Yes, the Big Match is just around the corner. Just time to squeeze in another rook ending from Torquay before we start our build up to Maggie against Vish.
#24: Alekhine - Reti, Vienna 1922
Black to play
... before studying rook endings the reader should acquaint himself with the principles of pawn endings ....
Levenfish & Smyslov, Rook Endings (Batsford 1971)
Begin at the beginning they say. Sometimes that's easier said than done.
Starting points are often ... before. That 'modern chess begins before the first move' (according to RDK*) and twentieth century history begins in 1871 (according to my O level teacher) are two of my favourite examples of the phenomenon.
And rook endings? Well, before Lessons Number One and Two, before Principle Number One even, there's the Introduction.
Alekhine - Reti is the very first diagram in The Book. Levenfish and Smyslov then spend a couple of pages apparently doing their best to convince their readers that they're not ready for rook endings yet before coming pretty close to saying outright that we (or am I thinking I?) really ought to bugger off and come back later.
Rightly so, probably.
The more I look at rook endings the more I see the need to acquire an ability to distinguish between those positions where you'd want to trade the rooks and those where it would be the very last thing you should do. Speelman-Sokolov, Brussels 1988 (SMA #15, RRE IV) is one example. Gordon - Fernandez from Torquay 2013 is another.
White to play
So here we are in the fourth round of the British Championships. A second GM versus IM rook ending for White in a row, as it happens, Gordon having disposed of Gary Lane the day before.
Anyhoo, Black's just played ... Rb6-d6. What is White to do? One idea is swap on g6 - it leaves White with a passed pawn and a weakness to attack - and if Black recaptures with the king there's the possibility of a little tactic.
You either kill the game stone dead or you hand Black a draw on a plate. There's nothing in between. Better make the right choice then.
Back to Alekhine-Reti. Can Black swap rooks or not? I'm far from sure the question would even have occurred to me had I not known I was supposed to be thinking about it.
Reti made the right choice. Not surprising, I suppose, given that he composed that study.
So he was a genius, what about the rest of us? Is knowing that you can trade down to a pawn ending and not lose the product of a brilliant mind or simply an acquaintance with the principles of pawn endings? I suppose the only way to find out is to learn some K&P theory myself. It is the beginning, after all.
* I have a very strong memory of RDK saying this. Or at least writing it. I just can't remember where.