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LCB, Issue #018 --, Steal Through Perilous Pawn Endgames
November 01, 2012

Perilous Pawn Endgames

Lapoc Chess Board, Issue #018 -- Steal Through Perilous Pawn Endgames

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Last month we discussed 'The Principle of Two Weaknesses'. We found that inflicting one single wound on your opponent is very rarely enough to win. He could simply build a defensive wall around the hole and you would not break through.

We looked at ways to compromise the enemy camp to such a degree that a break-through is inevitable. It became clear that it was necessary to create a second weakness. We took in some examples of past masters putting this plan into motion.

They overloaded the enemy forces and stretched them to breaking point as bigger gaps and more of them start to appear. Then they could launch a successful invasion as their units poured through to storm the enemy stronghold.

This month we're going to take a look at advanced King and Pawn endgames. Truth is even top GMs love them and fear them all at the same time. They can be extremely complex and difficult to calculate.

There is much potential for unforeseen complications, these endgames contain a surprising amount of 'spanners in the works'. Take a look at four of the most famous pawn endgames in chess history. They are highly instructive.

Perilous Pawn Endgames

When Just Kings and Pawns Remain

Pawn endgames are endgames with all back row pieces, save the Kings, off the board. The stakes are high. If you get your calculations wrong and an enemy pawn breaks clear, there is no Bishop or Rook around to save the day.

The big problem with pawn endgames is that they can be incredibly difficult to navigate correctly. GMs usually enter them as a last resort. If they have a winning position they won't jeopardize it by trading off the last remaining pieces. Even if things look like they should work out.

All of which makes pawn endgames the most exciting ones to watch. They're great to play in too if you can control the tension. Everything is on a knife-edge with triumph and disaster both waiting in the wings. Four famous pawn endgames follow featuring some of the most gifted past masters.

Pillsbury - Gunsberg (1895)

Pillsbury needed to beat Gunsberg to be absolutely sure of winning the prestigious Hastings 1895 tournament. It was the strongest field ever assembled for a tournament. Pillsbury was half a point clear heading into the final round.

His main rival, Mikhail Chigorin, was playing the formidable Carl Schlechter in his final game. Chigorin had the Black pieces which might have given Pillsbury cause to believe that a draw would be enough to win the competition outright.

That's certainly the way he played in a decidedly tame opening 20 moves. Word was filtering through that Chigorin had the upper hand against Schlechter and was poised to win. Pillsbury needed to play to limit of his ability to turn an apparently drawn minor piece ending into a magical pawn endgame victory.

Cohn - Rubinstein (1909)

Erich Cohn also needed a draw against the extremely talented Pole, Akiba Rubinstein. And he looked like he might get it too until he swapped a drawish Rook and pawn endgame for a dicey pawn endgame on move 24.

Rubinstein wasted no time in taking advantage of his superior pawn structure. He immediately brought his King down the board to lay siege on the isolated h-pawn. This tied down the White King to it's defense and when the four Black Kingside pawns swept down the board the writing was on the wall.

The victory came off the back of a minor piece trade that left the pawn structure compromised earlier in the game. This is a great example of a master ruthlessly dismantling his opponent by exploiting a slight imperfection.

Alekhine - Yates (1910)

Following an energetic tactical battle, this Queen's Gambit Declined game reached a Rook and pawn endgame. White had a Kingside majority and forced the exchange of the Rooks as he believed this would favor him.

Both Kings danced around the outside pawns jousting for opposition in a bid to finish up with the last outside pawn. White won that battle and with it the war.

Showing good understanding of triangulation, opposition and zugzwang, White forced Black to step to his pawn first. Black had to resign as a victim of Trebuchet. Wonderful technique from the 4th World Champion.

Kasparov - Bareev (2001)

Kasparov is possibly the greatest player in the history of the game. Bareev is a GM, also of high pedigree. Rapid chess can throw up different contenders, with tactical players perhaps more suited to playing under extreme time constraints.

These two met in the Rapid Chess World Cup Final in 2001. This French Defense game evolved into 6 vs 6 pawn endgame. In a position fraught with danger both Kings came to the center to tussle for dominance.

Black resigned from an apparently drawn position. It's possible he was under intense time pressure. This interesting endgame nonetheless contains valuable lessons.

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