Sokolov - Master of Endgame, Part 2
Last week we looked at a B+N vs. 2Ns endgame where there are fixed and isolated d-pawns present on the board. The endgame was played between the World Open winner Sokolov and American GM Lenderman. For the last 20 moves Sokolov has been pressing with white and the following position was reached.
Black's last move was g5 -- he takes some space on the kingside but gives up the f5-square. For now white cannot really use it as the Nf4 move is a threat. If black manages to put one knight on f4 and the other one on e6 his position will be all right. Sokolov prevents black's plan and at the same time prepares the creation of the passed pawn on the kingside.
Sokolov's last move is very strong -- the bishop from e5 takes the d6 and f6- squares from the black king, helps the f-pawn to advance and frees the white king from the defense of the d4-pawn. White does not need to rush with the f4-plan and can maneuver with the knight for a while because black lacks an active plan. Unfortunately for black, taking the pawn after f4 is almost never a good option because white trades the bishop for the c7-knight and wins with the g-pawn vs. h-pawn by marching the king to h6. The black knight is tied to the defense of the d-pawn, while the white king and knight will win the h7-pawn and queen the g-pawn.
A masterful win by Sokolov! Lenderman defended well but he could do very little in the passive position against almost perfect play by Sokolov. Looking through the other database examples of similar endgames I stumbled upon the endgame Wang Hao - Romanov that reminded me of today's endgame. The main difference is that Wang Hao's bishop was of the opposite color from the d4-pawn. Unlike the endgame we have just looked at, the Wang Hao game features a more open position where the black knights are not restricted. The open position benefits the black knights but also the white bishop that restricts some of their movements.
White improved his position significantly: the king got to e5, both the knight and the bishop are active, while black knights' position did not improve -- his knights are located on the last two ranks. Next, white can get the pawns to a4 and b5 to gain space on the queenside and to further improve his position. Black decides to give up a pawn but to activate his knights. This might be the best decision as passive defense as we saw from the above endgame does not work.
Today, we finished with the endgame Sokolov - Lenderman. The endgame is an excellent illustration of the idea of having more space and hence more active pieces. Sokolov tied up black pieces to the d5-pawn's defense and created a passed pawn on the kingside. Black could not defend the d5-pawn and at the same time fight against the f-pawn -- his defensive line got too thin and under Sokolov's pressure broke.
In the second endgame example Wang Hao under the cover of the e6-knight advanced with the king to e5. The black knights once again got too passive defending the d5-pawn and eventually black sacrificed the pawn for some knight activity. This was a good decision but the follow-up was not precise and white eventually won after taking black's queenside pawns. Overall, the conclusion that one might reach from studying these two endgames is that it does not matter what color the bishop is (the same color as the d4-pawn or the opposite) if the white pieces are located better and he has more space then he will have the advantage. With the next articles I would like to explore the endgames where the side with two knights has more space and I would like to see whether this is enough for a similar advantage.