Kenilworth Kibitzer

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Friday, January 15, 2010


Rook Endgames Are Drawn, Except When They're Not

# 11  Euwe-Stahlberg (click here to view on

An interesting game on many levels, its analysis occupies a full five pages of Bronstein's book.  Here we'll focus on the endgame, which is about as instructive as they come.

Bronstein: ....this endgame, played with a high degree of skill, certainly belongs among the best [rook endgames].  Black's task is a most difficult one: he has to cope with an outside passed pawn.  He does have counterchances, however: the possibility of quickly creating a matching passed pawn on the h-file, and the fact that there is so little material left on the board.  This latter circumstance sometimes allows one to trade off all his pawns, give up the rook for the last of the enemy pawns, and then force one's opponent to repay his debt in the same coin.

38. ....    Kf8
39. Kg2  Ke7
40. Kf3  Kd7
41. Ke4   Ra7
42. Kd5   h5        Both sides have moved their kings toward the weak d-pawn and the crucial a-pawn.  Now Black hopes to create counterplay by creating a passed pawn of his own.  White moves to establish control of f5 as compensation.
43. f4  Ra6?!

Here Bronstein (echoing Euwe's own analysis) recommends starting counterplay immediately with 43. ... f6!  44. a6 g5  45. f5  h4  46. gxh  gxh  and then:
a) 47. Rxh4  Rxa6  48.  Rh7+  Ke8  49. Ke6 d5+  50. Kxd5  Ra5+ with a draw:

b) 47. Ke4  Kc6  48. Kf4  Kb5  49. Ra3  Rxa6  50. Rxa6  Kxa6  51. Kg4  Kb5  52. Kxh4  Kc5  with a draw:

44. e4?!  f6   (Euwe points out that his natural move takes away the e4 square from his king, meaning the king is no loner 'in the square' of the black h-pawn in certain variations)
45. Ra2  g5
46. f5  h4
47. gxh  gxh
48. Kc4  
Black has done his work very well, and is very close to a draw.  But here he makes the most human move....

48. ..... Ra8?      
Euwe exhaustively proves that the counterintuitive 48. .... Ra7!  is the drawing move.  Why?  (Buy the book!)  The short version is that the White pawn advances only to a6, and in variations where the passed pawns are 'exchanged' there is a draw, but now the pawn goes to a7, and if the white rook is on the h-file and black plays ...Rxa7 then Rh7+ will win the rook.  Not easy stuff, missed by a GM at the board.  But how does White win?

49. a6   Kc6
50. a7   h3     (...Kb7 takes the Black king too far from his pawns and loses)
51. Kd4  Kc7
52. Kd5  Kd7
53. Ra3  h2
54. Ra1  Re8      (and the disadvantages for Black of having allowed the pawn to a7 are clear - as above, there is the hanging threat of an eventual Rh7+ winning the rook.  With Black pinned down White nicely transitions to a won 2 v 1 R+P endgame.)

55. Rh1  Re5+
56. Kd4  Ra5
57. Rxh2  Kc6    (still the 7th rank problem - with one extra tempo for Black this is a draw)
58. Rh7   Ra4+

And black resigned in a further 9 moves - the f-pawn is doomed and White's protected passer goes for the endzone.

A beautiful endgame, and one with subtlety.


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