Second Looks & Skillful Defense

Second Looks & Skillful Defense

| 8 | Endgames

Last week we evaluated the following position and looked at a training game I played from here:


Now we will continue with the same position, going a little deeper. Let me just remind you of the conclusions from the last article concerning the ideas and planning. Black is better due to more active pieces and the passed pawn in his camp. However, there are limited options for progress as he faces the threat of perpetual check from white. One of the main ideas for black is to push the passed pawn as far as possible. The pawn will tie down white pieces and leverage the weakness of white’s 1st rank. Is there a way to counter it? There are two ideas to fight this plan and they are presented below. One of them is an explicit way of stopping the pawn:  blocking it with the knight. The other idea is more subtle and requires the white king’s help to stop the e-pawn.

Let us go straight to the second training game I played, developing a good feel for the position. I had black and was determined to stick to the plan of the passed-pawn advance. My opponent played the game creatively, unraveling unorthodox ideas and playing overall an energetic game. At first, his plan was to activate the knight with a side maneuver that allowed him a perfect placement on b4 - and in some variations on e5. Then, after testing to see if I would accept an unfavorable endgame, he decided to activate the queen as well. Activating the queen was possible because the knight on b4 defended the king well. In the next stage of the game I completely missed his main idea until it was too late. However, the position is far from simple and even later in analysis it was hard to determine where black could have played better.


The following ideas from the game are important:

  • The knight b4 is well placed because he controls the important central square d5, which black might want to use for her advantage.
  • The queen-less endgames usually favor the side whose king is more active.
  • With the king on a2 white has a brilliant idea of stalemate, which was successfully implemented during the game.

We just saw an interesting game! Next, we will look at the real game in which this position occurred, between two top-10 in the world players: Karjakin and Topalov. If you thought that the previous game was interesting, wait until you see this one. Playing with a rapid time control, there are more chances to take a risk or make a mistake. Thus, one cannot be highly critical of the players' execution; we should appreciate the general ideas, not their specific implementation.

Karjakin, after his first two moves, ended up in a losing position. It seems that there was one way to win and six or more routes to complex play. Topalov, who was definitely surprised and shocked by Karjakin's idea, did not react properly and lost his advantage. Surprise puts a lot of strain on a player, and factoring in the time restraints, one cannot blame Topalov too much for missing a win. One should take the important lesson from this endgame: the king, even in queen endgames, has a major role - especially an active king.


The following ideas are noteworthy:

  • Bringing the king into the game when there are queens on the board is a risky decision. However, if the opponent fails to use the vulnerability of the king then the above strategy will bring high dividends.
  • White used the king, along with the queen and the knight, to chase away black pieces from the central squares and then to attack the black king.
  • Karjakin had a chance for advantage by transposing into the knight endgame. His active king is a major advantage, especially in knight or pawn endgames.

For the next week we will consider the following position from the recent Amber chess tournament:  


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