Queen Endgames: Beware of Stalemate!
Today’s article is dedicated to two topics in queen endgames. The first one is how to play queen endgames when one side has extra f- and h-pawns. Last week we had a chance to analyze positions with extra g- and h-pawns and they proved to be hard to win. The same is true about the f- and h-pawns and many ideas apply from the positions of g- and h-pawns. We will further explore the attacking and defensive possibilities of the queen endgame through in-depth analysis of a Dreev – Radjabov endgame. The second idea that the article will explore is the possibility of stalemate in queen endgames by looking at several examples where the idea showed up vividly.
In the above position, according to the Nalimov Endgame Tablebases – software that stores every possible position with a maximum of six pieces and gives the result - white is able to win in 42 moves. From a practical point of view it is a very long win and I am not sure if it is possible at all, since at any given point there are only a few winning moves while the rest are drawing. One slip can cost half a point. In my view it is easier for black to hold this than for white to win. All black has to do is to make sure that the opponent cannot trade queens and jump at any opportunity to give a perpetual. For white the plan of attack is more complex.
First of all, it is not recommended to push the pawns forward when the king is behind. With the pawns on h4 and f4 the king has to go to the 8th or 7th rank to hide from checks. The queen can shield the king from checks at the same time checking the black king. The ideal position for the queen is the e5- square because it is the central square and because it will be protected by the pawn f4. After this initial stage one can push the h- pawn, keeping the f – pawn on f4 for the time being, since it defends the queen and can be a perfect shield for white king, which is going to the g-file. Black uses similar ideas to defend against the f- and h-pawns as those discussed last week against the g- and h-pawns. The queen remains along the 7th rank, while the king is staying at h7-h8. This is the ideal plan and from the best defense-attack standpoint it still will take a long time to win but it is better to have some kind of a plan than none at all. Losing concentration for one moment can result in a draw, so one must be very careful in implementing the above- mentioned plan. Below, the variation starting with 66. f4 demonstrates this complex but winning plan.
In the next sequence of moves nothing much happened besides white advancing the f3- pawn only one square at a time. Usually, if you have h and f- pawns, you want to push the h-pawn and keep the f-pawn one line below. The end of this sequence is rather beautiful.
So far white has not improved the position much. In the next interval of the game white managed to push the h-pawn which is the right decision. Black showed how the 7th- rank defense works on the 6th- rank as well with the king on h6 and queen somewhere on b6. Radjabov also showed an alternative plan of checking the white king from the 1st- rank. If the pawn was on f4 the white king would hide from checks on the 8th- rank but because of the undefended f3-pawn, black has additional resources of checking while attacking the pawn.
Do you see why Qf5 is a mistake? Yes, precisely because of the stalemate idea. Twice, Radjabov resorted to stalemate ideas during the game to save it, and in the end he got to the goal. White has no way to shield himself from checks and the remaining moves are shown below.
In the next example black has g- and e-pawns which makes the win easier due to the fact that the black king can hide behind the g-pawn as well as stepping on the h- file, while marching towards the 1st- rank. The situation for white is hopeless; unlike with the f- and h-pawns the perpetual checks are almost non-existent due to additional hiding space for the king on the h- file.
Stalemate ideas are applicable to many kinds of queen endgames. They also happen in positions where there are many pawns present on the board. As an illustration I would like to present the position where white is up only one pawn but it is enough to make the position winning. White has more space, his a-pawn is far advanced, the king is very active on g4 – all these positional advantages become even more significant with an extra pawn. All white has to do is to be careful not to come under perpetual check or stalemate ideas.
Today, we looked at typical plans of defense/attack in queen endgames with extra f- and h-pawns. Many of the ideas of g-h pawns discussed last week hold for this type of endgame too. We also learned how to try to use stalemates to achieve a draw in otherwise losing queen endgames. Overall, the price of a move in queen endgames is much higher than in similar rook endgames. Calculating all the checks after every move is impossible, so one has to rely on general knowledge of plans and ideas. To enrich your knowledge of typical ideas in queen endgames we will next look at pawn sacrifices that serve either as drawing means or as means to save the game.