White to play
I was looking at an opening position the other day. As you do. I started shoving the pieces around and before I knew it a king and pawn endgame had appeared on the board. The position at the head of today’s blog, in fact.
I’d left an engine (HIARCS) running while I was playing around and noticed that in its esteemed opinion, the evaluation of the position was "+1.14". I can’t say I found that to be particularly helpful. What is "+1.14" supposed to mean in the context of a pawn ending?
Engine evaluations are fine for middlegames. A little over +1? Well you’ve got a clear edge. Not enough to say you’re winning just yet, but it’s certainly beyond +=. Pawn endings? They’re won or drawn aren’t they? A numerical evaluation just seems irrelevant (that’s when the Bloody Iron Monsters aren’t botching it entirely - see Our Electronic Pals: Then and Now and 53, for instance).
Do we really care that this position ...
... is mate in 11 (as your computer will tell you in an instant) with White to move rather than 10 or 12 or 25? Surely not. We just want to know that it’s winning for White.
Equally, amusing though it is that HIARCS gives this position ...
... an evaluation of +0.08, all we need to know about it is that it’s going to be a draw unless Black goes horribly and unnecessarily wrong.
So, since engine evaluations of king and pawn endgames are best approached with caution and since - obviously - my own brain is inadequate for the task, I’m going to ask for human assistance. i.e. you lot. Is that position into which I stumbled at the weekend a win or a draw with best play, do you think?
King and pawn Index