Friday, January 22, 2016

Endgame Discovery?

After looking at 18th century games by the likes of Philidor and Bowdler yesterday, today I thought I'd get more up to date. I've been looking at games of Chigorin today. Yes, I know, I'm still over 100 years behind the times, but I enjoy looking at the history of chess, and an interesting position is exactly that, whenever or wherever it was played.

Chigorin is a well known historical chess figure playing 2 World Championship matches in the late 1800's against Steinitz. He lost both matches, but in them he proved himself a worthy competitor. He had a tactical flair and a great imagination, which I'd never really understood because I hadn't studied many of his games, and certainly not in any depth.

Here he is black against Isidor Gunsberg in a match they played in 1890. Chigorin came up with the magnificent line opening sacrifice 35..Rxf3!!. While the majority of white's pieces sit idly on the queen side, black's will penetrate the white position on the weakened dark squares around white's king. The rest of the game sees more imaginative moves bring black's pieces into the attack.

Of course by this stage in the development of chess, a player had to able to play in a rounded style, combining opening knowledge, endgame ability, tactical flair and defensive skills. Steinitz' new positional approach was taking hold of the game, and more comprehensive study was finding defensive resources against the old school of gambiteers.

The fighting qualities of all players is shown through their desire to win, and to play on in even positions. This is seen no more clearly in the games of the current World Champion, Magnus Carlsen. Chigorin had this tenacity too. I looked at an even endgame that he kept fighting on to eventually beat another heavyweight of that era, Tarrasch. The game has been analysed by many, including Kasparov et al. in "My Great Predecessors Volume 1" (MGP). Now I'm hardly one to criticise the great man, who is in my opinion the greatest player to have ever lived, but I think there might be an error in the analysis of this endgame by Kasparov and his team.

Here's the critical position from this endgame. The build up to this had been fascinating, as white worked hard to get blood from a stone. Here Tarrasch played 54..Rc1? "the decisive mistake" according to MGP. Instead black had to play 54..Rc2 winning a tempo by hitting the h2 pawn. The point in its effort to help promote the pawn, white's king will either have to go to c8, or c6 giving the black rook time to take on h2 and then bounce back to c2 to sacrifice itself for white's remaining pawn, giving a drawn rook versus pawn endgame.

After 54..Rc1 55.Ke5 Tarrasch played 55..hxg3 56.hxg3 Rc3 and he is indeed losing this position.

With black to move here, he would have no useful moves, so Chigorin simply played 57.Ra7! (after a couple of repetitions) leaving black in zugzwang.

My question is why did black have to capture on g3 on move 55? In my opinion, 54..Rc1 isn't a decisive mistake, but 55..hxg3 most certainly is. Instead of 55..hxg3, black has 2 defences which should draw.

Black can play 55..Rc6 cutting off black's king, or even 55..Rc2 returning to the position from before but a tempo down. I don't think that tempo makes a difference. After 55..Rc2 if white's king approaches the c-pawn then we go with Kasparov's plan of checking it until it goes to the c-file. The only other plan seems to be 56.gxh4 Kxh4 57.Kxf5

Now if black plays 57..Kh3, I can't see how white can win. Black's plan is simply to check the white king from the side until it isn't attacking g4, then take on h2. White can sacrifice the c-pawn and then win black's g-pawn with 58.c8=Q Rxc8 59.Rh7+ Kg2 60.Kg4, but according to Nalimov tablebases this is a draw.

Perhaps someone can refute my analysis, or perhaps I can be added to the list of annotators who have contributed something to endgame analysis?

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