Monday, September 30, 2013

Blue or Red Pill? XX

Not much going on in the chess world right now. I mean, it's not like there's a dubious candidate hoping to be elected ECF President or a national newspaper columnist up to no good.

So I think I'll pop back to Torquay and have a look at some of the rook endgames played in the championship. We'll kick-off by revisiting Stephens - Balaji from round three and ask ourselves the following question: the perfect example of what can go wrong if you find yourself short of time and lacking theoretical reference points or a total irrelevance?

White to play

To recap: well after the first time control the chaps reached the position above. White could have killed the game dead with 52 Ra3. Instead, apparently never having made it as far as Lesson Number One in his study of rook endings, he played 52 Ra8. The objective evaluation of the game then swung back and forth between 'draw' and 'win for black' for 30 or so moves until White found a neat stalemate trick on move 89.

White to play

Curiously our man got another crack at the Philidor position in his game against McCullough a couple of days later. This time he did indeed bring his rook back to cut off the enemy king in approved fashion and eventually, after 83 ... Rc1-c4, reached our second diagram.

The reason the Philidor defence works is that any attempt to block the action of the rook like this allows a trade into a drawn king and pawn ending. Even if you weren't aware of that, though, if you'd got further than The Square in your study of king and pawn endings you'd see straightaway that trading rooks is the logical way to secure the draw. What White actually did, however, was to play his rook to f3 although five moves later the game the players agreed to draw anyway (the pgn files incorrectly give the result as a Black win).

Now, I think most of us would acknowledge that our understanding of the endgame is rather lacking, but on the basis of these two games it's hard to come to any other conclusion than that our friend Mr Stephens hasn't studied that area of the game at all. I mean not even the briefest glance. After all, if you don't have Phildor or that king and pawn ending in your locker, what do you have?

Well, each to his own. There's no reason at all why he should look at endings if he doesn't want to. What about the general principle, though? What can the rest of us take from this?

What's the problem? White drew both games in the end anyway, didn't he? He scored a very respectable 5/11 in a tournament for which most folk (certainly not you, blogger boy) wouldn't even qualify and his grade is considerably higher than than most (and certainly higher than yours) too. Clearly acquiring ending knowledge is an unnecessary waste of time.

Knowing endgame stuff doesn't make you a good chesser any more than not knowing it makes you a bad one. Still, while these games might have been saved there will be others one day. However good you are, sooner or later this sort of thing will cost you points.

Conscious or unconscious, implicit or explicit, this is a choice that everybody makes in one way or another.

Rook and pawn Index
BORP? Index


Anonymous said...

You can get a surprisingly long way, at least as far as the 170s or 180s without really having to know the rook and pawn or king and pawn tablebase endings. That can apply particularly if your style is sharp and tactical rather than one of attrition. If you play in leagues where adjudication is commonplace, that avoids playing endings at all.
But eventually you find that drawn games slip into losses or that wins become elusive. Every extra half point counts if you are struggling to reach or retain a high value grade or rating.

It may increasingly be a feature of past generations. When you play a junior who has worked with trainers or coaches, you usually find an accurate standard of play in Rook and pawn endings.


Jonathan B said...

Even higher than 170/180 I'd say Roger. Up to 200. Especially if, as you say, the person is more a league chesser than a tournament one.

Interesting point about the generations, though. I hadn't considered it before. Access to very high quality coaching now is much easier via Skype and whatnot.

Jacques said...

I have no idea how to play a R+P v R ending, but then I can't remember ever having to play one. On the other hand I often have a terrible position after about 10 moves. Where is it likely to be most efficient to focus my studies?

Jonathan B said...

Not for me to make that decision for you Jacques, but

. it depends on how you study the opening. If it's memorising lines then sooner or later those lines change (because theory changes or because you take up a new opening) then you have to start over again. If you study the opening by learning principles then it's more useful - but it doesn't take anywhere near as much time.

. I've always though, 'i Don't need to study this because I never get it' is the limpest of arguments for not studying endgame positions, It's not possible to play rook endgames properly unless you know the rook and pawn against rook positions that might arise.

Also, when you grasp a particular rook and pawn against rook position it stays the same forever. It just needs a bit of brushing up every now and then. The simpler ones you'll just remember.

Still, you take your pill, I'll take mine.

John Cox said...

How on earth can anyone play chess for a reasonable period and never have rook and pawn against rook??

It’s not like it actually needs any study. I could teach anyone who knows the moves all there is to know about this ending in ten seconds; rook to the third; when they push their pawn to the sixth, rook to the back and checks. (this ending = the basic defence with king in front of pawn and pieces well-placed, not the whole of rook and pawn against rook). There, Jacques now knows how to do it. That took less time than it takes to find the relevant chapter in the opening book you want to study.

Obviously it’s theoretically possible to reach quite a high level without knowing that, but I have difficulty in understanding how it happens in practice. Don’t you play lots and lots of games, and surely at some point this must turn up – if nothing else, you must get the strong side of it and run into someone who defends it right. And team mates’ games, friends’ games in congresses, etc? It takes a remarkable lack of intellectual curiosity to know so little about this aspect of the game.

I realise of course that it’s a game and people should study what they find fun. I just find it curious that anyone could reach 180 (or whatever standard gets you into the British these days) without learning this even by accident.

Jonathan B said...

In case that paragraph long explanation was too much to work through, I think I managed to get it in one single picture in Lesson Number One.

As to how you get up to 180 (or even 200) without knowing any endgames ... well playing only club chess helps - as Roger pointed out earlier. Thing about the British, though, is that you qualify for it by tournament play don't you? So I'd expect most people who play in it to play a fair amount of tournaments and having lots of endings coming up.

John Cox said...

> well playing only club chess helps

Does it? There are still leagues which have adjudication, are there?

Jonathan B said...

I was thinking more adjournments are the problem for club chess. In that they tend to become self-adjudications in practice rather than get played on.

Even if you decide you're going to play everything on come what may you'll still find your opponents resigning rather than playing on in an obviously lost position.