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LCB, Issue #016 -- Torture Your Opponent in Cat and Mouse Endgames
September 02, 2012

The Deadly Art of Cat and Mouse

Lapoc Chess Board, Issue #016 -- The Deadly Art of Cat and Mouse

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Last month we concentrated exclusively on Queen and pawn endgames. First we looked at Philidor's Study on Queen vs Rook and Pawn conducted in 1777. We saw how the defending King, Rook and pawn could easily set up a fortress to frustrate the enemy King and Queen. We concluded that the endgame was a stone wall draw. We examined how it was possible to simplify a more complicated and dicey endgame down to this building block and draw.

We then played through some Queen vs Seventh Rank Rook or Bishop pawn endgame scenarios. Some traps and trickery turned out to be the solution to these advanced troublesome characters.

This month it's time to take on board a new conceptual theme for the chess endgame. It's called the 'Cat and Mouse' theme. What to do when you're in a won position.

The inexorable path to victory involving no risk. It is the art of slowing things down. Getting things just right before launching the final assault. The exact opposite of the opening when you try to do everything as quick as possible. It's the old endgame maxim, 'Never do in 2 moves what you can do in 10.'

Playing Ruthless, Merciless Chess

A Game of Cat and Mouse

Some endgames are really cagey affairs. There is a microscopic difference between the two players if there's one at all. Everything's still on the line and the atmosphere remains fraught with tension. You don't have the luxury of fixing every weakness in your position. You have to prioritize operations on the basis of need.

Sometimes however you play a game where you've got a decisive advantage as the dust from the middlegame fracas settles. Your opponent is no longer in a fit state to threaten you. He has no prospects and no way to manufacture one. All that remains is for you to slowly break down his defense, set up that mating net and close the deal.

Time to rush in and get the job done? No. Time to kick back, relax and enjoy yourself. You don't have to worry about taking a few extra moves. All it means is your opponent will get to stew in his misery and suffer while you optimize your pieces to the maximum and get things just so.

When you've removed all of the little imperfections from your position with those quiet fixing moves, now it is time to go in for the kill. We have 3 great examples at Grandmaster level where the guy with the edge doesn't lose his head and go on the all out attack. He remains calm and gradually dismantles his opponent completely before going in to finish it.

Benko vs Averbakh

After 36 moves of their 1958 Interzonal Championship game, Pal Benko and Yuri Averbakh reached a Rook and Knight vs Rook and Bishop endgame. They had a pawn apiece locked up on the b-file. Benko (White) had a 4-3 pawn majority on the Queenside.

Averbakh was effectively playing for a draw and he reckoned to get it by trading off minor pieces and b-pawns. He would then have the perfect Rook and pawn endgame. A Rook and Four pawns vs Rook and Three pawns endgame with the pawns on the same side. Further simplifications would mean Rook and pawn vs Rook. The Philidor Position would get Averbakh a simple draw.

Benko decided that he would not allow that to pass. He would employ the Cat and Mouse Technique to gradually work his forces into position to force the win. See how he did this in Benko vs Averbakh.

Capablanca vs Ragozin

After 32 moves of a skillfully played 1936 game by both players, Capablanca (White) had managed to engineer a material advantage of one pawn. White had a two to one majority on the Queenside.

Many players might have been tempted to force the issue from here. They might have immediately tried to force the concession of a piece or some other kind of advantage for the extra pawn. But not the Cuban maestro. He was happy to play another 30 moves.

He simply played to conserve his advantage, gradually moving his forces up the board. He would slowly turn the screw on his opponent, taking away his space and options. He knew the psychological torture of defending an increasingly challenging position would eventually tell on his opponent's nerves.

White slowly dragged the enemy King and Rook across to shore up the Queenside. This left the Kingside open for invasion. Eventually Black and was overwhelmed on the Kingside as well and cracked. His position could not sustain a second weakness and he resigned. See Capablanca's perfect demonstration of the Cat and Mouse endgame in Capablanca vs Ragozin.

Nimzowitsch vs Tarrasch

The last game of the Cat and Mouse trilogy is an absorbing battle between Aron Nimzowitsch and Siegbert Tarrasch from way back in 1925. Nimzowitsch manages to slowly and painstakingly build a small but stable advantage over the first 20 moves.

He does not then blow this by throwing his forces headlong into battle. The Crown Prince was the leading advocate of Prophylaxis. He was all about tying opponents up in knots, denying them space, activity, any air to breathe. On this occasion he had Tarrasch, a fine player himself, in an awkward position. Nimzowitsch turned down the heat, let his opponent cook as he slipped a straitjacket on him. He slowly but surely tightened it forcing Tarrasch's pieces into ever more passive positions until finally he had him right where he wanted him.

In the end, Nimzowitsch's perfectly executed Cat and Mouse strategy capped with wonderful maneuvering of the Knight broke Tarrasch as Black's position ultimately collapsed. See how the Master of Prophylaxis humbled one of the best players in the world with a trademark demonstration of My System in Nimzowitsch vs Tarrasch.

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