This is Rook And Pawn Endgame Year on Streatham and Brixton. Perhaps not just on Streatham and Brixton, either, since when Chess Publishing's 1.e4 e5 section updated in January, the leading game involved an endgame of precisely that type.
Which is curious, since Chess Publishing (to which I've been a subscriber for about fifteen years) is actually a site devoted to opening theory, rather than technical positions at the other end of the chess narrative. But this is an endgame, all right. Not a queenless middlegame, another subject in which this blog takes an interest, but an actual endgame. Very much an endgame.
This is not entirely unheard of. Indeed one of my colleague Jonathan's favourite books is Edmar Mednis' From The Opening Into The Endgame.
We spent some time during Penarth last year looking through its various recommendations for cutting out the middlegame and getting as soon as possible from the opening moves into a marginally superior and hopefully hard-to-lose endgame. I particularly liked this one: 1.c4 Nf6 2.Nc3 d5 3.cxd5 Nxd5 4.Nf3 g6 5.e4 Nxc3 6.dxc3! Qxd1+ 7.Kxd1
Get in. Thing is, though, even Mednis' recommendations (if I recall rightly) were mostly for queenless middlegames, like the one above, in so far as they can be distinguished from bona fide, no-doubt-about-it, endgames. Which are quite rare in opening theory, even these days, when opening theory often extends beyond the point where some chess competitions still have time controls.
Our position today, though, features an innovation on move 23. Not at all late by contemporary standards. (I've certainly played theory myself beyond that stage in correspondence - and quite likely OTB as well.) Lets' have a look at the position again. The last move has been a capture, made by Black, on his move 22.
What's left on the board? Each side has a king, two rooks and five pawns, which is eight bits each, exactly half the number with which they began. Not just the queens but all eight minor pieces have left the board. Quite a tally for so early in the game, especially when you bear in mind that they had a full board until move nine.
I can't immediately think of anything like it in opening theory - can readers? We'll need an offhand definition to work with, so let's define, for the moment, a theoretical position as "a position arrived after a sequence that has been played more than once in grandmaster chess". We can cross when we come to them the various bridges this presents, like
- do international masters count?
- is it a theoretical position if it's been played once (or never) but appeared in a book?
- when we say "sequences", what view do we take of transpositions?
I'd like to ask - can anybody think of a position reached in opening theory which features fewer than sixteen pawns and pieces on the board? Or one, not including the kings, with fewer than four pieces?
If you can, can you think of one that occurs after fewer than 22 moves?