The Mystery Unwrapped

The Mystery Unwrapped‎

WIM energia
16 | Endgames

Today, I will deviate from my usual format of playing out the endgames but instead will present the analysis of the endgame mentioned in the last article. The reason is that I followed the game in live format and at the same time analyzed with an engine. It would be cheating to play this endgame out, knowing the main lines of play in advance.

Nevertheless, the endgame is of importance not only because it was played between the two top players in the Women’s World Championship but also because of the controversial Be7 decision that white made. Many of us followed the live transmission of the game Hou – Koneru and there were many grandmasters and international masters kibitzing during the game. Some said that the resulting position is drawn, some said that Be7 is an excellent move. We did not get a chance to see if taking the bishop leads black to a draw because Koneru followed another continuation during the game. On one of the leading Russian chess websites WGM Tatiana Grabuzova published an analysis that assesses Be7 as an excellent move leading white to a victory. I was surprised as my preliminary analysis showed that black can hold the endgame but some of the defensive moves are very hard to find.  The unsettled opinion of Be7's evaluation intrigued me. I decided to try my hand at solving the mystery of the position. If you know any other published analysis of this endgame please let me know.


Until now, white had only one line to follow, while black had to find two hard moves: Bh4 and Kg7. This is a critical position because white has a couple of plans to pursue. We will look at the most critical ones.

Plan 1: The first plan is the most logical one and suggested by some grandmasters during the live game: f5-f6-Kf5-e6. White will get two pawns on the 6th rank. Black would have the king on the 8th rank and the bishop maneuvering to stop the pawns from advancing further. The only disadvantage of this plan is that the king will not be able to get to the black c-pawns as the only penetration square d6 will be covered by the bishop. In many lines black can achieve an easy draw by sacrificing the bishop on the e7-square when white pushes the pawn forward. This plan at first looks very dangerous for black but as you look closer you realize how simple it is for black to defend. White cannot get to the c-pawns, and pushing the e- or f-pawns does not lead to victory.

Plan 2: White will go to take the c-pawns first and only then move the central pawns. This can be achieved with the first move of Kd7 or Kd6. The advantage of Kd7 is that it controls the e8 square – the promotion square of the e-pawn. Kd6 has the advantage of attacking both c pawns at the same time. We will follow the Kd7 line as the main line because it requires a precise defense from the black side.


Black’s main defensive resource is to attack the e-pawn from behind with the Bg3 move. After the pawn moves to e6 black will play Bh4 fixing the pawns on the light squares. We have reached another critical position, I think here many strong players would have faltered. The move is not obvious at all but if we connect it to the plan only then it becomes clear why black must play Kg7. White has two threats: to play Kb5-K:a5 and promote the a-pawn or to try to promote the c-pawn after taking on c5.


White has three pawns for a piece. The f and e pawns are blocked on the dark squares. If the white king goes to pick up the a-pawn, black has just enough time to take on f5 and e6 and block the c-pawn with the king. We have seen a similar position in the notes above where it is zugzwang. Here it favors black as she has enough time to put the bishop on c7 when the pawn gets to c6. During the game it is hard to realize that white has no way of gaining an extra tempo in this position. Even during the analysis it took me a while to realize that the position is that of a zugzwang.


We got through this highly complicated endgame. Given this analysis I believe that the position after Be7 is a draw if black takes the bishop. I will not show the real game here as black did not take the bishop and later on lost the game. The point of the analysis was to figure out the evaluation of the position after Be7. You can find the game elsewhere. For the next week we will look at the endgame that happened in the just-finished Las Vegas tournament between GM Friedel and GM Shulman. I am always fascinated with the precision that Josh plays the endgames. Happy New Year everyone!

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