“To improve at chess you should in the first instance study the endgame.”
Jose Raul Capablanca
“In the ending the king is a powerful piece for assisting his own pawns, or stopping the adverse pawns.”
Happy New Year! This is the time of new beginnings, New Year resolutions and hope. We are going to be better, do more and achieve more. I wish to give you a helping hand in starting on the right foot chess-wise and remind you of the quotes by Capablanca and Steinitz (see above). Yes, it sounds a bit funny to talk about the endgame at the beginning of the year; however studying the endgame has maintained its importance and contributes mightily in improving one’s play. This time I have chosen a puzzle by GM Ray Robson. Have a look at it (White to move) and give it a try before reading on. No engines please! Your brain is still very powerful and you need to use it.
Test your instinct and write down what you think is the result of this endgame. Probably your mind is already running back and forth, adding moves along possible lines to back up your instinct. How is it working? Do you need help? Let’s do this together and see where it is going to take us!
1. Material: White is up 3 pawns in a King and pawns endgame. This is pretty overwhelming.
2. Black has only the lone King, so we do not have to worry about Black playing for a win.
3. All pawns are passed; right away we need to activate the square rule trigger. The lone king should be in the square to be able to catch any of the pawns. We see Kg7 is in all 3 pawns squares, meaning the pawns would not be able to promote by themselves and will need help from Kh1.
4. The h3-pawn is a side pawn, meaning all black has to do is capture the e5- and g6-pawns, followed by going straight to the h8-corner in order to get a draw.
5. Now if you are more advanced, you might have learned of instances when 2 isolated, passed pawns (such as e5- and g6-) can defend themselves until their king comes to help. Do you remember where the lone king should be in those instances? It must be in front of the less advance pawn or on the e6-square in this case; if that would be true, the lone king could not capture the e5-pawn because the g6-pawn would promote with ease. Unfortunately the lone king is in front of the more advanced pawn and could capture it right away, followed by the capture of the e5-pawn.
6. The h3-pawn is one tiny step too far back and could not help the g6-pawn.
I believe by now you have realized Kh1 must move. It is the only logical conclusion, as well as the only way to fight for a desired win. If you got so far, I think you have a pretty good handle on the king and pawns endgames; also this might have been a good review of how to piece all above details together.
This is the moment of truth when we put meat to the bones. Move choices and order matter; any plan is worth much less if we cannot piece together the right moves. Please verify your solution:
Did you get it right? If the answer is “Yes” you should be proud; probably you are collecting a lot of half points winning or drawing such endgames. If the answer is “No”, you should look objectively where your instinct and knowledge was different. Those are for sure areas where you can improve your game and get better in the process. If you have any games and/ or positions you would like me to look at, please do not hesitate to let me know. I will gladly include them in my column for everyone’s benefit. Looking forward to your messages!
Valer Eugen Demian