This blog post is taken from my old article and is intended as continuation of my articles about endings with each side having a rook and a bishop of opposite color, and the article about rook endings with 2 pawns vs. 1. The idea behind these series is the approach that Nimzowitsch used to call "a radioactive method" - selecting a rather narrow topic, and by learning a lot about it, understand chess much better in general. This time I would like to look at endings with rook + knight Vs. rook + knight. This material balance is also a quite frequent guest in tournaments, and some classical ideas and endgames have become well-known. Nonetheless, there is some lack of discussion of this topic in chess literature. Mikhail Botvinnik was well known for his great technique in this type of endings, and I would strongly recommend to the reader to study two famous endgames Botvinnik-Alekhine 1938, and Botvinnik-Levenfish, 1937. Instead of these, I included several less known examples from his career.
32...Rc8 Let's look at a typical game with this material balance. In this position Black is suffering from a bad pawn structure and passive pieces. 33.Re6 Obviously White does not want to trade off his rook - the best piece to collect Black's pawns. [33.Rxc8 ? 33...Kxc8 gives Black a decent position] 33...Rc7 34.a3 !? a useful waiting move; now White can move the N from d3 and attack Pd4 with the King. 34...Ne7 [34...Re7 Black cannot insist trading rooks, as now it would cost him a pawn! 35.Rxe7+ Nxe7 36.Nf4 Nc6 37.Ne6 g6 38.Kd3] 35.Rd6 Nc6 Again, Black has to come back; White's active rook paralyzes his pieces. 36.Nf4 Rf7 37.Ng6
Threatening Rxc6 37...Rc7 38.h5 Pg7 and Pf5 are cut off from each other and White can threaten to pick them up at any point 38...a5 39.Rd5 Rf7 40.Nh4 f4 41.Rf5
Now! White got the pawn structure he wanted (b4 covered, g7 fixed) and himself offers the exchange of rooks. The knight endgame is a nightmare for Black, so keeping the rook is his only chance for any counter play. 41...Rd7 42.Rxf4 d3 Desperate sacrifice. White won in a few moves. 43.cxd3 Nd4 44.b4 a4 45.Ng6 Rd5 46.Rf7+ Ka6 47.Nf4 Rd6 48.Rxg7 Rc6 49.Nd5 Rc2+ 50.Kd1
The game illustrates typical themes for chess endgames with Rook + Knight:
- Pawn Structure - weak pawns are vulnerable
- Active Rook
- Timely Transition into Knight Endgame