The reason for my interest in the type of pawn ending you saw last week was a recent game in which I had the white pieces. We reached this position, with Black to play after hoovering off all the big guys very quickly, ending with a trade of rooks on the d-file.
Just as last week, if you’re a chess improver yourself, play through these positions before reading on. If you’re a chess teacher, give them to your students to play through. Feel free to add some more tweaks yourself and see what happens.
The game finished bathetically as my opponent (rated slightly below me) carelessly failed to notice my threat to create an OPP. 24… c4?? 25. g4 Kc6 26. h5 Kd6 27. h6 and Black resigned.
In fact this position is not very exciting. Black has four drawing moves. He can play f5 to prevent g4 or move his king to the c-file (it doesn’t matter which square) when he’ll be able to stop the pawn from queening. Reasonable play from both sides will then result in a draw. I’d have to be careful, though, not to play h5 at the wrong time when I’ll just end up losing it.
It’s interesting to tweak the position to see which positions are winning for White and which are drawing. Let’s assume White has played g4 and place the kings on different squares.
Try this, for example, with White to play.
Here White, according to Stockfish, has three winning moves: h5, Kd3 and Kf3. Ke3, though, is only a draw.
Let’s play a few moves.
1. h5 gxh5 2. gxh5 Ke6 and now the white king has to decide which way he’s going.
The simple plan is to head towards the h-pawn. We’ll then be able to give up our passed pawn and capture the two black king-side pawns in return. A sample variation: 3. Kf3 f5 4. Kg3 Kf6 5. Kh4 b5 6. b4 cxb4 7. cxb4 a6 8. h6 Kg6 9. h7 Kxh7 10. Kg5 f4 11. Kf5 f3 12. Kxe5 Kg6 13. Kf4 Kf6 14. Kxf3 and wins.
We can also win by going the other way, but it’s rather more complicated. For instance: 3. Kd3 Kf5 (other tries: 3… f5 4. h6 Kf6 5. Kc4 a6 6. Kd5 e4 7. h7 Kg7 8. Ke5 Kxh7 9. Kxf5 and wins or 3… b5 4. c4 b4 5. h6 Kf7 6. Ke4 Kg6 7. h7 Kxh7 8. Kd5 Kg7 9. Kxc5 e4 10. Kd6 f5 11. Ke5 and wins) 4. a4 Kg5 5. Ke4! Kxh5 6. Kf5! e4 7. c4 a5 8. Kxf6 (Kxe4 is simpler but this is more fun) 8… Kg4 9. Ke5! Kf3 10. b3! (In this line White only wins because he has this spare move) 10… Kxf2 11. Kxe4! Ke2 12. Kd5! Kd3 13. Kc6! Kc3 14. Kxb6! Kxb3 15. Kb5! and wins.
On the other hand, 3. Ke3, as Winston Churchill is alleged to have commented when meeting a new young MP called Clive Bossom, is neither one thing nor the other, and in fact loses after 3… f5 when White won’t be able to hold the h-pawn, leaving Black with an extra pawn and a simple win.