Converting the Advantage - Queen and Rook Positions
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Converting the Advantage - Queen and Rook Positions

GM Illingworth
Oct 6, 2018, 12:49 PM |

Continuing my exploration of interesting games from the 2018 Olympiad, I analysed the Caruana-Mamedyarov game from Round 8, because of the fascinating queen and rook type of position that resulted.

First, here is the full game without annotations:

Now, here are the main lessons I learned from the queen+rook phase of this game:

1) Black's problems all started with the fact that he couldn't move his f5-pawn backwards - with the pawn on f7, White wouldn't have an opportunity to create threats to the Black king, and the position would be equal. Instead, we saw ideas like Qb7 and Rd7 to target the exposed g7-pawn.

The position above is a case in point, where White played 35.Qb7!, following the principle of keeping queens on the board when you have the safer king, and setting up the aforementioned Rd7 battery. See the next diagram for an explanation of how Black should reply - or try to figure it out for yourself first.

2) Conversely, because Black had the more exposed king, he should have looked for ways to exchange queens, even at the cost of a pawn. Because quite a few pawns were already traded, a lot of these pawn-down endgames were technically holdable for Black.

Here Black should have played 35...Qe4!. It is a pawn sacrifice but after 36.Qxa6 f4, Black gains counterplay against the White king, and after 37.Qd6 fxg3 38.Qxg3 Qf5, White's king is at least as exposed as Black's, which is more important than material parity in these types of positions (with queen and rook each). I analysed the alternative 36.Rd7 as well, and found that Black should reach a holdable pawn down endgame with correct play.

3) A detailed analysis shows just how difficult these positions are to play in practice. Both players made mistakes in the queen+rook position, but they also calculated well overall and found a lot of good moves. It's hard to give general rules of thumb for the phase of harassing the opponent's king, but it's a skill that is honed by studying more analysed examples like these.

One point you might take with you is that the key lies in the harmony of our piece placement, and finding ways to create new threats to maintain our initiative. Do you remember how Caruana did this in the diagram position below?

Solution: 34.Qh4! asked some tough questions for Black. The point is that now Rd8 by White can't just be met with ...Re8, or else White will take on e8 and c4, winning material. But after 34...Re8 35.Rd4!, Black had to choose between giving up a pawn, or defending the pawn but going passive.

4) As a continuation of point 3, it is often necessary for both the attacker and the defender to find the very best move to maintain the evaluation of the position. Unlike many simple endgames, 'the second best move' often won't cut it when the king is on the line. 

What should Mamedyarov have played here? 

You can find the answer to that question, and more, in my detailed 13-page analysis of this game, which includes an overview of the recent developments in this opening. The link is, then if you pledged $2 or more for the month, you can download the full analysis of the game, as well as other chess content. 

PS: Also, if you understand Spanish, make sure to check out the following blog post: