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Another Exciting Endgame
Thank you Petr Novák, Wikipedia https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chess_rook_0996.jpg for the lovely photo

Another Exciting Endgame

theturtlemoves
| 33

The title is not an oxymoron, I promise (but yes, this is another objectively drawn rook endgame with all the pawns on one side ). As discussed in that  previous article, these endgames are actually very rich and interesting. Bring on the puzzles!

The endgame I am discussing was played in 1954, between IM James Sherwin (a vanquisher of Bobby Fischer who still plays a bit nowadays!) and Paul Brandts, a master level player and also a former tournament director of the US championships.

Before we begin, I shall quickly mention that any move I mark with an exclamation mark is the only move that draws/wins - my own take on the so-called Nunn convention

Also make sure and read the annotations after attempting each puzzle. If you get stuck you can press the "?" button and it will give you the full solution.

Black to play and hold the balance:
Ok maybe that seemed pretty simple to you. Probably you are thinking "not much of a puzzle".
Well did you find the refutation of black's other tries - there are two tempting deviations from the straight and narrow for black and both lose
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Firstly what happens after the most natural (to me) 58...d4?
White to play and win?
Hopefully you considered d4 very carefully and found the forced win.
I'm sure you also considered whether to put your king on  e6 or e5 in the first puzzle second move.
I would have assumed it did not matter
It matters!
White to play and win?
Whether by intuition (my usual excuse for not calculating something!) or calculation, Brandts avoided both those tricks and played the correct moves.
The game then continued 60.Kf3 Rd7 61.Rg4!? and we have our next scene:
This puzzle is slightly subjective but I think (hope!) most strong players would agree that there is one "correct" way to play here for black



Brandts did not actually choose this route and very quickly landed himself in hot water:

Black to play and draw:
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Black did not find this last move and instead played a losing move, giving us another puzzle - white to play and win:
Sherwin got painfully close, playing the right first move but then hesitated, giving black a chance (that he didn't take!)
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Some of you will be wondering why white couldn't have done 69.Kf5 winning like in a previous puzzle after black's 68...Rc3. The answer is that white's rook placement on the b-file (one file closer to the black king  ) actually makes a key difference.
See if you can find black's play: 
Instead of testing black with this very poisonous try (ten consecutive only moves!), a lot of rook shuffling ensued (with one interesting variation that regular readers will recognise from my previous blog post - check after solving the puzzle) and then a very easy black to play and draw (honest!):
Yeah so that almost certainly didn't happen... 
Perhaps an NYT subscriber could enlighten us as the newspaper article (those were the days!) is hidden behind their paywall. We will carry on as if nothing happened for now (the players sure did!)
White pushed his f-pawn to f5 with his king on f3 (nothing else changed). At this point Black had the choice of playing for counterplay or hanging tight - a very common dilemma in these endgames. This a balancing act that many strong players have tripped up on, for example Wang Hao's 49...f5?? in this game when the correct course was hanging tight.
In this case both choices draw (often only one of them does) so I won't present it as a puzzle but do read the notes after you have solved the following puzzle:
I hope you enjoyed analysing this fascinating endgame as much as I did. I learnt a great deal from this game.
If you want to read a little bit more about the "Unsung Hero of American Chess" (Sherwin, scroll down past the puzzles) and see a photo of both the protagonists playing (on adjacent boards) then click the link.
Key takeaways:
  • Chess is 99% tactics (puzzles one, two, three and also all the others ) - "constant vigilance" as Mad-eye Moody would put it!
  • Space matters a lot in rook endgames with all pawns on one side- fight for it (puzzle four)
  • Active King supporting passed pawn + opponent's king stuck on back rank is  a deadly combination (most of the puzzles from five onwards).
  • Using the enemy pawn as shelter for  your king (i.e. not playing Kxg5 in the last puzzle) 
  • See this masterpiece by my favourite player for another great example of my previous two points.
  • Place your rook far from the opponent's king for checking distance (white winning when the rook is on a6 but not on b6 is one example of many in this post alone).
  • "Do not hurry" is a famous maxim for this sort of position.  By prolonging the fight with many meaningless shuffles, only striking when the iron was hottest, Sherwin ensured that his opponent was exhausted and that his pieces were well placed. Many half points have been thrown away by ignoring this maxim.
  • "Do not hurry" is also the advice that arguably contributed to half of Sherwin's missed wins in the game and Grandmaster Daniel Naroditsky has even gone as far as saying that you should ignore this advice completely.

What do you guys think? Is "do not hurry" good advice in this kind of endgame?

Are there any other key lessons from this endgame I am missing?

Do you agree that my solution to puzzle four is best?