Thursday, March 10, 2011

MCC Endgame Group 9/3/11 Zugzwang

The fortnightly meeting of the Melbourne MCC Endgame Group looked at the subject of Zugzwang. As a subject it hasn't really been dealt with too deeply by writers. There is a chapter in John Nunn's 1988 book "Tactical Chess Endings" with some quite difficult examples. And there is a chapter in Mueller and Pajeken's 2008 book "How to play Chess Endings". But beyond that, i haven't been able to find that much, other than the references that are spread through endgame books.

Zugzwang is a powerful tactic though, and the study of zugzwang takes into account issues such as, time, space, waiting/wasting moves, triangulation, targets and weaknesses etc. I'm certain that an appreciation of this tactic would be of benefit to any player's endgame and middlegame understanding.

As a group we started by looking at some classic zugzwangs. If you haven't seen them before, the finale to the games Alekhine-Nimzovich San Remo 1930, and Short-Timman Tilburg 1991 must surely make an impression.

Alekhine-Nimzovich San Remo 1930. Black has no good move, so white played 32.g3 here and put him into zugzwang!

Nigel Short, playing white in this game, saw that his opponent, Jan Timman, has no useful moves so he embarked on one of the most remarkable plans in chess history. White here played 31.Kh2! and black is powerless to stop the king marching all the way to h6 to support checkmate on g7. Black is virtually in zugzwang.

Of course, zugzwang is seen as an endgame tactic, as that is where it is most prevalent. Probably without even knowing it, many of us are aiming for certain positions in endgames which are actually zugzwangs. This will especially be the case in pawnless endgames, and pure pawn endgames, though there are plenty of zugzwang positions in all types of endgames. For instance, an endgame we have looked at in the Group before between Kramnik and Ponmariov from the 2009 Tal Memorial shows an excellent zugzwang in a position where a rook tackles a bishop.

Kramnik, as white, had been searching for this position for some time in this game. Black to move cannot move his king so must move his bishop. Any B move on the h2-b8 diagonal immediately loses the h-pawn, while Bf2 allows the rook to fork on f4. So black is in zugzwang, and immediately resigned.

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