Paws Forward, Part 2
Today we will look at how to create passed pawns in endgame positions with minor pieces. The examples that are shown here concentrate on pawn breaks and piece sacrifices in order to achieve positions with passed pawns. Creating a passed pawn is equivalent to a standard trade, for example: I give up my bishop but in return get an advanced pawn or I sacrifice two pawns but get an advanced pawn. The only hard part of this operation is the evaluation of the final position.
Is having an advanced passed pawn enough for a bishop? Or would it be stopped or taken away and I will end up in a position down a piece. So, as you go through the following examples ask yourself how much risk or calculations one has to undertake to go through with sacrificing material for the advanced pawn. And question yourself if you would be willing to go through with it or opt for some safer but maybe not as strong method.
White is a pawn up but it is an opposite color bishop endgame which almost nullifies the material advantage. The reason opposite color bishop endgames are drawish is that it is very hard to promote a pawn. The defending side can position their king and bishop in such a way so the passed pawns will be blocked. The ideal placement for the bishop would be to defend its own pawns and prevent the opponent's pawns from moving while staying on one diagonal. In our example the bishop from d6 defends the c7-pawn and prevents the b3-b4 break. The bishop’s position would be ideal if black’s pawn was on e7 (same diagonal as b4 square) rather than on c7. Placing the bishop on d6 should be enough for a draw here because the king alone on e7 is able to stop the e6 and f5 pawns from moving. White’s bishop has to stay on the long diagonal to stop the h- pawn from becoming a queen, while his king can move around. All this said, it is white to move and he finds a way to get to the c7-pawn. The c7-pawn is very important because it anchors the bishop on d6, which is needed there to stop the e6-pawn, if the white king gets to d7.
The example show that black successfully defended against two connected passed pawns by blocking them with the king. White sacrificed a few pawns to create two unconnected passed pawns that were far advanced and proved to be fatal.
The next example features a bishop vs. knight endgame. Black is up a pawn but the pawns are present on both flanks of the board which makes the bishop much stronger than the knight. White also has two pawns that are more advanced than the black pawns are. The black king has to stop the h-pawn, while the white king is helping his b-pawn. The position is not better for black because having an extra pawn does not compensate for all the other strengths that white possesses. White finds a winning move here but there are other continuations that led to an equal position.
Sometimes in order to create a passed pawn one does not need a pawn break – a bishop break works too. A knight generally is an awkward piece to deal with passed pawns. As pointed out in the first example, a bishop is especially strong when it does two things along the same diagonal. In the above example the bishop from e3 helped the h-pawn while blocking the c-pawn.
The last example features an uncommon material balance: rook vs. two bishops. White has an extra pawn but generally two bishops should be preferred over the rook in such endgames. However, white's king is very active, while the black king is stuck on the 8th rank. The bishop on e8 is pinned. With Ke7 and Bd7 black will solve these problems and will have an edge. Therefore, white must act actively to use the temporary advantages he has.
One thing that I didn’t realize before analyzing the position deeply is that the pawn structure is fixed. There are not too many open diagonals for the bishops. In the final position for example if the e5-pawn was missing it would be black who is winning. Black did not provide maximum resistance in this example because he chose the wrong strategy in defending against the passed pawn. The passive strategy: getting the king to e7, the bishop to d7 and later on pinning the pawn was the only defense available.
It would be good to see some examples where the pawn breaks do not work but I will save that for the next week!