I Need an Avenue for the Rook.

I Need an Avenue for the Rook.

| 11 | Endgames

We got another rather complicated endgame to look at. My coach and I had a hard time figuring out the plans for both sides. It is generally tough to deal with the tandem of rook + knight when there are a lot of pawns on the board. The knights can fork the rooks and the pawns, and are not so predictable. The rooks need open files to operate but if there are foreposts for the knights on them then these files will be blocked and the rooks will be limited in movement. Seeing such a general picture helps later on in the analysis of a specific position.

Let us proceed to the position's evaluation, which will be the first step to finding the right plan to proceed. Black is up a pawn although he has no passed pawns on the board yet. The white pawns on a4 and c4 hold three black pawns on c5,b6 and a5, where b6 is a backward pawn and a real weakness. An extra pawn in this case might not be a big advantage if it were not for the active placement of the black pieces. Black owns the f-file with the rooks that are threatening to penetrate the white camp through the f3-square. The knights on b4 and e5 threaten to take the pawn on d3. The king can always help the pawn on b6 if needed.

By contrast, the white pieces are poorly coordinated: the knight on b5 looks like it it is very well-placed, but in reality it does not do anything there. The f2-knight defends the d3-pawn but has no attacking purpose. With the last move Nb4 black attacked the d3-pawn. Taking the central knight, which is not defended is not favorable for white because of Rf2 and the d3-fork. White’s main weakness is the d3-pawn, and it is also the pawn on which white’s whole position stand. Defending it with either rook is a possibility.

In the first game I had black and tried the easiest and the most direct way of sacrificing exchange but leaving the opponent without play. It is a brutal way of exploiting the advantage but the best way might be slowly pressing white as was done by my opponent in the second game. Sacrificing the exchange changes the position, what favors the side which has the worse position. My decision is controversial: on the one hand I saw that white would be without counterplay, on the other hand I had to sacrifice material for this. These two do not usually go hand-in-hand. Typically, the scenario is as follows, for example: white is worse and does not have counterplay, therefore white sacrifices the exchange to get counterplay. Let us see how it turned out for me.


The summary ideas from the game:

-          I sacrificed the exchange and thought that white would not have counterplay but it turns out that white could have equalized with the correct king maneuver to pick up the pawns on the kingside.

-          The game is even on the queenside, while the second front is opened on the kingside; whoever's king will get there will decide who is on the top of the game.

-          White should be careful of not weakening the kingside prematurely with the h4-move.

-          White’s top priority should be rook activation.

So, I won the first game but in the analysis it turned out to be a rather messy game. White had an opportunity to at least equalize with the correct king maneuver, then white messed up by pushing the h-pawn, where I found the correct king maneuver. I cannot advise you to sacrifice material in a better position. For the next game we decided it is best chance for black to play based on domination – to slowly press white until suffocation. Black masterfully executed this plan, while I couldn’t find an acceptable play for white.


The following ideas were extracted from the endgame:

-          Black should play for domination, since the white pieces do not have many squares to maneuver on.

-          Exchanging one rook favors black as it reduces the defensive potential of the white pieces. The rook on e2 was the only active piece in white's position.

-          Black should maneuver the knights in the centre to displace the white rook and to threaten forking the rook and the king to get the king to the h1-square after which the g3-pawn will be vulnerable and the d3-pawn will be a major weakness too.

Our conclusion from the above two games is that black is better and can easily put white in zugzwang, after which the win will be a matter of time. I did not defend optimally in the second game but it is not an easy task to do, given all the limitations that the white pieces face. Black should be winning in this position but in the actual game black did not realize his advantage. Let us look what happened in the game.


The game turned out to be a complicated one: the advantage changed hands many times. White managed at first to put the pieces very harmoniously but then misplayed by not activating the rook but playing Rd2 instead. Then, black had a chance to get a promising position by going into a rook plus knight endgame with an extra pawn but decided to go into the knight endgame. There, white walked a thin line but managed to find the defense by bringing the king up to the pawns and sacrificing the knight there. An exciting game!

The Women’s World Championship featured many interesting endgames. In the key game in the semifinal between Koneru and Hou Yifan this endgame arose where white had a significant advantage. I watched the game live and there was a very interesting moment in the game where Hou found a creative solution to the position (she has just played Be7). It is all yours to determine if this solution worked or if it gave black a chance for a draw. Merry Christmas to everyone!!

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