It is all the Bull's Fault.
Tatiana Kosintseva, being one of the top seeds of the Women’s World Championship, was eliminated in the second round by Yelena Dembo being more than one hundred points lower rated. The endgame that we will look at happened in the first game of their match. Chess is a mental game but it also requires physical strength and resilience. Sometimes, playing conditions, travel arrangements take more strength away than expected. For example, it took more than 24 hours of travel for Kosintseva to arrive in Turkey from Russia. She faced one flight delay after the other. I can totally see her arriving at the tournament utterly exhausted.
One of the funny stories is that the plane to Turkey from the Moskow Sheremetevo Airport was delayed because one of the bulls that were transported from England escaped and was running around the airfield. The airport security workers were running after the bull with electric shock machines to catch it. Unfortunately, the escaped bull did not bring Tatiana luck in the championship, which ender rather abruptly for her. However, the leader of the Russian Olympic team in the interview seemed to be optimistic about the future stating that her goal for now is to improve her chess and the results will come.
Let us evaluate the position we see in the diagram below. White is up a pawn in the endgame – this has to be a significant advantage. Moreover, black has yet to finish their development, while white has the rook and the knight in the centre. White is better, in fact white is much better. Usually, a rook and a bishop is a better combination than a rook and a knight. But in our situation the rook is not in the game yet, so one cannot feel the advantage of this tandem. It is black to move but black cannot finish development because the bishop is under attack. How can white lose a position like this?
Well, white did lose this position because a chess game is not only about strategy and calculation but also about strong nerves, patience and the ability to withstand high levels of stress. These physiological and psychological elements play an especially important role when the tournament is a knock-out system, where the price of a move increases tenfold. You make one mistake, you are out of the competition, and you have to return across the world, after only two days at the tournament.
I chose to play the white side, as it seemed to me that I can easily figure out the winning way. My coach settled for the black side, being less optimistic about white’s position.
What did we learn from the first game?
- Black's passed h-pawn is very dangerous. If it is supported by the rook standing behind, then it becomes really-really dangerous. Thus, white must prevent black from having the structure: Rh8 – h-pawn.
- White must create a passed pawn to counter black’s h-pawn; the c-pawn can do this job.
- The best placement for the white knight is the d5-square, where it can support the f4-pawn and c7-pawn. It also does not let the black king into the game threatening to fork the rook and the king.
In the first game I felt all the danger of the position. At some point I thought that it is easy to promote the c-pawn but it turns out that it is a rather hard job and white must combine it with stopping the h-pawn. It is not so clear what would happen if black did not make the mistake of moving the pawn to a5. On the other hand, I understood that the position is not that clear and that black has some good resources to counter white’s extra material. Thus, in the next game I did my best to expose those resources.
Despite, the similar first moves of the second and the first games, the second game featured some new ideas:
- Instead of castling black could have played Kf8 with the idea of keeping the rook on h8. The cost will be the sacrifice of the a-pawn but pushing the h-pawn is worth the sacrifice. Even having the bishop vs. the knight with a few extra pawns on the queenside does not guarantee white an advantage, due to the passed h-pawn, which is moving really fast.
- White demonstrated an interesting idea of bringing the king to catch the h-pawn before moving the pawns on the queenside. This maneuver freed the hands of the rook and the knight from watching the h-pawn and brought an advantage.
- Black could counter white’s plan only by undermining the g5-pawn with the f6 move, which exposes the white king. Black cannot defend having only one passed pawn, after f6 black has two moving passed pawns.
- Having the rook on the 2nd rank is one of the main defensive resources that black has.
The position is too complicated to be fully explored with only two games. It seems to us that white has an advantage that can be exploited, although black always has counterplay with the idea of the h-pawn promotion. Reading Kosintseva’s interview, she considered the Nc6 idea but thought that in all the resulting positions black has counterplay connected to the passed h-pawn, which is true. She missed the wining resource earlier in the game. However, Nc6 was the best resource white had at hand in the given position and was worth playing. Let us look at the game.
My guess is that white miscalculated one of the lines and thought that the knight can escape the prison. Based on positional considerations, there was no need to trade the active central rook for the undeveloped Rh8. Maybe, Tatiana overevaluated the position, thinking that it is so winning that tactics must work out for her.
Currently, we have the Russian Men's Superfinal [ed note: women are allowed to play] underway. There are many interesting endgames that were played there and many good interviews with the players explaining them. Next week we will look into the following endgame, where black is clearly better-- but is it enough for a win?