Pawn Endgames: Beauty and the Beast

Pawn Endgames: Beauty and the Beast

| 25 | Endgames

Here we are at the very top of the endgame ladder: at pawn endgames. Pawn endgames are very different from other endgames. We can rely on the famous saying: there is no evaluation in endgames, there is only a result of win, loss or draw. Pawn endgames require more calculation than any other endgame. They are deptively simple looking at first sight but hide so many nuances and aesthetic ideas. I guess that in these endgames study-like ideas can be seen more often than in any other type of endgame. Pawn endgames require the knowledge of many concrete theoretical positions. One should build the knowledge of these positions steadily. Evaluations of many pawn endgames rest on these specific theoretical positions. Today’s endgame has one base theoretical position underneath it that we will uncover.

Let us look at the position and first evaluate it. It is hard to evaluate the position since it is a pawn endgame but if we glanced at the position and gave the first thought it would be that white is better. This is because white has the potential to create an outside passed pawn on the queenside. Black's d- and b-pawns are weak, while white has only one weak h-pawn to which it is hard to get. White's plan is to get the king to the center and get a passed b-pawn. Black has to counter this plan somehow. At first we decided to check the promising idea of getting the h-pawn with the black king and then return with it to stop the b-pawn, while making an outside passed pawn h. This idea worked out well for black, taking into account that white played some imprecise moves. Let us look how both sides implemented their plans.


The following ideas can be elucidated from the endgame:

-          The plan with g5 and Kg6 can be a bit too slow of a defensive plan

-          If black manages to create a passed h-pawn and return to the perimeter of white's b-pawn then the endgame will most likely be a draw.

-          White’s only sensible change is to create a passed pawn b.

The game showed some very basic ideas, and created a sketch rather than a whole painting of the given position. We agreed that white should show some better play against the black plan. Keeping the king on d3 while not capturing on c3 after black takes b:c is one of the main attacking ideas that we discovered in the analysis. There was another idea of stopping the black pawn storm h5 by playing g4. This move has to be played at the right moment. What we discovered, even after all the improvements introduced to white’s plan, the play with capturing h6 pawn gives black enough to draw. The following is the second game.


Here is the list of general ideas that were used in the previous game:

-          On g4 by white black must respond with f4, taking on g4 loses almost in all variations due to the inability to create a passed h-pawn by black.

-          Queen endgames after the break-through h5 by black are most likely to be drawn.

-          Black does not have to capture on c3 since c:b by white gives him an extra tempo for the creation of the "h" passed pawn.

The previous two games tested our initial idea of getting the h6 pawn with g5 and Kg6, but surely there are other defensive ideas present in the given position. The danger of getting wrapped up in one idea is that the other more interesting or more correct solutions might pass by. There are at least two other defenses in this position. Before showing you these ideas I would like to step back and to demonstrate one theoretically drawn position. In this position it is important to notice that black pawn is still on h7. If the pawn was on h6 a different result would be expected. White cannot get to the h7-pawn and cannot do much about advancing the f-pawn as the black king securely defends the promotion square. If we include g-pawns the result will not change. Key points are the king on f8 and the pawn on h7.


I am pretty sure that many of you knew the above position. The only reason I showed it is that one of black’s defensive ideas was based on this theoretical position. Black’s idea is firstly, to fix the f3 and g2 pawns with the f4 move. Then go after the b-pawn, while giving up the d-pawn. At last, sacrificing the f4-pawn and coming back with the king to the back rank to create the theoretical position mentioned above. Truly, an artistic defense! The other defense is more banal: by playing d4 black does not allow the white king to get into the black position. Here is the game with some analysis.


For the next week we will continue with pawn endgames.

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