army of an opponent.

One of the most well-known situation is a so called "bishop of a wrong color." If a bishop cannot control the promotion square of his rook pawn or pawns, then all you need to do in order to make a draw is just place your king into the corner in front of your opponents' pawns! Here is a simple example:

Less known, but still easily drawn positions can happen if your opponent has a knight and his rook pawn went too far:

Of course if you move the Ng5 to f6 or f8 the position is still a draw! White can only stalemate Black's king, but there is no win. 

Here are a couple of useful fortresses to remember.

This is a simple draw if Black avoids the only available trap and doesn't go with his king to the corner where it gets promptly checkmated. In this kind of a position it doesn't matter if White's bishop is light-squared or dark-square; it is still an easy draw. Moreover, it can be a knight and it still would be a draw!

By the way, the color of the bishop doesn't matter in the fortress from Shankland's game too. But again, there is a trap to avoid:

The knowledge of these basic fortresses can save you in a difficult situation, just like in my game vs. Nakamura:

Now try to find how White can save the following position that looks completely lost.

As you can see, building a fortress can save a seemingly lost position. Therefore any tournament player should know these typical positions where a huge material advantage is not enough to win the game!

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