Today's article is dedicated to the endgame Ramirez - Robson from the US Championship. This is the battle between two players who won the prestigious Samford Fellowship - Robson at the age of 14 in 2009 and Ramirez this year. This endgame is an excellent illustration of two key general endgame ideas: king activity and passed pawns. As we go and try to answer many questions regarding the moves and plans in this endgame, I will concentrate on these two key ideas and show them in the analysis.
Watching Ray Robson play in the US Championship I got an impression that it is very hard for his opponents to win against him when being up material. A good illustration is his game against Shulman, which we covered last week. My guess is that he has an excellent endgame technique, he is quite resourceful, and has amazing feel for endgame dynamics. He worked and maybe is still working with GM Onischuk, who is famous for his endgame technique as well. In postmortem analysis I watched Ray defending seemingly impossible to hold positions against such strong GMs as Hess and Seirewan. They looked losing and Ray agreed with the evaluation but managed to put so many problems before his opponents that the winning endgames turned into drawn ones and the drawn into lost ones. Today's endgame is a good illustration of Robson's excellent technique.
My evaluation of the positions is that white is better due to being up an exchange. The only problem that white has-- and it can be a long-term problem-- is the poor position of the king. If the pawn were on g2 instead of g3 I would think that white's position is close to winning. However, the g3-pawn leaves the weakness of light squares around the white king. The black king can get into the game freely, especially in the endgame stage. Still, going into the endgame seems to be the right decision because with queens on the board the white king can come under attack.
Here, we arrived at the endgame where the black bishop on f3 inflicts pain on the white king. Rh8 followed by Rh1 is a threat. The position of the white king is permanently bad because it cannot get out of the cage set-up by the black bishop. The only solution to white's problems is to give back the exchange on f3 and hope that the pawn majority on the queenside will win the game.
Now, it looks like white is out of danger - the c-pawn is very dangerous. White is also up a pawn and his rook will get behind the c-pawn, what is the ideal position for the rook. Still, white's position is not better! His king cannot get into the game due to the monstrous pawn on f3. If black manages to push the pawn to f4 and then to get the e3 break the f3-pawn can be more dangerous than the c-pawn. It is like black is playing with an extra piece - the king.
By sacrificing the g-pawn white got some room for the king. The c-pawn and the rook on the c-file restrict the black rook. Black's only chance is to get a pawn break in on the kingside. It can be either g3 or e3. This is why white should have the rook on the 4th or the 3rd- ranks at all times and soon enough a draw would be agreed.
I wonder if Robson all-along was playing this endgame for a win. I am pretty sure that he saw the forcing draw Rd8 move but the moves that he played offered maybe more play for white but also room for a mistake. Let us retrace the sequence of events of the game.
First, black was down an exchange but had the monstrous bishop on f3. Then facing the mating threats Ramirez gave back the exchange but managed to grab some pawns on the queenside. He placed the rook behind the passed c-pawn and pushed it all the way to the 7th- rank which limited the black rook's activity. This was not sufficient for an advantage because white all-along couldn't get the king into the game. At last, he sacrificed the g-pawn to get room for the king but blundered the idea of black's pawn break. In the end the black passed pawns were more dangerous than the white c-pawn because they were supported by their king and because they threatened the white king. An excellent technique by Robson.
Next week we will continue exploring endgame ideas from the US Championship.