A Deceptively Difficult Minor Piece Ending
The position that I'm here to show you today comes from a game that we've seen before, but one on which, at least in the endgame, my annotations were completely wrong. After all, endgames are hard: it's easy to find good moves most of the time, but very hard to choose between them.
After I made a laundry list of concessions in a queenless middlegame and gave Black a couple of forced wins, they missed them both and allowed me to simply into this endgame, where I thought I had decent saving chances once the bishops were traded. As is normal with chess, it wasn't nearly that simple. White to move.
During the game I thought this was just a draw due to Black's being hard-pressed to actually queen the e-pawn and my ability to effect some favourable trades of pieces. But like most chess positions, it turns out to be far deeper and more difficult than I had imagined.
Here's a short rundown of the position:
- White's ability to effect favourable piece trades is a serious defensive resource. If White can either trade the DSBs or even more favourably trade his Knight for the enemy DSB, he ends up with a good minor piece imbalance which increases his drawing chances by quite a decent amount.
- If White can set up a blockade or trade off more than one set of pawns, he should draw comfortably. This is fairly self-explanatory, given that Black has to play quite cleverly to avoid chopping significant amounts of wood here.
- Both White and Black must decide where to place their pawns. White can play for any of several ideas involving either g3-f4, setting up the "magic" f2-g3-h4 structure or even in extreme cases blockading on the light squares with g2-g4. The ... g5 advance, cutting down on White's options, is a major theme for Black, and advances like ... f5 and ... h5 are also on the agenda.
Grr.... Too much information... How am I supposed to concentrate on the minutiae of a minor-piece ending after three hours of play? Why can't I just take my draw and go home?
While I'm sure many of you feel the same way I sometimes feel in drawish endings at the end of a long game, this post isn't over quite yet. We still have about a dozen diagrams to go, each covering different plans and variations, so buckle up and enjoy the fun/agonizingly long/intensely boring ride!
The Game Continuation:
Okay. That looks reasonable. But there clearly has to be something better than 35... e5. And it turns out, there's an improvement which is completely natural.
Black plays 35... Ke5
Okay, so the end position looks pretty awful for White if Black plays properly. In fact, faced with the starting position of this ending, the computer gives -1.25, and it looks like it might be correct. In many of these lines, Black's King and Bishop dominate the Knight, leaving it without a good square. So does White have any kind of possible improvement?
Once White plays 32. Be5, the rest of his play looks pretty forced, and Black is able to engineer some piece trades on his own terms. Is 32. Be5 wrong? Let's check. One alternative is the logical 32. Ne5:
White plays 32. Ne5
It really looks like this is the best White can hope for here: a position where he is down a pawn and not much more where Black has no clear winning plan. Maybe analyzing endgames like this is exhausting and I'm more or less done digging for a solution.
Why do those cursed holes always fill themselves back up?!?
I don't really know what the end result of this endgame is, and at any rate I'm not really able to analyze any position that deeply. So while I wait for Karsten Muller to write back, here's the computer line: