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LCB, Issue #009 -- Win the War through Exceptional Pawn Races
February 01, 2012

Exceptional Pawn Races

Lapoc Chess Board, Issue #009 -- Win the War through Exceptional Pawn Races

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Last month we covered the Rook and Two Connected Pawns vs Rook Endgame. We discovered the path to turning that advantage into a win. Later we talked about why the seventh rank is where every rook on the make wants to be.

We also looked at the King vs Two Bishops Endgame, showing how to close it out. And we finished off with the Bishops of Opposite Color Endgame where one side is two pawns up. We saw how in special circumstances, the weaker bishop can still draw.

This month we're heading back to those crucial King and Pawn endgames. You'll be building on the foundations set in place earlier, enriching what you've already learned with new must-know positions. We know that these King and Pawn endgames often turn into foot races where the first pawn to promote should win the game. Unless of course enemy pawns promote one right after the other which should result in a draw.

But as you are beginning to see, in chess there are always a few exceptions that you need to be aware of. We'll be talking about those. We will also look at a famous King and pawn composition along with other practical examples that should tie up any loose ends you may have.

King and Pawn Endgame Pointers

Winning the Battle but Losing the War

There are times when you can have the most advanced pawn and still lose. Even when said pawn cannot be stopped by any defender! Consider this situation. White has a king and two central connected pawns remaining, Black has a king and one rook pawn just two steps from coronation. The White king is miles away, on the other side of the board, close to his own pawns.

Sure White has two pawns but the Black king is apparently much better placed than his counterpart. He stands in front of the two pawns blocking their progress and any chance of promotion. Black must surely win? Actually no. Two connected pawns backed up by their king can deliver mate against the defending king. Yes Black will promote but his king gets mated before the newly minted queen can get into the game. Crucially the queen does not check the White king on promotion, giving White the chance to deliver the knock out blow. Play through this King and 2 Pawns vs King and 1 Pawn endgame to get the idea.

Don't take that C-Pawn

In the second scenario we have a king and two pawns against a king and two pawns. White's king sits well out of the game on g7 but Black's king will be heavily involved from his position on b1. However White has a passed rook pawn on a6 while Black's connected central pawns c5 and d5 have much more traveling to do. Furthermore there is a road block ahead in the shape of White's second pawn on d3. The game seems lost for Black and indeed it is just so long as White does not slip up. Black to move will play 1...c4. White will be tempted to take on the next move, 2.dxc4? but this would be a calamitous error. He should have ignored the central file and simply played 2.a7! Play through the King and 2 Pawns vs King and 2 Pawns endgame to find out why.

Controlling the Long Diagonal on Promotion

Our third endgame is a King and Pawn vs King and Pawn endgame. Let's say we have two rook pawns on opposite wings and both kings are too far away from the pawns to stop them promoting. And let's say both pawns are starting out of the blocks on the same move. If one or both of them were on any other file, it would be a draw no question assuming that the first pawn to promote did not check on promotion. But the interesting thing with two rook pawns on opposite wings is that the first pawn to promote to queen takes control of the long diagonal and with it the enemy pawn's promotion square, winning the game.

So back to our two pawns and their dash for the line. The game is decided by whoever has the move. If it's White to move, White wins and Black loses. If it's Black to move, Black wins and White loses. Simple as that. Unless one thing. If the king that has the lagging pawn can reach the supporting square (where the enemy knight started the game) within one move, he can save the game as the first queen will not be able to take the second queen without being captured herself. Neither will she be able to isolate the pawn from it's king before capturing it. Forcing the king in front of his pawn to allow the stronger king to advance towards the battle scene and help pick off the pawn is also out of the question. It is a dead draw. Play through both of these replayers to familiarize your self with the King and Pawn Long Diagonal Endgame.

Reti's Famous King and Pawn Composition

Chess puzzles and chess compositions have always been popular. The best ones are almost regarded as art. People have earned recognition and praise for coming up with the more remarkable ones. Of the compositions featuring King and Pawn endgames, Richard Reti's must be the most famous. It features a king and one pawn against a king and one pawn. White's king seems hopelessly stranded on a8 with the Black pawn seemingly racing away with an unassailable lead. White's pawn although having reached the sixth rank is apparently covered by the Black king which can reach it easily in time. So all in all White's ship seems to be sunk and yet he inextricably holds for a forced draw!

When you're done with Reti's piece of chess genius we should touch on the distinction between a fourth rank pawn and a fifth rank pawn in a King and Pawn vs King Endgame. Play through these final, critical King and Pawn Endgame Pointers to find out why the fifth rank pawn is so much more powerful than his fourth rank counterpart.

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