Monday, April 29, 2013

Purposeful Shuffling

Aronian - Carlsen, Moscow 2006
JMGB - Angus, Streatham Coffee Shop 2013

It's what you might call a Big Ask. Take a theoretical pawn position that's appeared in just about every endgame manual for the last hundred years or so and find something new to say about it? I'm not sure I'm up to the task.

So let's try mixing Ending 57 with Purposeful Shuffling (aka the 'going around in circles' principle of SMA#9) and see what we get. Theoretically speaking 57 might be a simple draw, but in the real world, as the Norwegian Prince could tell you, things don't always turn out as they should.

It's early 2013. Our friend Angus is sitting in I Love Coffee on Streatham High Road waiting for a bit of endgame practice. Let's take him on at Ending 57.

True, Angus is much the better player, but we have the advantage of having looked at the position more recently. We know that 1 Rd6 is the best chance to win and that Aronian - Carlsen finished 1 Rd6 Ra7??, 2 Ke8 1-0. Maybe if we play the same way Angus will blunder just like Maggie did. Although Angus isn't playing with his flag hanging in a blitz finish like Carlsen probably was and he looks quite relaxed there munching away on a custard tart so maybe not. How best to maximise our chances, then?

Time, I think, for a bit of purposeful shuffling. Before bringing our rook to d6 we'll go around and around. We're not just going to give Angus a chance to go wrong - although will be ready to take advantage if he does - we're also quite deliberately setting up the expectation of a threefold repetition.

Ironically, perhaps, I don't

So ...

1 Rd8.
Why not? We want to get our king to the back rank so barging Angus's rook out the way seems as good a move as any.

Why do we want to get to the eighth? Well, we'll be closer to getting something like a Lucena (RRE: Lesson #2) I guess, and also because it's the best we can do. Sure, we'd rather pop the king on the f-file, but we're never going to have time for Rd6-d1-g1+ to give us room to do that.

The other point behind our first move is that we need to persuade Angus to move his rook if we can. On a8 it covers the back rank and is far enough away from the action that it can safely check our king if need be and we can't win with Black's pieces stationed as they are.

1 ... Ra7+.
An equally obvious reply which, if we're lucky, will blind Black to the fact that he's hanging by a thread. Only one other move saves the day here.

Still, the check is plenty good enough because if we advance to e8 as we want to Angus has ... Kf6 and the pawn drops straightaway. There's nothing else to do but go back to the starting position and try again.

2 Rd7 Ra8

3 Rc7.
White's not forcing Black to do anything here and almost any reply from Angus will hold the draw so why bother with this move? Answer: because if Black keeps us off the eighth rank here he loses. 3 ... Rb8 4 Ra7! +-.

It's always worth finding out if your opponent has grasped the importance of checking distance. Angus has, but let's not get too downhearted yet. Remember, the feeling that White has no serious winning try is exactly what we're trying to cultivate here.

3 ... Ra1.
As good a move as any. Now 4 Ke8+ Kf6, 5 e7 Ra8+, 6 Kd7 Kf7 just leads to another theoretical draw so, again, we have nothing better than to go back to the start.

4 Rd7 Ra8.

5 Rd6.
So here, having gone around and around for a bit, we launch our winning attempt.

We've set up Black rather nicely and we've even repeated the position twice. The draw is within reach which is often the moment that folk relax.

5 ... Ra7+??  Blimey Charlie, it worked! ... Kg6 is absolutely Black's only move here.

Why did we get lucky? Or, to put it another way, why did Angus blunder? In part, because we helped him to. While we were shuffling about giving Black the chance to go wrong we were also secretly setting up expectations of repetitions. The insertion of 3 Rc7 between 1 Rd8 and 5 Rd6 is important, I think. It helps hide the fact things are not quite the same here as they were at the beginning.

6 Ke8.
Goodnight Vienna.

I'll leave it to you to work out why 6 ... Kf6 doesn't save Black as it would have done before.

Rook and pawn Index

Aronian/Carlsen via
I love coffee via

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Dzama Queen

A few weeks back we ran a post on the Marcel Duchamp exhibition at the Barbican which included a mild dig at a curatorial lapse in their presentation of his chess. In spite of this the Barbican sportingly gave us a link from their Facebook page...

...which might have encouraged a few art fans, unchessed and curious, to look in on the S&BCBlog and investigate one of its micro-niche genres: chess in art

Please forgive the self-referencing, but it provides a pretext for what follows...

Friday, April 26, 2013

The Worst Move On The Board XV

A fortnight ago I wrote about Luděk Pachman's book, Decisive Games In Chess History. One of the tournaments that Pachman looked at was the Capablanca Memorial at Havana in 1965, which Borislav Ivkov would have won had he not disintegrated at the end. Leading by a point with two games to play, he lost both.

This is his penultimate round game against the back-marker, Gilberto García: position after 36.g2-g4. It's hard enough to lose this position for Black, but Ivkov managed not only to lose, but to play the worst move on the board.

There's only one way to allow White a forced mate in four moves. Ivkov found it - can you?

[Thanks to Angus]
[Worst move index]

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Monday, April 22, 2013

Random Rook Endings VII


57. The number of varieties on the Heinz menu, the number of the bus that takes you from Streatham to Kingston and also the number of my favourite theoretical rook and pawn position in de la Villa’s 100 Endgames You Must Know.

Yes, I know. Geekiness beyond all measure. Akin to Jerry and George debating the relative merits of Magellan and DeSoto as their explorer of choice, but there you are. I have a favourite theoretical rook and pawn position and it’s the one you see at the head of today’s blog.

There seems to be some disagreement as to its origins. Emms (The Survival Guide to Rook Endings) says it comes from Tarrasch, Korchnoi (Practical Rook Endings) credits Euwe*. Whatever the truth of things, it’s everywhere I look now. De la Villa, Emms, Korchnoi, Speelman (Analysing the Endgame), Fine (Basic Chess Endings), Levenfish and Smyslov (Rook Endings). Any endgame book worth the paper, it seems.  Or DVD for that matter - it's on Nick Pert's Killer Endgames II as well.

What’s so special about it? I’m not so sure I can say. I know one thing, though: I like it so much more than Ending 58.

White wins

* A discrepancy possible explained by a slightly different starting position. Korchnoi/Euwe begin with the White rook on d1 and Black’s on a2. From there 1 Rg1 would be a simple win so with Black to move first play continues 1 … Ra7+, 2 Rd7 at which point 2 … Ra8 brings us to where we came in.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Cover version: Howard Riley Trio

Howard Riley Trio, The Day Will Come (CBS, 1970)

[Cover version index]
[Thanks to Richard]

Friday, April 19, 2013

What Jean Stean had seen

As far as I can recall, the last time before Kramnik that anybody played the Pirc in such a vital game, Viktor Korchnoi had the black pieces, it was the thirty-second game at Baguio and his seconds were Michael Stean and Raymond Keene. It didn't turn out any better for Korchnoi than it did for Kramnik.

For me, it was the greatest chess contest that there's even been - perhaps even my favourite sporting event of all time. I remember hearing that Korchnoi had lost the game - and the match - on the headlines on the PM programme in the car as we got home. Those were the days.

Soon after it was over, I read Ray's book about the match. At the time, I didn't realise there was anything untoward about it: I just enjoyed the light annotations ("too late, too late, she cried, waving her wooden leg") and the rather more extensive commentary on backstage events by somebody who had actually been there.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Chess goes to the movies: The Bourne Identity

What's this? You tie these knots? So it starts to come back, uhh? 
No it doesn't start to come back. The knot's like everything else, I just found the rope and I did it. The same way I can read, I can write, I can add subtract, I can make coffee, I can shuffle cards, I can set up a chess board ... 
Yes, yes it well it come back.
It's NOT coming back goddamn it, that's the point. I'm down here looking through this all this shit, for two weeks I'm down here. It's not working. I don't even know what to look for.
You need to rest. It will come back.
What if it doesn't come back? When we get in there tomorrow I don't even have a name.

Chess goes to the movies Index

Monday, April 15, 2013

Super Things III

White to play

Today we're back both to our cutting-off theme and to my theoretical battle with the Novag Super Expert.

This position is drawn with best play. With the defending king well placed, as it is here, cutting-off by one file just isn't enough. Still, as we'll see, the Super Thing didn't put up the stiffest resistance and I managed to sneak a win anyway.

The question is, how do you improve Black's play?  Specifically, at what point does the objective evaluation change from '=' to '+-'?

Rook and pawn Index

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Other Talent of Samuel Boden

We continue this series of occasional posts on chessers-who-painted, i.e. artists-who-played, with a look at the half-forgotten, or maybe half-remembered, figure of the Victorian Samuel Standidge Boden (1826-1882).  

Victorian he may have been, but he doesn't appear in Anthony Rosenbaum's group chess-painting examined in detail in the series starting here. Maybe Rosenbaum didn't relish the prospect of exposing himself, while on the job, to the critical scrutiny of a fellow chess-artist, hence Boden wasn't given a look-in. A more mundane reason could be that Boden was associated with the wrong club, St.George's, and not the City of London Club more favoured by Rosenbaum and many of his other 46 subjects. Here instead is an illustration from Edge's book of 1859 on Morphy in Europe showing a youthful Boden (flanked by Staunton and Löwenthal).   

If Samuel Standidge Boden's name rings any bells it may be because it is attached to the mating pattern he unleashed in a game in 1853. If it hadn't been seen before, it has since.  

Artistic tactics test (no prizes). Left to Right: Schulder-Boden 1853, B to play; Alekhine-Vasic 1931. W; 
Elyashov-NN 1948, W.  From here.
"Boden's Mate" would be chess epitaph enough, but you'll also know the other one at the front end - a gambit against the Petroff (or, by transposition, the Bishop's Opening), although Boden has to share its posterity with Kieseritsky: 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Bc4 Nxe4 4. Nc3. The B-KG may not be everyday fare in contemporary competitive chess, but it has received a measure of attention, for example here.  My ancient (though not quite Victorian) MCO shows an alleged refutation by Polugayevsky on a day off from the Sicilian (Andrew Martin looks a little deeper at Polu's line on page 42 of his book on the Bishop's). Here's a link to a game by Boden playing his gambit and agreeing a draw against Morphy. According to Schiller the final position is actually a win for our man. But is it? One for Jonathan B
Boden-Morphy London 1858.
White to play. 
Boden's passing on Friday 13th January 1882 was marked in chess columns and magazines the length and breadth of the land. 
From The Chess Player's Chronicle of 1882
Thanks to Batgirl here 
It was at his home in Tavistock Square in London from typhoid fever, though "his health was never very strong and he...avoided social gatherings" (British Chess Magazine, Feb., 1882), preferring (according to the Bristol Mercury and Post's obit. of 17th January)...
 " get into a quiet corner at Simpson's Divan, to talk chess and play chess for hours together. His knowledge of the great players of a past generation  was so extensive...and [was] constantly poured out, enlivened with a flood of dry humour." 
He had been reckoned by Edge to be the "best English player". However, the claim in the Bristol Mercury that he was "the only player who anything like held his own against Morphy" provoked, on the very next day, a Sir Herbert Gussett-style outburst from Oswin Grainger Esq., of 16, High Street, Worcester to denounce this "complete insult to his superiors Lowenthal, Hairwitz (sic) and Anderssen", and so on and so forth.  

Boden's biography has been well researched in the chess literature, for example in the excellent Yorkshire Chess History site, from which we learn that he was the fourth of ten, and may be more, children. He was born on 4 May 1826 in Retford, Yorkshire, but lived in Hull, and according to his obit. in the Hull Packet "previously to 1849, when he went to London, he was the strongest player at the Hull Club".  He remained an Honorary Member, "one of the most illustrious on its roll". Hull? Didn't Anthony Rosenbaum fetch up there? Yes, but not perhaps until 1851 when SSB was possibly already elsewhere winning the "Provincial Tournament" in London, the secondary contest coincidental with the Great Exhibition.  

So Boden had come to London in his twenties; he worked as a railway accountant at Nine Elms in Vauxhall, where a new locomotive and rolling stock workshop had been built in 1839 near to the London and South West Railway terminus (all long since gone).

Nine Elms imposing railway terminus, as was.
Pic from the Vauxhall Civic Society   
So far so conventional, but a legacy made him a man of independent means whereby he could pursue his métier as an accomplished watercolourist, dealer and connoisseur. It is not clear exactly when he came into the money, but I've not identified any artwork dated earlier than 1862, when he would have been 36 years of age. Before we get on to that, let's dip into his book of 1851, commended by Staunton, and popular at the time as per its title.  

We've have seen before that many Victorian chessers were partial to a decent blow-out when a-clubbing they did go; but Boden dispenses a note of caution for the bon viveur...          
"No one can play well just after a hearty dinner, and between skilful players we should think this as bad as giving the odds of a knight." 
...which sounds like advice born of discomforted experience, relevant even today. Also germane for the modern student of the game are these sage recommendations for post-game cordiality and forbearance advocated by Boden quoting from a certain Mr Penn's "Maxim's and Hints for Anglers and Chess Players" (a "very dear little morsel at 5 shillings" - and I think that's "dear" as in "beloved"):
I.  "Win as often as you can, but never make any display of insulting joy on the occasion. When you cannot win, lose (tho' you may not like it), with good temper. Men usually play as well as they can; they are glad when they win, and sorry when they lose.
II. "If your adversary, after you have won a game, wishes to prove that you have done so in consequence of some fault of his, rather than by your own good play, you need not enter into much argument on the subject, whilst he explains to the bystanders the mode by which he might have won the game, but did not.
III. "Nor need you make yourself uneasy, if your adversary should console himself by pointing out a shorter and more masterly mode by which you may have won. Listen patiently, he cannot prove that your way of winning was not good enough."         
Which all creates the impression that Boden was a proper Victorian gent., attentive to civility and courtesy beside the board, even if he chewed you up on it.  He practiced what he preached, and was "chivalrous to the highest degree as a combatant...he never made idle excuses for a defeat, or depreciated the skill of an opponent" according to the BCM's obit.

Another affectionate reminiscence takes us on to his art:
"Peace to that gentle spirit whose mortal remains were consigned, on the 17th January to their resting place in Woking Cemetery, close to the hills and valleys which he loved so well and painted so sweetly, and in the enjoyment of which he and I passed some of our happiest days together."
So wrote George MacDonnell in his Chess Life Pictures of 1883 with this further detail, familiar in part from the BCM obit:
"He was a water-colour painter of no mean skill, and many of his drawings would compare not unfavourably with the smaller productions of Birkett-Foster. He was a recognised connoisseur in the Early English School, and his judgment upon a David Cox, a De Wint and other famous masters was often sought by Christie's and Manson. Several art critiques which he contributed to the Field evinced a thorough knowledge of his subject, and excited no small admiration."
So Boden was in the thick of the art world of the time, although in the art literature of today there is hardly a mention: just a short note in the Dictionary of British Watercolour Artists (2002) which also makes that flattering association of Boden with Myles Birkett-Foster (1825-1899), and notes his occasional adoption of a freer style in the manner of Peter De Wint (1784-1849). The British Museum has a few Bodens (see Note 1), otherwise his work seems now to be exclusively in private collections. It appears occasionally at auction, even, fittingly, at Christie's. The Blouin Art Sales Index records 15 of his works up for sale over the last 30 years or so, one of which (Norwich by the River; 1875) may be the one purchased by Eric Fisher of Hull which appears in a chess context here. Boden exhibited seven watercolours at the Royal Society of British Artists between 1865 and 1873 (see Note 2).

So what are we to make of his work? Much of it has the gentility, not to say saccharine sentimentality, of the fashionable Victorian watercolouring of the age - at least, that is how it might strike us today.

Samuel Boden. No date or title.
British Museum Collection    
As above, many of his surviving works do not show a date of execution, nor identify the place depicted - this one looks generic, it could be anywhere and nowhere in particular.

So Boden was clearly much more than a Sunday painter, both in terms of output and skill. He was a dab hand - just look at that foliage. Writing about English watercolourists of this period Richard Green (1976) says that the:
"...minutely detailed stipple technique [became] the generally accepted norm during the Victorian period, an age which attached much importance to the solid virtue of hard work. There was no formula more certain of success that the application of this technique to the scenes of rustic life in the home counties, which is exactly what Myles Birket Foster put into practice...becoming the most popular and imitated water-colourist of his day."           
Allowing for poor reproduction we can see what Mr Green is getting at here:
Left: Samuel Boden "A country cottage with peasant, etc." From here
Right: Myles Birkett-Foster At the Cottage Door. For context see this informative blog
You have to admire the technique even if you don't care for the subject matter, or the world view it reflects: stippling aplenty showing untroubled rural folk performing their chores nestling among rose-clad cottages;  arcadia peeps through the trees; the church reminds us of to whom we should be thankful. It's all a world away from the grime and desolation of the uprooted industrial working class in its urban squalor, or the grind of rural poverty as mechanisation took its toll. These well-scrubbed kiddies don't have to sweep chimneys for a crust.

The obits. mention Boden's erudition concerning the artists of the period, including David Cox (1783-1859),  a weatherman who knew which way the wind blew. Here is one of his draughty efforts.

Cox (1845). Sun Wind and Rain.
From here
By contrast nothing much moves in a Boden, or a Birkett-Foster; only the smoke from a homely hearth stirs in their suspended world. Nothing moves, nor any social change with it.

Occasionally though, as the Dictionary says, Boden relaxed into a broader style reminiscent of De Wint, and so you may get the full picture, here is a Boden/De Wint face-off.

Left: Boden, "Landscape with hay cart and sheep" (nd) From here 
Right: De Wint, The Cornfield (1815). From here
The manner and subject are of a muchness, down to a hay cart heading west. Boden, though, prefers to foreground some dozing sheep rather than corn sheaves - more cuddly I suppose. But at least there is a feel of the plein air, the real world, and not mere confection. As reproductions go, this one does Boden rather more justice than others in this post.

Boden also repays comparison with an English watercolourist of the previous generation, John Sell Cotman (1782-1842), whose "jigsaw" style of interlocking blocks of colour contains the seeds of abstraction, or so it often remarked, a hundred years before its time. This mention of Cotman is flagrant self-indulgence because, of all the English watercolourists, it is his work that I'd like most on my wall. Boden, as a connoisseur, would have known of him, and might have absorbed aspects of his style. Thus here Boden puts aside for a moment that finicky Birkett-Foster dabbing and inches instead towards Cotmanesque slabbing.
Left: Boden. No date or title. British Museum Collection
Right: Cotman. Greta Bridge (Various versions 1805 to 10). This one from here
It is better not to overdo this as the Boden pales alongside the Cotman ("one of the most perfect watercolours ever made"), and not only because of his subdued palette. Nonetheless, the unfussiness, and suppression of detail, creates a chunky backdrop for the two characters to steal the show in answering counterpoint. Seeing the pictures together leads one to wonder whether one of the signature motifs of the English watercolour school was, along with a well-placed cottage, an eye-catching, and uncommonly white, cow.

Boden, from Chess Life Pictures in 1883
Looking back over Boden's comportment at play and practice in paint you could say that they are commensurate in the following way: in both he was attentive to his social milieu, was disinclined to shock, and sought to enhance the unalloyed pleasure of the occasion - whether for clients, audience, or opponents. As George MacDonnell put it: he was a "gentle spirit", and that could be his memorial. He may be half-remembered for his mate and his gambit (innovations perhaps); but for his competent but derivative paintings he will probably remain half-forgotten.

British Chess Magazine for 1882 is digitised here. Boden's obit is at pp 54-6.
See the British Museum's collection of five Bodens here.
Boden's 1851 book is digitised here.
Green, R. (1976) in British Water-colours in the Laing Art Gallery. Pub. Tyne and Wear CC.
Mallalieu, H.L. (2002) Dictionary of British Watercolour Artists up to 1920. Pub. Woodbridge.

1. Two of the BM's Bodens are chromolithographs, presumably from a portfolio (as the items are numbered 3 and 4) entitled "Boden's Paysage". They were acquired by the BM in 1870. Its handwritten ledger of the time records that they were accepted under the Copyright Act, suggesting a serious publication - unfortunately the rest of the portfolio seems not to be in their collection, and I can find no reference to it elsewhere. Tantalising.

 2. The Royal Society of British Artists 1824-1893. Published by the Antique Collectors' Club in 1975 lists seven of Boden's works in their exhibitions, giving titles that identify specific locations, although it is not clear whether the works duplicate any of those listed by Blouin. They are:
1865: Pyrford Lock, Surrey;
1866: Chiddingfold, Surrey (x2);
1870/1: Woking Canal, Surrey; a location in Essex.
1873: Village of Aylesford; Priory of Aylesford, Kent.
It also gives three London addresses for Boden: 57, Pratt Street, Hampstead Road (1865); 60, Brook Street, Bond Street (1866, and 1870/1); 3, Camden Studios, Camden Street (1873).

See Chess in Art Index for more artistically talented chessers.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Decisive moment

One of my favourite old chess books is Luděk Pachman's Decisive Games In Chess History.

Dover, 1975

It's not a masterpiece and nor are the games that it discusses, but that's part of its appeal. All Pachman does is take a historical walk through a lot of matches and tournament, ending with the Spassky-Fischer match - the book was originally published in German in 1972 - and beginning with Baden-Baden 1870, although in his introduction he goes back a little further, to London 1862 and a game between Anderssen and Paulsen.
There is a great difference (writes Pachman in his introduction) between a game played at the beginning of a tournament, when everything is open, and one played in the last two rounds, where a special effort often has to be made to obtain a particular result.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Blue or Red Pill? XVIII

Right, then. You're the arbiter and you're confronted with a 10.2 claim from black that looks something like this:

When black's time elapses, after many moves, the position looks something like this:

What is the correct decision? You are advised to read the rule carefully before being in a position to act. Many hundreds of pounds are at stake.

Uphold the claim. Draw.

Reject the claim. White win.

Blue or Red Pill? Index

Monday, April 08, 2013

Blue or Red Pill? XVII

White to play

Without Carlsen and Kramnik's mutual last-day implosion, Ivanchuk's win over the Norwegian kiddiwink in round 12 might have been one of the most significant games of the 21st century. As it was the tiebreaks went in Magnus' favour and the lost half-point didn't really matter.

As for the game itself, cutting off the king, a fundamental concept in these endings, turned out to be the key to Black's victory. Chucky, needless to say, wasn't unduly troubled although for the rest of us - well, me - things weren't so straightfoward.

Anyhoo, today we have a position based on a similar theme. White's got the pawn, but Black's rook and king are actively placed. It's your move and you're down to increments so you've got thirty seconds at most to choose. What are you going to do?

The choice is yours.

BORP Index
Rook and pawn Index

(position taken from de la Villa's 100 Endgames You Must Know)

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Bad book covers XXIX

Tune Your Chess Tactics Antenna: know when (and where!) to look for
winning combinations, Neiman, New In Chess 2012

[Bad book covers index]

Friday, April 05, 2013

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

To Mock a Pecking Bird

Every now and again, someone in the UK mainstream media will visit a chess event and say something nasty about it. They have done so before and they will do so again. The strategic question for insiders looking to promote the game more widely is: Should the chess community respond to such attacks - and if so, how? My short answer is: "yes, they should respond. In particular, chess officials should view such instances as opportunities to publicly reply - and ideally to get a positive message about chess in the mainstream media." My long answer is after the break.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Final Score

Rook endings played at the 2013 Candidates' tournament:-
Radjabov 3  
Gelfand  2 
Grischuk 2 
Ivanchuk 2 
Aronian  1 
Carlsen  1 
Kramnik  1
Svidler  0


That's six rook endings (being generous with the definition) from 56 games at a healthy 10.71%. True, it took the intervention of your humble scribe to get things moving - The Campaign for the Preservation of Rook Endings - but there's no need to thank me.

You can find

  • Grischuk-Radjabov (5) here;
  • Gelfand-Aronian (9) and Ivanchuk-Radjabov (9) here;
  • Carlsen-Ivanchuk (12) and Radjabov-Grischuk (12) here;
  • Kramnik-Gelfand at the foot of today's blog;
  • and you can test your technique against Magnus Carlsen here.

In other news, some Norwegian kid has qualifed to play a match for the World Championship.

Rook and pawn Index
Radja via

Monday, April 01, 2013

Magnus versus You

So from what point could you have won that against Carlsen on thirty-second increments?

Since there's little of any importance going on in the chess world today, why not spend your bank holiday Monday thinking about rook and pawn technique? Well, first make sure you check out Martin's Mr Rosenbaum's Chess Painting #10 from Saturday and only then get to EJH's question: if you were playing against The Magster in round 13 - EFing Rook Endings - how would the game have turned out?

My initial feeling was that, against Carlsen or anybody else, I'd have been pretty confident of winning from the position we see above. Pawn on the fourth and the king cut off by two files. I knew the technique - Grigoriev's Combined Method - to sort things out form there.

Or so I thought. As we will see there's a feature of the position that I hadn't taken into account. When it comes down to it, it's a matter of technique ... and mine was lacking.

The Man (or maybe not depending on how it turns out today):
overjoyed to be giving you a game

So, at what point could I have won this game? Well certainly not from the time Carlsen-Ivanchuk entered the rook ending …

… nor the moment White got careless with 71 Rh6 …

Like anybody else, I could have won from the time it got to 2 v 0 …

… if only by using the increments to shuffle around until I stumbled across the winning plan by accident.

Actually it’s not too difficult to find the right plan per se – push the h-pawn and eventually sacrifice it to drag the defending king out of position – it’s more that the resulting rook and pawn versus rook positions are trickier than they look. There tends to be a very fine line between "trivial win" and "dead draw" in this kind of thing.

So whilst I might have won from this there, I wouldn’t have been confident until we reached the position at the head of today’s blog.  This was my original answer to EJH when he posed the question ...

... but then a little while later I had to acknowledge that I was wrong. For some reason, perhaps the heat of the moment as I watched the moves coming in live, I hadn't considered that the defending king is cut off on the short side.

Central pawn on the 4th, defending king cut off by two files. I knew for sure that was a win regardless of where the other side's pieces are. What I was thinking about was something like this ….

... which looks like it shouldn't make any difference, but having the king on the other side of the board means you need a different winning plan. The technique, which you can find below, is all about forcing the pawn over the halfway line at which point you know you’re going to be able to get Lucena.

If you have the king on h1 as in Carlsen-Ivanchuk and you follow the usual 'king cut off by two files' winning procedure of coming to c3 – which was Short and Trent's initial suggestion on the live commentary – you have to be sure to play the rook to g5 when you need to defend the pawn …

Astonishingly, if you defend the pawn from behind as usual …

... White can draw after something like 1 Kg2 Kd2, 2 Re4 Kd3, 3 Ra4 because his king won't get in the way of checks from the side … and if you don’t believe me you can Nalimov it for yourself.

The Short/Trent plan with ... Rg5 does still win with the defending king stuck in the corner although Chucky’s idea of coming to the f-file is clearly more efficient. Interestingly, though, if we improve White’s king, say to h4 …

… zugwang and threatening mate is the only way to win. Nothing else works.

It’s not so easy to see, but if you’ve got your opponent’s king cut off by two files and it's on the short side, that’s what you’ve got to do. In the end it’s just a matter of technique.

Rook and pawn Index