US Women's Championship: Endgame!
The topic of the next set of columns will be endgames. As an introduction to the future column I want to show you the examples of the endgames from the recent US Women’s Championship.
The first time I learned about endgame strategies was when I was 7 or 8 years old. In the chess school of the former Soviet Union it was a common teaching strategy to teach students endgames first and only then openings and the other stages of the games. My first serious national tournament was the girls U-8 Ukrainian Championship. As a preparation I went to a chess club every day and after group lessons I would stay with my coach to have private lessons on chess endgames. I still remember some of the concepts and the way he taught them to me. Not surprisingly, I also believe that endgames should be learned at the first stages of chess learning.
Unfortunately, these days endgames are far from a priority on the modern chess player’s list. With the shortened time control, many chess games end in the middlegame and players usually say that there is no point in learning endgames if they never get them during the game. Endgames teach a player about better piece coordination, calculation, pawn and piece dynamics. If you get better in the endgame stage of the game then you will bring your game to a higher level overall.
There were some good examples of endgames from the Championship, of which I will show you four. Three involved rooks and this is very typical because rook endgames are the most frequent guests in tournament play. Let us proceed towards the examples.
During the game I evaluated the position as approximately equal from a practical point of view. If black wants to save her extra pawn she has to be extremely patient and tolerate my rook in her camp for many moves. Alone, the activity of the rook on the seventh rank is worth about half a pawn. Moreover, black’s extra pawn is doubled.
A similar situation: black is up a pawn. White has the advantage of having a bishop which cooperates better with the rooks. On the other hand, the white pawn structure is not in good shape. White has only one plan here: a4 a:b and putting pressure on the b6 pawn. Black can either passively defend the b6 pawn (passive defense almost never leads to a good outcome), sacrifice the pawn but get some play on the other wing or not allow a4-a5. In the game black chose a passive defense but we will consider all the options here.
The following endgame decided who will be the 2010 US Women’s Champion. It was played in the last round and Zatonskih, who was playing white desperately needed a win to tie for the 1st place. Foisor did not have a good tournament, but this does not mean an easy win for Anna because Foisor is famous for having a good technique in the endgame. It looks like white ran out of steam at some point. Rd5 gave a more dynamic position, rather than what happened in the game. On the other hand, if Anna risked and lost then she could have ended up in 3rd place rather than a tie for 2nd.
The last example is a short one, I am sorry for giving a second example from my game. It can be used as an exercise, try to find the solution yourself, without looking at the notation. We were in heavy time trouble, thus I used less than a minute to find the following maneuver that I am really proud of.