Initiative in Endgames, Part 2
Today we continue with the topic of initiative in endgames. Today's game once again shows the transition moment when one sides loses the initiative, and the other side seizes it. Placing the rook on a passive position cost McShane his advantage, and Kramnik used the moment to maximally improve his position. He played energetically and found a brilliant plan for converting the activity of his pieces into material advantage.
Despite an extra exchange, Kramnik's pieces are all tied up to defensive positions. Black suffers because his king is stuck on h8 surrounded by attacking fire from the white rook, bishop and the h6-pawn. This limits the black rooks and restrict them to the defense of the 7th-rank and the f6-pawn. Black needs desperately to exchange a pair of rooks. Then the weakness of the king will no longer be a problem. Until then it is white who dictates the play and holds the initiative. McShane can use this time to collect black pawns and to improve the king's position. After the rook exchange the h6 and c2 pawns can become real targets, so white has to transform the advantage into something material really fast.
We reached a critical moment. White is at a crossroads with many continuations to consider. The c2-pawn is under attack now and this is a major concern for white because without the c2-pawn the b3 and d3-pawns will be weak too. Pushing it forward weakens the d3 and b3 pawns and black can take advantage of it with his c6-rook. Giving it up with K:f4 is not enough because the h6-pawn falls too and black's king position significantly improves. There is a defense of the c2-pawn by attacking the 8th-rank. Rd5 or Ra5 will do the task: after R:c2 there would be the B:f6 move. Both moves put the rook in active position along the 5th-rank. This will keep black under pressure and white would still have an initiative. However, in the game McShane erred here by retreating with the rook which turned the tables around. Kramnik right away jumps on an opportunity to capture the initiative.
Kramnik's last move is very strong. Besides putting the rook on the 1st-rank, Kramnik sets up a trap. He wants to transform his suddenly-obtained initiative into something more material. White has only one way to prevent a disaster and this move can be found only if one asks: what is black's idea with Rg1?
Part of quenching the opponent's initiative is preventing the active regrouping of his pieces. In this position McShane could have exercised caution and found the strong Kf5, which blocks black's idea of a rook transfer to the g-file by f5-Rg6. Instead, McShane resorted to active means of fighting black's initiative and pushed c5 right away. The c5-push was not going away, and he could have done the same after including Kf5. After the rook got to the g-file, the f3-pawn became very dangerous and white had to sacrifice the bishop for it, after which the position was lost.
Today we looked at the recent McShane - Kramnik game where at first white had a solid grip on the initiative due to the poor position of black's king. This advantage was of a temporary nature because if black managed to get the king to safety then he would be simply up an exchange. However, with the correct play white could have captured enough pawns to compensate for black's extra exchange. McShane made one poor rook retreat, most likely in time-trouble and ended up on the defensive. Kramnik infiltrated white's position with the rook and materialized his initiative into a passed pawn and later won the bishop for the pawn. One can admire Kramnik's decisiveness and aggressiveness when having an initiative. Next article we will explore more players that handle the initiative in endgames in a similar fashion.