Monday, January 18, 2016

Endgame Time

Yesterday I posted a great counter attacking game from the Australian Junior Championship. These are exactly the sort of games where juniors can show their abilities, direct targets, tactical possibilities, cut and thrust. Of course the downside of too much tactical and opening study can weaken other parts of the game, and it is no surprise that juniors tend to be poor positionally, and at the endgame.

Before I show that endgame, the hero of yesterday, Heath Gooch took another scalp today by drawing with David Cannon, the top seed in the tournament. Here's the final position.

The position is levellish, with opposite coloured bishops on the board, but that just gives both sides greater attacking opportunities at the moment. I am shaking my head in disbelief that 2 under 16's should agree to a draw in this position, when the game is full of life, and I can almost hear IM Robert Jamieson's teeth grinding while saying "don't agree to draws while there's life in the position: how can you improve if you're scared to lose?"

The endgame I saw today started in this position:

Black has a winning position, but couldn't seem to finish things off. Here black can win a pawn straight off using simple forks. 1..Ne3+ 2.Kf3 Nf5 and the d-pawn falls as 3.Ke4 fails to Nd6+ forking the bishop. Instead he played 1..Nb4? and the game continued for a while until it reached this position.

Again, searching for checks helps as 1..Nd5+ 2.Ke4 f6  leaves white with no good moves, while black's knight can move around to attack d4 under favourable circumstances. Instead, black decided to manouvre his king back round to the king side until white blundered into the following position.

Knowing that a fork can be used to win material from a check should help us realise that the knight would really like to get to e2. So in the above position 1..Nc3 achieves that aim immediately as the bishop is attacked and so are both of the squares it can move to which defend e2! Alas, black felt it was time to advance his g-pawn and the game ended a draw.!

I'm of the opinion that both these young players would have had no problem seeing these knight forks in a middlegame setting, so why are they so difficult to see with less pieces on the board? Spending a little bit of time each week looking through an endgame, or some endgames, or some endgame theory or tactics is unbelievably beneficial for most players.


  1. In the game Cannon v Gooch - who is to move in the final position? If white, can't he play with a plan of Rg6 and Qe3 with the threat of Bxh6 with a strong attack? Surely white has better attacking prospects in the positions.

    Regarding the decision by the players to agree a draw, I will play devil's advocate. What readers have to understand is that these players were likely to feel the pressure to do well in the tournament. Bear in the mind, they will be aware how much effort it would have taken (particularly to travel and accommodate) to prepare for the tournament. From this (wider tournament context) perspective, agreeing a draw at this stage is a valid strategy.

    However, as far as a developing a "will to win", agreeing to this type of draw is probably detrimental.

    1. I would have to disagree with you there; with ...Qf5 coming black must be better, all White's pawns are weak and not going anywhere soon (especially after Rg6?! Qf5 when Black simply picks up the pawn and the white rook will have to retreat). I also have some sympathy for the players here though, with all the travel and arrangements and it being a national competition, Black would not be unhappy with a draw (as black especially) against the top seed, while White picks the safe route out of a slightly worse position and takes no risks.

    2. I would have to disagree with you there; white has a very simple plan to counter Qf5. 1) Qb6 seems like a very strong move. If black queen is away from the 7-th, white attacks both a6 and c6. and 2) bishop could be moved to a5 at some point. All in all, while I agree that it is probably equal, I would certainly prefer white.


  2. Yes juniors need to study endungs.

  3. The Endgame study with K+N+3P vs K+B+2P between Eddie Han vs Tom Slater-Jones was a time scramble - with Tom playing on increments, and Eddie playing with around 6 minutes left. Although I agree with your point - juniors should go for the throat - don't settle for draws, and study more endgames (which are in fact neglected for openings in the case of most juniors) - but in this case, black was in serious time trouble and could not find the wins. Thus I believe that a more appropriate sample should be used than the one above.

  4. I understand that time pressure can be an issue in endgames, but the under 16's are on a 30 second increment. In the middlegame, juniors are spotting knight forks within 30 seconds, but here they were not. I would happily find more examples of juniors playing endgames poorly, and adults too, as it is a neglected part of study these days.