Chapter 8 of Move Two! returns to the subject of pawn endings. When novices reach the point where are no longer making simple tactical oversights they will suddenly find that many of their games reach the ending. Time and again, as my Richmond Junior Chess Club database testifies, players who are a pawn down will trade off their last piece just thinking it’s an equal exchange, and find themselves moving from, say, a rook ending with good drawing chances, into a lost pawn ending. A good understanding of pawn endings is therefore essential at this level. I often argue that you can’t really play other endings until you understand pawn endings, because you won’t know when or whether to trade pieces. Likewise, you can’t really play middlegames until you understand endings, and you can’t really play openings until you understand middlegames.
So we start with our first basic multi-pawn position: king and six pawns against king and five. (With younger players I start with king and six against king and four.) When I take the black pieces against less experienced players I often win because my opponents just advance their pawns, allowing my king to march up the board and capture them. So we have the first rule of endings: Use Your King, or as Mike Fox used to say, KUFTE (King Up For The Ending).
You then need to understand the logic of advancing on the side where you have a pawn advantage, and the idea of leading with the pawn which doesn’t have an opposite number to create a passed pawns. (Children who have gone through my Beginners’ Course will have learnt this technique for creating passed pawns in their Capture the Flag games.) Finally, you need to understand the plan of running your king over to the other side while your opponent has to stop to capture your passed pawn. Children often find the concept of forming multi-move plans difficult to comprehend.
Once students have mastered this position they can move on to king and three against king and two on the same side. This requires a lot more subtlety along with understanding the concept of the Opposition. Simply creating a passed pawn will, as they will have learnt in Chapter 4, often just lead to a drawn position. Sometimes we can win by creating a passed pawn and getting in front of it. On other occasions we can win by blocking the pawns and getting our king round the side. These are important techniques which will need a lot of repetition and reinforcement to aid full high-level understanding.
We then look at the familiar sacrificial breakthrough with three pawns against three (f5, g5, h5 v f7, g7, h7) in the absence of kings. Finally, we consider the relationship between the opening and the ending, by looking at the potential pawn ending arising from the Exchange Variation of the Ruy Lopez, an opening which will be considered in more detail in a later chapter.
A short quiz then tests the student’s understanding of some of the concepts considered in this chapter.
The Activities section invites readers to try out the opening featured in the next chapter: the Two Knights’ Defence. In particular, after 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6, investigation of the moves 4. Ng5 and 4. d4 is encouraged.
Masters of the Universe Chapter 8 moves into the 1950s and 60s, introducing two very different players, Vasily Smyslov and Mikhail Tal. In selecting the games for this section I was looking at short games with tactical points which were easy to understand positionally, just the sort of game that Nigel is looking for at the moment. If there was a suitable game available from the player’s youth, that would be my choice. There was a Smyslov game from his teens readily available, but it proved surprisingly difficult to find a suitable early Tal game because he chose such complex openings. It might be easier to find something now, in these days of mega databases, but I eventually chose a win against Spassky from 1979.