The Endgame Tactician: Knight vs Pawn
Wednesday, September 05, 2007
If the knight is able to occupy or threaten any square in the pawn's path, except a corner square, he can force a draw.
Generally, these endings play themselves, but sometimes they require brutal calculation. Let's look at positions where the players goofed so that we might learn from them.
White to play. Morant Sampol-Hallerod, Calvia 2006. The obvious drawing moves are Na2 and Nc2 which occupy or threaten squares in the pawn's path. White played 51.Na6?? and soon lost the game, despite being a piece up.
White to play. Vlkovic-Arpa, Slovakia 1998. The knight is only threatening a corner square, but after 60.Ke6?? Nf8+, it threatened h7 and forced a draw. White should have secured the win by protecting the f8 square with 60.Ke8.
White to move. Appel-Liepold, Kaufbeuren 1998. Quick! Can you spot White's winning move? Appel played 65.h5? Ng4! and drew, but much better was the seemingly counter-intuitive 65.Kf5!, which stops the knight from reaching g4 and wins.
White to move. Petraki-Papadimitrou, Nikea 2005. White played 66.Nc1+ and lost. What?! You're about to say, "But his move followed our rule!" and you're perfectly correct. This just happens to be a rare exception.
White actually had two choices: Nb4 (drawing) and Nc1 (losing). Remember the maxim, "A Knight on the Rim is Dim" and you'll make the right move, even if you encounter one of these mysterious exceptions in your games.
Black to play. Ikonnikov-Verlan, France 2004. Black must calculate deeply to find the draw. Nd8? accomplishes nothing, for after that where does the knight go? The White king is defending c6. Instead, 67...Nh6!! 58.a5 Nf5 59.a6 Ne7+ and the White king can't protect both c6 and c8 so it's a draw.
If you couldn't solve this position, no worries. Sergei Verlan couldn't solve this position over the board, and his FIDE rating was 2285. However, you should have realized that Nd8 led nowhere, as he was able to do.
I hope you found these positions interesting and instructive. :)