Readers will have noticed that one of the tournaments that I have been recently following is the Montcada International Open in Catalunya, Spain (June 25 to July 3). Here is the final classification:
Montcada is part of the Catalan Circuit, a series of strong open tournaments held during the summer months. I remember that I spent almost my entire summer of ’91 playing in the circuit, even succeeding in winning it! It was hard work. Now a days I don’t have either the energy nor the ambition to try to win this tough championship, limiting myself-when I can-to one or two events just for the fun of it.
I have already presented many tactical examples from this year’s event, and now I would like to present a Rook and pawn ending that the reader might find interesting (and certainly valuable, from the practical point of view)
This exact kind of ending occurs thousands of times every year in master and grandmaster praxis. Every serious student of the game must learn how to draw this ending, with the inferior side ,as it is so common.
GM Shyam, Sundar M
GM Peralta, Fernando
Position before Black’s 70th move. White threatens 71.Kg6 winning, the passed pawn being then unstoppable. The best that Black could then get would be the Lucena Position, which is relatively easy to win for White.
The Rook must be ready to meet 71.Kg6 with a check from behind, which would draw immediately, as the reader can easily verify. I give the move an exclamation mark, but the Rook to either e4 or e3 would accomplish the same thing.
Whenever possible, the defending King should occupy the queening square. We now have a position that is part of the important PHILIDOR family of positions (the defending King is cut off on the 7th rank but occupies the queening square).
Not really the most precise move (72.Kf6! is more direct, which happens later in the game), but on the otherhand it does threaten to win immediately with Rc8+ and f6+ (etc).
Now every experienced player should know that–from the above position–Black has an air-tight draw with the immediate 72…Rf2! (the Rook behind the pawn is the golden rule) when 73.Rc8+ Ke7 and the pawn can not advance. Better would be 73.Kf6 Kg8! 74.Rc8+ Kh7 75.Ke6 but then 75…Kg7! and the once more the pawn can not advance.
Finally, if instead 73.Kf6 Kg8! 74.Rc8+ Kh7 75.Rf8!? (trying to get in Ke7 and then advance the pawn) then Black has 75…Ra2! when advancing the pawn would allow Black to check from the side. That means that White would have nothing better than 76.Re8!? (to interpose the Rook should Black start checking) when simply 76…Rf2! (back behind the pawn) and White can make no progress. Most grandmasters would immediately call it a day at this point, as otherwise the position will soon be repeated a second and then a third time.
This move is good enough to draw anyway, but White now has a few more chances.
73…Kg8! 74.Rc8+ Kh7 75.Kf7
Now White wants to advance his pawn and reach a Lucena-type position. The game is still a draw at this point (with correct defence) but Black must know one other theoretical position, a very important position that every decent endgame manual should carefully explain:
This position is the KEY to understanding this ending. It is useful to note the relative positions of the pieces: the White Rook is on e6, the pawn is on the 6th rank and White’s King is on f7; Black has his Rook far away on the a-file ready to give check; it does not make any difference if the Black King is on h7 or h6 (it is the same thing)
White to play would win with Kf8! followed by advancing his pawn. HOWEVER, if Black is to play, then Ra8! draws immediately as it prevents White’s winning plan. For example, 1…Ra8! 2.Re8 Ra7+ (or a6 is good enough also) 3.Kf8 Kg6! and the pawn goes.
BACK TO THE GAME:
Naturally, Black an experienced grandmaster, knows the basic concept explained above. Both sides proceed logically for the next moves…
76. Rc7 Ra1 77. f6 Ra2 78. Rb7 Ra1 79. Re7
White is trying to set up the theoretical position I explained above. He must first place his Rook on e6. As noted above, White MUST have his pieces PERFECTLY placed if he is to hope to win.
For instance, if it was White’s move again in the above diagram, he still can NOT win: 80. Kf8+ Kg6 81. f7 Kf6!! 82. Kg8 Rg2+! 83. Kf8 Ra2! and White can not avoid the draw: 84. Ke8 Ra8+ 85. Kd7 Rf8 and the pawn goes.
Not the move that I would have played, but good enough. Black could have still waited until White has his Rook on e6 and THEN play Ra8, as in the theoretical study above.
Et voila! White has set up the position that he was aiming for. Unfortunately for him, he can not play his winning plan (Kf8) Black should now just sit (Kh6 or Rb8). Then the only real way for White to try to win would lead, after 81.Re8 R+ 82.Kf8 Kg6!, to the drawing idea given in the variation above at move 79. Both players would soon shake hands and sign the scoresheet and go home.
INCREDIBLY, what happens next is that Black actually lost this game! And the most curious part of it is that, in praxis, this OFTEN happens. Recently, this past winter, I was doing a lot of research on the Rook and F and H pawn vs Rook ending, where very often the only way to try to win is to chuck the h-pawn and try to get the theoretical position described above. Even very strong grandmasters have been known to lose this ending.
WHY? The answer is simple: fatigue. Usually this kind of position occurs when you have already been playing for 4 or 5 hours, sometimes more depending on the time control. The defender knows basically what he is supposed to do, but being tired and probably having only the 30-second increment to play with, the possibility of a blunder increases.
That is why I tell my students that they HAVE to learn these endings by heart at home. Plus, they have to REALLY understand the ideas from both sides of play. They need to understand what the attacker is aiming for; they need to understand how the defender prevents this.
FORTUNATELY, with online ending table bases today’s players can practice for free this ending and learn to play it perfectly, even better than from books.
BACK TO THE GAME:
There it is! One little mistake and the game is over. Now White is able to execute the plan that he was aiming for…
81. Kf8! Ra8+ 82. Re8! Ra1 83. f7!
Basically, this is a Lucena-type position. Every school boy learns how to win this one…
83… Ra7 84. Re1! Ra8+ 85. Ke7 Ra7+ 86. Kf6 Ra6+ 87. Re6 Ra8 88. Re8! Ra6+ 89. Ke5