An unexamined life is not worth living.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Chess Endgames – Passed Pawns Must Be Pushed

Passed pawns in the endgame are more powerful than in the middlegame. With few pieces left on the board, they can be supported by their own king and tie up entire opponent’s army. As usual, it takes a bit of experience to sense that a pawn is especially dangerous in a given situation. Feel free to skip to the last diagram in this post to see the full power of passed pawns.

Jiganchine – Black, BC – Washington scholastic match, 1999

image Black to move.

My opponent did not find anything better than repeat the position after 41… Kf6 42. Rb6+ Kf5 43. Rb7 Kg6 44. Rb6+ Kg5 45. Rb7 Kf6 1/2-1/2
At the time I took it for granted that rook endgame with minimal material advantage ended as a draw. However, looking at this position with the fresh eye, draws attention to the fact that White’s king is very badly placed. It is completely cut off from the center of the board, so Black should take advantage of it: 41… d4!

image  On top of White’s king being badly placed, Black king protects the squares on the ‘d’ file from the White rook, so White has great difficulties stopping this pawn. I analyzed two options – both are losing for White.

a) 42. Rxg7 d3 43. Rg8 Kd5 44. Rd8+ Kc4 45. Rd7 Kc3 46. Rc7+ Kd4 47.Rxh7 d2 48. Rd7+ Ke3 49. h4 Ra4

image Black is winning: the White king is cut off along 4th rank,White has to sacrifice the rook for 'd' pawn

trying to stop the pawn immediately does not help either:
b) 42. Rb8 d3 43.Rd8 d2 44. h4 h5 

image White is in some kind of amazing zugzwang. Either his king has to leave the ‘g’ file, making e5-e4 break possible, or the rook has to go to d3, which turns out also problematic.
45. Kh2 e4! 46. fxe4 Ke5 47. Kg3 Kxe4 –+ Black king advances to support the pawn
45. Kf2? d1=Q+
45. Rd3 This is the only square for the rook on the ‘d’ file, but here comes: 45… e4!! 46. fxe4 Ra3!!

image Black wins as he is going to get a new queen. The triumph of the passed pawn!

Why did my opponent not consider this advance of the pawn, and why did I overlook it in whatever analysis I did after the game? The power of material must be so strong in player’s heads, that giving up even a pawn often does not occur to many players.

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