My friend Chris Kreuzer, a former pupil at Richmond Junior Club and now a colleague at Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club when he’s not playing for the English Deaf Chess team, sent me a game resulting in an exciting and error-strewn rook ending. His opponent in this Thames Valley League game was talented Richmond Junior Alfie Onslow, whose game against me from earlier in the season featured here a few months ago.
Chris is a strong player whose results seem to me to be affected by his addiction to time trouble. This game was played with a time limit of 75 minutes per player for the game. There are no increments in ThamesValleyLeagueLand where, in the impoverished suburbs of West London (irony alert), most clubs can’t afford to buy digital clocks. When the rook ending was reached Chris was down to about 3 minutes on the clock to Alfie’s 12 minutes. Chris had won a pawn in the middle game but gave up material in the quest for activity and was now a pawn behind.
We’ll join the game here, where White’s just captured a pawn on c5.
Black has to choose his 45th move. In fact there are two possible moves here, as someone pointed out after the game the possibility of 45… Kd7 46. Bxe7 Kxc8 47. Bxf6, which will lead to a draw. With not much time on the clock it’s understandable that Chris missed this, instead playing the obvious bishop exchange. So…
White’s a pawn ahead in this ending, but Black’s king is centralised and he’s about to put his rook behind the passed c-pawn. My pupils know about KUFTE (King Up For The Ending, for which thanks to the late and much missed Mike Fox) and RBBPP (Rooks Belong Behind Passed Pawns).
On general principles this can’t be wrong and indeed it’s fine for a draw, as are various other moves such as f5 and Kd6.
47. Rc6+ Kf5
48. c5 Rc2
49. f3 Rc4
50. Rc8 Kf4
51. c6 f5
Perfectly reasonable play by both sides so far. Charlie White has now reached the seventh rank so Black has to be careful to shelter his king from checks.
Still fine for a draw, and perhaps not expecting the white king to march bravely up the h-file. Another way to share the point was 52… Rc1 53. g4 Kxf3 54. gxf5 e4 55. f6 when Black has to find 55… Rc2+ 56. Kh3 Rc6 in order to prevent the f-pawn’s advance and draw the game.
53. Kh3 Rc4
54. Kh4 Rc1
White’s king is becoming dangerous and now Black has only one route to equality. He has to remain active and play 55… Rc2 56. g4 fxg4 (again the only move to draw). Now White has two tries: 57. Rf8+ Kg3 58. c8Q Rxc8 59. Rxc8 Kxf3, which is a draw; or 57. fxg4 Rh2+ (only move again) 58. Kg6 Kxg4 (the final only move), which is also a draw.
Natural enough in time trouble, I suppose, as Chris wants to prevent Alfie’s king advancing, but unfortunately it loses.
The winning move. White’s threatening both g5 and gxf5, when a recapture will be met by Rf8+. Perhaps Black should try 56… fxg4 when the immediate 57. Rf8+ is only a draw but the simple recapture 57. fxg4 is winning.
Now it’s White’s turn to go wrong. This recapture should only draw but instead 57. g5 e4 58. g6 e3 59. g7 e2 60. Re8 and White wins the promotion race. Note that his king is supporting the g-pawn but is too far away to support the f-pawn.
Or 58. f6 Rxf6 59. Re8 Rc3 60. c8Q Rxc8 61. Rxc8 e3 with a draw.
59. f6 Rc4
Running out of time, Black makes what looks like a fairly random move instead of pushing his pawn.
After 59… e2 60. f7 (60. Re8 is a safer draw) 60… e1Q 61. f8Q+ Kg2 White has no more checks and, although he has an extra pawn his rook is out of play and his king is in trouble. My computer tells me he has only one way to draw, the far from obvious (at least to me) 62. Qg8. (In real life, though, with his flag hanging, Black would take a perpetual rather than looking for a mating sequence.) Black’s other drawing move is 59… Rc5+ 60. Kg6 Rc7 61. Kg7 e2 with similar play to the line above.
And, unfortunately for Chris, it’s all over.
What lessons can we learn from this?
1. Endings can often be tactical: you have to be good at accurate long-range calculation to play this sort of position well. (Of course the paradox is that positional players are likely to reach more endings than tacticians.)
2. Activity is important in rook endings.
3. Pushing passed pawns is important in endings.
4. If you’re playing any fairly fast time limit, especially without increments, if you get significantly behind on the clock in an otherwise level ending you’re probably going to lose, either by running out of time or by having to rush your moves and consequently making mistakes