Time for Fireworks in the Endgame
Today we will look at a complex middlegame position that resolved into an even more complex endgame. There was a stage of tactical fireworks that led to a theoretical endgame. White was pressing for most of the game but I managed to get a better hand on the position when my opponent overestimated his chances. You will see the ideas of active rook and bad king, having extra pawns, passed pawns and finally a R+B vs. R. endgame refresher.
This was the last game of the Pittsburgh Open and going into the round I had 2.5/4 points and good chances of catching a prize. The only obstacle was winning with black against my local chess league teammate Ed Dean who is much lower-rated than me. My opening was shaky - after making two mistakes Ed opened up the centre and used tactics to force me into a line where I had an isolated f5-pawn. Ed played the opening stage convincingly where I had a feeling that my position was on the verge of collapsing.
There are substantial positional factors that support my evaluation. I have a major weakness on f5, the knight on f4 rules the board, my king is open and bishop is cut by the knight on f4. The only advantage that I have is the e5-knight and my pieces being close together. When the position is worse it is recommended to bring pieces close together so they are all defended. I did precisely that but what is next? The next step is to come up with a plan. Trading the knight on f4 is a good idea but it is not easy to achieve because Ng6 runs into Nh5 after a queen trade, where the f5 pawn is lost. The rook is needed on f6 as it defends the weak f5-pawn. An active plan consists of creating some room for the bishop and this is what I set out to do in the game.
Now we are down to the endgame. White's advantage remains due to better activity and less weaknesses. My justification on going into the endgame is that the weak position of my king is no longer a problem, instead in some lines, it might be a strength. The b7 and f5 pawns are weak, however if I get my rook to the 3rd file the g3 and b3-pawns will fall. We have to remember that in endgames activity sometimes is more important than pawns. The next stage of the game feature complications in time-trouble.
At this point in the game we were both low on time. There were no major blunders but rather minor miscalculations. My advantage is to have a bishop vs. his knight. However, the knight is close to my king so I have to watch out for tactics. If I get to an endgame of R+B vs. R+N with no pawns on the queenside it would be most likely an easy draw. Here, I can either play Re2 threatening Rd1 mate or Re3 hoping for a rook swap on b3 and an easy draw. I chose the safer option but since my opponent apparently was not ready to settle for a draw he tried his chance-- let us see where it led.
The tables have turned and it is I who is playing for a win here. As we know from previous articles R+B vs. R is objectively a drawn position but only if the weaker side knows about the defense along the 2nd rank or the other theoretical positions with the king on the back-rank. Ed tried to hold on to his g and h-pawns but the effort was futile. Instead, he should have aimed at giving up both pawns right away but getting the king to at least the 2nd rank, where he could have defended. The idea of the 2nd rank defense is that the defending side keeps both the rook and the king on the 2nd rank or if chased away from it on the b-file or on the 7th etc. It is very hard to force him to the last rank but even there the defense is possible.
I was really excited to get this endgame as it is a real chance to see how well I mastered it. I have studied this endgame before mainly through writing a few articles here and here and was confident in my knowledge. I also had 45 minutes left on the clock compared to his 20. At the board I got a bit confused as to how to win with his rook on the 7th. I knew how to win with the rook on the 6th and the rook on the 8th-- but forgot what to do with the rook on the 7th. As you probably have guessed already the solution is pretty simple - make a neutral rook move so he is forced to put the rook on the 8th or the 6th-ranks, and continue from there. We will refresh these endgame ideas, while analyzing the remaining of the game.
Endgames are tough. I let the advantage slip in the position I thought I knew well several times. Overall, the repetition of ideas and practice should help to learn theoretical endgames. Next week we will take a break from this new topic of endgames with full board of pieces and dedicate a few articles to basic endgame rules and ideas.