Sokolov - Master of Endgame

  • WIM energia
  • | Jul 20, 2012

Recently GM Ivan Sokolov conquered the American chess scene by winning the largest open in the US - the World Open, technically, tying for 1st place with American GM Shabalov but winning on tie-break. Sokolov showed no mercy playing two young and talented American GMs, Shankland and Lenderman. The Exchange Slav turned out to be a dangerous weapon against Sam Shankland, while against Lenderman Sokolov ended up grinding a long and equalish endgame. Today's and next week's articles are dedicated to Sokolov's endgame against Lenderman.

From the first sight the endgame looks equal. White has an advantage of a bishop but for now it has little use. Sokolov's comment on the endgame after the tournament was that Lenderman probably for a long time didn't know what Sokolov was playing for. The position looks so equal that he didn't realize that Sokolov was playing for a win. Sokolov's justification for Lenderman's evaluation was that the white bishop was of the "wrong" color. Here, wrong means that it is of the same color as the d4-pawn, which dooms the bishop to a passive existence. Sokolov's comment was that although the bishop is of the "wrong" color this does not mean as much because the knights are still present on the board. To me this evaluation seemed so deep and showed so much class that I decided to dig in deeper into the endgame and figure out what the deal is with the right and wrong colored bishop.

Let's go through the first stage of the game where the rooks were traded:


White managed to gain space on the queenside with b4-b5, which took away the c6-square from the black knights and king and also fixed the a7-pawn as a weakness. Still, the position is far from winning, even far from a big advantage. Taking up space is a common idea in endgames like this. To understand the current endgame let us look at some other examples with bishop vs. knight.

Three examples of "wrong" bishop vs. knight --  taking space.

White seized some space but the position remained closed and there was no plan for further positional improvement. In the next example it seems that the side with the knight was trying to play for a win:

Having a bishop of the color opposite to the d4-pawn is an advantage but might be not enough to claim a win as the following example illustrates:

The game ended up in a draw. It seems that the extra pair of knights gives additional resources for both sides. The side with a space advantage has a right to play for a win. In today's endgame it is Sokolov who grabbed space on the queenside and is trying to win.  The real problem for black is that his knights do not have active squares and have to move on the last three ranks.

The black knights cannot move, since one is tied to the defense of the d5-pawn and the other one is defending the first knight. The knight on c7 is especially poorly placed because it has no moves besides Na8 and Ne8. The knight on e6 is more active as it attacks the d4-pawn and controls the important f4-square. Because the knights cannot really move white can play for zugzwang. For now white can create a weakness on b6 by threatening the knight jump to b4. After that Sokolov starts to take space on the kingside. Generally, if he manages to get the f4-f5 break in to attack the e6-knight black's position will collapse as the knight on e6 is a key defensive piece. On the other hand black might try to continue defending passively by placing the knights on c7 and e8 and ignoring white's pawn pushes on the kingside. Black's active plan consists of pushing g5 and planting the knight on f4,while keeping the other knight on e6. The next game fragment shows the ideas discussed above.

It seems that black had a good chance of holding the position with passive defense. If you find a winning plan for white in the line to the 44th move starting with 44...Ne8!? please post it in the comments section. Next week we will pick up from the last position and finish up with this intriguing endgame.

Want more instructive examples of bishop vs. knight? Click here to check out videos relating to this topic!


  • 3 years ago


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  • 4 years ago

    NM Bab3s

    Interesting idea mishrashubham; it seems Black gets into some trouble should he allow Nf4. However, I don't feel that putting all the kingside pawns on dark squares should be the answer, and indeed I wonder how White will try to win should Black just wait with the king and when White plays Ng2, Black responds with Ne6.

  • 4 years ago


    People my fide rating is only 1387 so I am not sure about the line In have thought.There are other variations in it as well but I am going post them later.Please point out the flaws in the line as it is not a computerized line.

    After Ne8


    45. Ne3 N6c7 46.g5 f5 47.h5 Ke6 .48.h6 Na8 49.Ng2 Nec7 50.Be5 Kf7 51.Nf4 Kg8 52.Kc3 Kf7 53.Nd3 kg8 54.Bf6 Ne8 55.Ne5 Nxf656.gxf6 g5 57. Kd3 Kf8(Black has no play here)58.Ke2 Kg8 59.Kf2 Kf8 60. Kg3 Kg8 61.f4 g4 62.Kh4 Kf8 63.Kg5 g3 64. Kxf5 g2 65.Nf3 Nc7 66.Ke5 Ne8 67. 68.Ke6 Nc7+ 69.Kd7 Na8 70.Ke7 wins the game for White.

  • 4 years ago


    I think bab3s is onto something, White certainly still has chances there.

    But the general point is very important:  in defense, moving pawns is extremely risky because the new weak squares you create (and moving pawns always create new weaknesses) may be just what White needs to get you.  People are afraid of passive defense in these cases, it's very natural to want to DO something, but usually passivity is safest until White has a concrete threat.

  • 4 years ago


  • 4 years ago


    Just wondering is he left handed?

  • 4 years ago


    u guys are hilarious XD im only 630

  • 4 years ago

    NM Bab3s

    I wonder if White should take back on f5 with the pawn. It takes away e6 from the knight, and White is threatening to walk into the kingside with the king. Black can't stop this with his own king because White can get to h6 and then play Ng4 with the idea of winning either f6 or h7. If Black tries ...h5, then he's opening himself up to a possible Bxc7 and Ne3-g2-f4 idea.

  • 4 years ago


    as u said black can defend passively..........

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