Friday, July 06, 2007

Pawns rule

Here you have a typical practical ending.

White to move and win.

This is a typical situation where the middlegame has just ended and the practical endgame has just began. White is better and a pawn ahead and should be able to win. I played this against a few different chess engines and proved that it is even possible to lose in this position with white. Which is the very reason why I would offer a draw in this position when I had to play it with white against an opponent with 100 ratingpoints more. Ok, by now you are convinced that this kind of positions is not my forte.

As you can easily see, theoretical endings are of very little use here at all. If all pawns and pieces are traded off I'm left with the a-pawn which would be a theoretical draw. So when things develop, there will come a moment that the knowledge of the theoretical ending king+rim-pawn vs king=draw might play a role and makes me steering away from it. But as for NOW, that knowledge is not going to help me.

The murky waters of the the middlegame which caused any plan to fail lay behind. Here is where chess begins. The kind of chess that is suited for the human mind. Where you can expect that a plan can be followed, no matter what your opponent thinks of it. With the element of luck eliminated. With the middlegame we left another sort of chess behind. A sort of chess that is not suited for the human mind. Where only repetition of the mantra "tactics, tactics, tactics" can offer some hope to survive.

What you see here are the leftovers from a copious meal called the middlegame. What you took home in your doggy-bag. All accumulated advantages during the previous stage are here. All the results from positional decisions, conscious or not, are found here. In the turmoil of the middlegame they were of no use. But now they are here ready to use. Of course you have to stay on guard for skewers, forks and matingnets. But tactics are not anymore the meat of this game. Here is what Capablanca meant with "in order to learn chess you have to start with the endgame". Ok, point made.

Shereshevsky warns us that in order to play this part of the game, you have to change your mindset. The goal from now on is obvious: queen a pawn and prevent your opponent from doing the same. You need other tools for this than you are used to in the middlegame.
You have to gather the tools you need here yourself. By studying this kind of positions from annotated mastergames. Playing out the positions against different chess engines will show if you master your newly acquired tools.

Pawns rule.
In the middlegame you might use your pawns as a crowbar to pry open the enemy king position. Or you sac them by the dozen to give your rooks some air. But this stage of the game is governed by pawns. It are the pawns that decide if a bishop is bad or a knight is good. The very structure of the pawns can decide the game. Here you will regret your gambit pawn. For the very first time the word weakness gets a meaning. Ok, you had weaknesses before in the middlegame of course, but as long as there are many pieces around they weren't paramount. Now they are. A weakness is a pawn that is difficult to defend. Defending it takes resources that limit your mobility. Another kind of weakness is an invasion square. Especially the kind that is used by a king to penetrate.

The role of the king.
The role of the king has changed dramatically. With less pieces there are less tactics around. And so there is room for the king to take part in the battle. GM's estimate the value of the king between 3 and 4 pawnunits in the endgame.

This is what Capablanca said about the position above.
"White's plan is to prevent the advance of the c-pawn (after which the b-pawn could become weak) and to control the entire board up to the fifth rank. This is achieved by moving the king to e3, and by placing the rook at c3, the knight at d4 and the pawns at b4 and f4. After he has attained such position, white will be able to advance his queenside pawns."
This is quite a different way of thinking about a position than we are used to. Usually we are variation-driven. But Capablanca is position-driven and works his way back thru the variations. He starts at the end in stead of the beginning. He thinks in schemes.
Further he talks about the control of space.
And he talks about a pawn that might become weak when prevented from advancing to b4 when c5 is played by black.
The game continued:
1. Nd4 Rb7
2. b4 Bd7
I was very surprised by 2. b4. I would have simply taken the bishop and inflicted the enemy with an extra isolani. But if you play that against the computer, you will find that that is not ok. You give the enemy king an extra tempo by chasing your knight. Since he is already closer to the center of action, this causes you trouble and gives black drawing chances.
So Capablanca gave whites king-activity a greater value than the extra isolani and the riddance of the annoying bishop. These are the kind of things you have to learn in order to play these positions well. These kind of things you cannot learn from a book, you have to learn them from experience. Thank Caissa there are computers!

I hope I have given you a good impression of what comes into play in practical endings.

Sometimes I think that I should study more and write less, with only 17 days to go to the tournament. But on the other hand it helps me to nail down my discoveries, which paves the road for new ones.

1 comment:

  1. A very nice problem. I would have found the knight move, only b/c it would maximize its activity. But I certainly didn't come up with the right overall plan. My coach is really good at coming up with plans in the endgame: we'll hit a complex endgame, and he's like, "OK what was your plan." And I'm like "Increase the activity of my Knight," and he's like "Yes, that's a plan, but what is your plan for the coming endgame?" And I just sit there embarassed, and then he suggests a bunch of plans.