Friday, April 11, 2014

Learning Endgames

Why is it that some players can just pick up an endgame book and methodically work through it, while some of us can't get to grips with them? I remember being a young player who wasn't converting good positions. As a result I purchased an endgame book. That book was called 'Practical Chess Endings' by one of my favourite players, Paul Keres. However, when I started to go through it, I found it not as practical as I was expecting, and in fact a lot of the positions that were covered didn't mean very much to me having never reached them before.

So I think for many players, myself included, study of the endgame has to evolve at a pace that reflects our practical application of that phase of the game. Nowadays, I am interested in any endgame, but I still get most interested in positions that I have experienced, wither through my own play, or through that of my students. I was recently looking at some games of one of my students when the following position was reached.
My student was white in this position, and he was very happy that the game ended in a draw (and perhaps a little lucky too). I asked him what he would have done if his opponent had played 49..g4? We played the moves 50.hxg4 Kg5 51.Bd6 Kxg4 52.c7 Nxc7 53.Bxc7 when the following position appeared.
I asked him if he'd ever looked at this ending before, and he replied he hadn't, so we played it out and I won the game easily with the pawns. However, from playing this position he learned a lot about this type of ending. First, white has a thankless task because the best he can hope for is a draw. So black can play on for free in this position. Actually there are a lot of positions like this, and it is good to get to know them and resist the temptation to offer draws. Thankfully, we have a World Champion who plays to the bitter end, thus encouraging us all to test our opponent's endgame knowledge. Second, without a plan, or some working knowledge of this endgame, it is almost impossible to know how to save it. Third, and as a consequence of the last point, it makes us think of all the other types of endgames that we need to learn, giving us that much needed incentive to get down and learn some technique.

So then, what about the ending Bishop vs 3 connected pawns? First, here are some general considerations:

- the worst pawns for trying to win include a rook's pawn
- if the pawns can all reach the 5th rank, they win.
- with a rook's pawn, it is better for the defender of the bishop controls the promotion square of that rook's pawn.
- king position is also a big factor with the defending king wanting to get in between or in front of the pawns.

A good way to learn these endgames is to have some basic positions to head for, so here are some typical drawing positions:

In both cases, the pawns can make no progress as they have been blockaded by the joint efforts of king and bishop. In the top diagram, if it is black's move and he plays 1..Ke5, white should prevent black's d-pawn advance by 2.Kc3.

It is worth noting that to draw, white wants to get his king in front of the pawns, and his bishop to a position where it is preventing the pawns' advance.

So with this knowledge, it should be able to create a plan if you ever get into this sort of position with specific moves being guided by general principles. There are even some amazing ideas like this one:
The general considerations first: white's king and bishop are in front of black's pawns which include a rook's pawn, and the bishop controls h1. The pawns have all reached the 5th rank, however, and black's king is very active. It's a close call. 1.Bb5 f3 2.Bd7 Kf4 3.Be6 g3 4.Bd7 Ke3 [Black plans to bring his king to e2 or e1 to help his pawn promote] 5.Be6 Ke2 6.Bh3 [guarding the promotion square of the most advanced pawn] 6..f2+
This seemingly hopeless position for white has one last twist. 7.Kh1 Of course if black now promotes white will sacrifice his bishop for stalemate, while playing 7..g2+ [to give white's king a flight square fails to] 8.Bxg2 f1=Q+ 9.Bxf1+ Kxf1 10.Kh2 =

So going back to the original position, what should white play in order to draw?
1..Kf5 [1..f5 2.Kd4 f4 3.Ke4 and the pawns will make no more progress] It certainly makes sense for white to bring his king to the defence] 2Kd4 f6 3.Ke3 [manouvering his king in front of the pawns advance] 3..e5 4.Bb8 [white can afford to play a waiting game allowing the pawns to advance which they surely will if black has any designs on winning] 4..g5 5.Kf3
Black can't advance any of the pawns without compromising his position and advancing the king doesn't help either. 5..Kd5 6.Bc7 e4+ 7.Ke2 f4 8.Bd8 g4 9.Bc7 f3+ 10.Ke3 with a dark squared blockade.

Saying that, it can be seen just how difficult it is to play these type of positions. I seriously recommend setting up some positions and playing them out, with an opponent if you can find one. There is also the Nalimov Tablebases which work with 6 man endgames, and thus can definitively tell us the result of all endgames with king and bishop versus king and 3 pawns. Interestingly, I originally set the wrong position up in the Tablebase and was surprised to see that white was losing.
Even though this position sees black with a rook's pawn, and it is further back than in the main example, this position is winning for black according to the Tablebase. I suppose white's king is further from the action and his bishop doesn't control h1. It would be an interesting practical position to play from, maybe changing things a little by placing the bishop on b7 as well.

* I used Averbakh's volume on minor piece endings to help me write this:

No comments:

Post a Comment