Imbalanced Forces, Part 1

  • GM BryanSmith
  • | Jun 16, 2014

A material imbalance in the endgame provides an unusual type of play. Here we watch the spectacle of pieces, each with different capabilities, fighting, trying to change the terrain to their own advantage. It is like two knights on horseback fighting five archers at close range, or a handful of Samurai taking on one armored, elephant-riding ninja.

I noticed the endgame from the Aronin-Borisenko game in an old copy of the 18th Soviet Championship tournament book. Here we'll watch a piece fight against three pawns and we'll cover a few instructive points. But while looking this up, I came across another game between the same two players - this time Borisenko-Aronin, played the following year in Lviv.  This contest was even more interesting, and illustrates the complex fight that can be had between two minor pieces and a rook. We'll cover that game next week!  Please note that Lev Aronin has a very similar name to the modern-day grandmaster Levon Aronian, but they are not the same person! Let us first look at the endgame from the first game:

An important point to note was that this game took place in the last round and, had Aronin won it, he would have tied for first place in the 1950 USSR championship.

Paul Keres, pictured above, winner of the 1950 USSR Chess Championship | Image from the Dutch National Archives & Spaarnestad Photo / Wikipedia

The earlier part of the game was a nervous battle, with Aronin making a dubious piece sacrifice to avoid the prospect of (at maximum) a forced draw. A time scramble ensued, and numerous mistakes were made. We'll begin following the game at move 37. 

White only has two pawns for the piece, but is going to get one back on e6 or a6. Black stood better earlier in the game, but now it is entirely unclear. The time scramble is ongoing, and I assume the time control was at move forty.

The unusual fortress reached in the variation to Black's 73rd move deserves a diagram:

In this endgame we have seen several methods employed in the fight between pawns and pieces: the blockade, fortresses, the sacrifice for a breakthrough. We have also seen some valuable practical methods. Observe, for instance, Aronin's patient and pointless maneuvering for twenty moves, wearing down his opponent mentally and physically - possibly causing a second bout of time pressure - nearly allowing him to win the game. Also note the psychology behind Borisenko's mistake of twice giving an unnecessary check.

Next week we will look at the fascinating game which took place between the same two players a year later, with a complex and tactical battle between two minor pieces and a rook, an often misunderstood material balance.



  • 10 months ago



  • 16 months ago


    **and black can not stop the g pawn from promoting.
  • 16 months ago


    (80)...Be3 (81)Kg6,...Bd2 (82)Kg7!! And black can not stop the f pawn from promoting. However, if (81)...Kf8 then (82)Kf6!! Where white has opposition his king actively placed in front of the pawns and the pawns before the 7th rank. The bishop cannot stop the loss of the e pawn AND the threat of promotion at the same time. Thank you, I did this with a chess board at my house no engines or computers.
  • 16 months ago


    GM Bryan Smith: In the game you analyzed the variation which you analyzed in your annotation that ends with move 80.Kh5 that you said the book gives as winning is indeed winning for white. You were just barely off on your continuation.
  • 2 years ago



  • 2 years ago


    Very instructive, thank you!

  • 2 years ago


  • 2 years ago



  • 2 years ago


    Excellent article, thank you!

    @Turtletribute: I will answer for him... that is not the best way to improve. The best way to improve is study tactics, endgames, opening theory, and positional principles. If you do not, you'll just be floundering around in your practice games, gaining very little. And if you really want improvement, get a coach and he can tell you this and actually teach it to you. I would be interested to hear anything further the Grandmaster may have to say on this.

  • 2 years ago


    WOW !

  • 2 years ago


    A nice read!

  • 2 years ago



  • 2 years ago


    I very much enjoy your articles, and in fact I use them in preparing training lessons for a group of children at my local chess club (up to 1650 rating). I definitely benefit from this myself, I have to say! Thank you for those instructive analyses!

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