Why Did He Resign?
© Greg Savage

Why Did He Resign?

GM Illingworth
Feb 15, 2019, 3:46 PM |

When we're going through games, especially at a fairly fast pace, we'll often see the game come to a sudden end and ask, 'why did they resign?'

Often the answer is quite obvious after looking for a few seconds, but sometimes, the reason requires some searching.

In yesterday's post, Chess.com user liamchez asked a great question:

liamchez wrote:

How did Wang Hao Lose vs Naka? Was it on time? Bc his position looks just fine?


 To save you having to look it up, here is the position in question:

Okay, technically Nakamura played a move here as Black before White resigned, but you'll have the chance to play like Naka soon! 
Now, it may seem like White has a fortress, because there is only one weakness (on f2), and if Black tries to bring the king to e1, White can play Kf1 and threaten to trade Black's last pawn in various ways to reach the theoretically drawn (with a few exceptions) Rook and Bishop vs. Rook endgame. 
© ArtStation
What do you think Nakamura played here?
Well done! It was important to fix the f2-pawn in place for the next part of Black's plan.
Now, who can tell me the different ways of breaking down fortresses?
1) Focus everything on one target, destroying it with superior force.
2) Switch between targets, such that the opponent can't cover everything at once.
3) Force the opponent into zugzwang, so they have to 'release' the fortress
There's also a fourth way, which I'll share with you a bit later!
Anyway, let's say White plays 73.Rf4 in the position above, seemingly forcing Black's last pawn off the board. How do we win now?
You probably know already that having the king on the sixth rank in front of our pawn in the King+Pawn vs. King endgame is always a win unless the pawn can be captured by force by the defending side's King. But do you remember the way to seal the deal with a knight's pawn?
To clarify - the rule about advancing with/without check to the 7th rank only applies when the pawn is in front of the king. If the stronger side's king already controls the promotion square, it doesn't matter.
What if your opponent has no time on the clock, and isn't familiar with this winning method? Then we can play for a trick! Can you figure it out? 
I have caught out many young students with this trick in lessons - and you have nothing to lose when you're losing! It goes to show that we should learn not just whether a position is a win or not, but how to win it, and how to make the most out of our chances, even when we are losing. 
That's a good topic for another time, but let's go with another topic - maximising our chances when we are drawing.
No, not that kind of drawing! But seriously, how do we win a drawn position?
In my experience, it often comes down to 'bluffing' our opponent that they are really lost. That can be easier to do when we genuinely believe we are winning, as the opponent feels our genuine confidence and may doubt themselves!
Believe it or not, that can even happen among very strong players. Let's take two examples:

In this position, Black resigned, but he could have still achieved a draw. The question for you is - how do you draw as Black?
When you have your answer, compare it with the variation below, and see if you found the fortress:

The arising position is a simple draw, as White can't get his king out of the queenside prison, and advancing a5 earlier only leaves the king completely tied up. It was a long time since I read the anecdote, but I think Svidler hallucinated that White could bring his king over to the kingside and take the h6-pawn to win, not noticing Ba5/Kd6 in reply to Kc8. 
Maybe the best option is to just never resign? In some cases, that would be a bit insulting to the opponent, but there are other times where one could hold the draw just by playing out the position to its natural conclusion:
Black resigned in this position, because he realised that his knight was trapped and would be lost. But let's continue the game in the event of natural moves by both sides: 

This is a fortress that many players lower rated than Shankland know about (thanks to endgame manuals such as De La Villa's '100 Endgames You Must Know'), but in the heat of battle Shankland simply forgot that the usual Ka8 fortress also works with the king on c8. 
But before you get too cynical, try to solve this puzzle from the 2016 World Chess Championship rapid playoff! Black to play and force the draw, the same way Karjakin did.
Note that the alternatives to 84.hxg6 also draw - 84.hxg5 is also stalemate, and allowing ...gxh4 leads to the well-known 'wrong rook's pawn' drawn position. 
So, what were the main lessons from today's post?
1) There's no such thing as a dumb question in chess! 
2) If you aren't sure why the game ended in a position, check it for yourself. Maybe you saw something one or both players missed!
3) From the better side of a drawn position, unleash your inner actor and look confident. Maybe the opponent will get bluffed and give up just before the finish line of a draw! 
4) Fortresses don't have to be based around defending the main target - stalemate fortresses also exist, and can be very beautiful when they arise!
What are your thoughts (forts?) on resigning and fortresses? Share your favourite examples in the comments below!