Magnus Carlsen Knows This Endgame. Do You?

Magnus Carlsen Knows This Endgame. Do You?

| 78 | Endgames

Practically all strong players from the former Soviet Union made their first chess moves in their local Pioneer Palace. All kids were accepted there. Even those who didn't know the rules of the game. In order to assign players to a group that matched their level best, all new comers had to pass a very quick test. 

A famous Soviet trainer Vladimir Zak describes one of these tests in his book, "The Ways of Chess Improvement," which I already mentioned some time ago. He remembers that in 1958 he offered a young boy a game, and after the moves 1.e4 a5 2.d4 h5, Zak stopped playing and suggested a beginner's group to the boy's parents. The parents were furious and wrote a complaint to a Pioneer Palace's Director. I guess certain Norwegian parents might also complain in a similar situation since their son would be transferred to a beginner's section after the moves 1.f3 e5 2.Kf2...

Paul Keres, Pioneer Palace
Paul Keres giving a simul at the Pioneer Palace. Photo:, shared by @dgriffinchess.

I remember my first test in my Pioneer Palace. It was this position:

I was offered the chance to choose a color and play my move. I preferred White, and with no hesitation I pushed the pawn–e2-e4. As I failed the test, a coach showed me the correct way to play this endgame, and I was promptly sent to a beginner's group. Was it too harsh to judge a kid's chess level based on just one position? I don't think so. I remember a joke from one foreign grandmaster who was visiting the Soviet Union for the first time. He said that in his country the phrase "I play chess a little" meant that a person could barely tell a knight from a bishop. In the Soviet Union, the same phrase implied a knowledge of the first 10 moves of the Najdorf Sicilian. So, in my opinion, it was reasonable to assume that only a beginner wouldn't know such a basic endgame.

By the way, if you are not sure why my move e2-e4 was a mistake and the only winning move was Ke3, I recommend you to check out my old article where we analyzed this kind of endgame.

As you can see, in king and pawn endgames, it is all about opposition, but sometimes even grandmasters forget about it. Here are a couple of curious mistakes.

Finally, let's take a look at a recent game where one of the world's most promising young player managed to lose a simple endgame. The key defensive idea is to keep the regular or distant opposition.

How could a super-grandmaster lose such a basic endgame?! Watch this video to see the most important details:

When the pawn endgame appeared on the board, Firouzja had about 30 seconds on his clock, which should be more than enough for such a basic endgame. However, he got very nervous and made his final mistake when he had only about two seconds left. 

What should you do to avoid such debacles? First of all, make yourself familiar with the concept of opposition, and then practice, practice, practice till your play in this kind of endgame becomes automatic. Sort of wax on, wax off.

Fortunately, on drills, you can find exactly this kind of an endgame.

If you did your drills and feel confident that you can defend this endgame better than GM Firouzja, try to draw the following position:

Editor's Note: Today (November 2, 2020) in the Speed Chess Championship, Carlsen humorously demonstrated his encyclopedic knowledge of this endgame:

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