Thursday, February 23, 2012

Practical Rook Endings

My game in the last round of the MCC Championship against Domogoj Dragicevic taught me a bit about a certain type of rook ending, and endings in general. I must admit that with just my 30 second increment left, when the following position was reached I was sure it would end a draw.
I had seen similar types of endgames with an extra pawn end a draw with a couple of techniques available for the defender. Black can let white's king approach its pawn and then start checking from behind it. Black can try to win a pawn on the king side, and then sacrifice his rook for white's a-pawn hopefully resulting in a drawn rook versus pawn ending.
However, in this position, black is at a big disadvantage that I didn't notice at first. Black's king is stuck on the back rank which ties black's rook tot he a-file permanently. As white I decided to play on and see what would happen. My plan was to push the king side pawns so that black's rook couldn't take them and then move my king to the queen side. As it was this wasn't necessary. 1.h3 Kh8 [Black waits passively, but there is little else to do] 2.h4 [Obviously white is struggling for a plan] 2..Kg8 3.g3 Kh8 4.Kf1
At this point I had a revelation. I had gained a little time to think, and it suddenly struck me that if black's rook tries to take my g3 pawn, then I could play Rc7 and after black's rook returns to the a-file, I can play a7 followed by Rc8 and a8=Q forcing black to part with his rook. So it was also about this time that I began to wonder whether I actually needed to move my king side pawns. Oh well, it gained me some time, and no damage was done!

Just to show how important details are here is an example of a drawn endgame.
Black's king is here able to hide from checks and escape up the board if necessary. The difference is that black will be able to take at least one pawn and get back to the a-file to prevent it promoting.

I have to admit, I was lucky to win this game. I didn't know the endgame in the original position was a win for white, but kept plugging away. On the positive side, I was able to work out a winning plan over the board in pretty short time. And the best thing is that I have a little more technique that will stick in my mind for games in the future.

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