Game 8: SmithyQ-DancingHare: The Lucena Position

Let me start with a simple question: can you solve Lucena’s Position?

This is perhaps the most well-known endgame position in all of chess.  If you’ve studied endgames even the slightest, you likely know this position.  You can win this with your eyes closed, I’m sure.  You just follow the standard winning maneuver and collect your Queen.  Absolutely no problem, right?

Well, let’s take a look.

[Event “2- Chess is for fun – Round 1”]
[Site “Chess.com”]
[Date “2015.04.07”]
[Round “?”]
[White “SmithyQ”]
[Black “The-dancing-hare”]
[Result “1/2-1/2”]
[ECO “C14”]
[WhiteElo “1722”]
[BlackElo “1885”]
[Annotator “Pettit”]
[PlyCount “141”]
[EventDate “2015.??.??”]
[TimeControl “1”]

{A French defence middlegame peters out to a French defence endgame where I
unfortuntaly contract amnesia and forget how to play.} 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 {
Just a friendly reminder that the French defence is a silly opening.} 3. Nc3
Nf6 4. Bg5 Be7 5. e5 Nfd7 6. Bxe7 Qxe7 7. f4 {So far so theory. White has a
strong centre, easy development and a good Bishop, but none of that matters
because this is the French defence.} O-O 8. Nf3 c5 9. Qd2 Nc6 10. dxc5 {
The idea is to trade off my strong centre pawns so that my pieces can occupy
those squares instead.} Nxc5 11. Bd3 f6 12. exf6 {Again, trade the pawns so my
pieces have better squares.} Qxf6 13. g3 Nxd3+ 14. Qxd3 Bd7 15. O-O-O {White
has open lines for his Rooks, easy development, a safe structure and a clear
plan, but none of that matters because this is the French defence.} Be8 16.
Rhe1 Bg6 17. Qe3 Bh5 {It’s taken Black a small eternity, but his Bishop has a
nice square.} 18. Ne2 {Obviously I want to play Qxe6, but then my Knight hangs.
If I can install my Knight on d4, then it will protect the Knight and make
Qxe6 (or even Nxe6) a real threat.} (18. Rd2 {The computer slightly prefers
this move, as it breaks the pin and threatens to double or triple heavy pieces
on one of the files. At the same time, it says the game is near dead even
because it’s the French defence.}) 18… Bxf3 19. Qxf3 Rac8 20. Kb1 {Black
traded his bad Bishop and now lines his pieces up against my King. I make the
correct prophylactic move with my King, preventing future tactics.} Qg6 {
[%cal Gg6c2,Gc6b4,Gb4c2,Gc8c2] Black renews his threat against c2, now with
Nb4 coming.} 21. Qd3 Qf6 22. Nd4 {My Knights enters its ideal square,
pressuring e6 and blocking the Queen from coming towards my King. The Knight
also protects c2, making future Nb4 ideas less powerful.} (22. a3 {The
computer like this move, stopping Nb4 and preventing the Knight exchange. I
don’t think it makes much of a difference, mostly because it’s the French
defence and nothing ever happens.}) 22… Nxd4 23. Qxd4 Qxd4 24. Rxd4 Rfe8 {
We’ve traded all the minor pieces and reached a totally drawn endgame. Neither
side has any potential passed pawns, and there’s no real room to outplay the
other. Yawn.} 25. Ra4 {Not knowing what else to do, I threaten some random
pawns, hoping he makes some poor decisions.} (25. b3) 25… a6 26. Ra3 g6 27.
Kc1 {I begin to bring my King into the game, but the computer suggests an
interesting idea.} (27. Rb3 $5 b5 28. a4 bxa4 29. Rb6 {[%cal Gb6e6,Gb6a6] At
least won pawn is coming back, and suddenly I have chances with a potentially
passed b-pawn if I can clear the a-file. This was worth a shot.}) 27… Kf7 28.
Kd2 Kf6 29. Rc3 {This was my plan, exchanging Rooks and bringing my King
closer to the action.} Rxc3 30. Kxc3 Rc8+ {A good move, as otherwise White’s
King might start infiltrating the dark squares. Now he needs to hang around
and protect his own pawns.} 31. Kd3 Rc6 32. Re2 b5 33. c3 {Played, logically,
to prevent threats on the c-file.} h5 34. h3 {Played to … I’m not really
sure. Threaten g4?} a5 35. b3 {Played to keep his Rook off of c4. Not bad …
but remember why I played c3 in the first place? To keep the c-file protected.
Well, now the c3-pawn is weak again. It’s almost like semi-randomly moving
pawns around isn’t a good idea!} Rc7 36. Kd4 Rc6 37. a3 $2 {Played … because
I really wanted to lose, apparently.} (37. Re5 {This or virtually any other
non-pawn move would keep the draw. Indeed, just moving my Rook around, doing
nothing, would insure the draw. I didn’t want a draw, but I should have
accepted it, because this is the French defence.}) 37… Rc7 (37… a4 $1 {
is similar to what happens later in the game, though here Black would only get
a good position instead of a winning one. Maybe his game choice was better, as
it let me make a worse decision.} 38. bxa4 Rc4+ 39. Kd3 Rxa4 $17) 38. Re5 Rc6
39. g4 $2 {Another terrible pawn move! That’s eight in the last ten moves!}
hxg4 40. hxg4 a4 $1 {Remember why I played b3? To keep his Rook out of c4?
Well, that didn’t work to well.} 41. bxa4 (41. f5 {This is a much better
attempt at holding the draw. When down (or soon to be down) material in an
endgame, trade pawns. The more pawns you trade, the more likel you get that
draw.} exf5 (41… gxf5 42. gxf5 exf5 43. bxa4 Rc4+ 44. Kxd5 {is the same
thing.}) 42. bxa4 Rc4+ 43. Kxd5 Rxa4 44. gxf5 gxf5 45. Re2 {More pawns have been exchanged, and this increases my draw chances. If I can keep my King in front of Black’s remaining pawns, I have hope.}) 41… Rc4+ 42. Kd3
Rxf4 43. Re2 Rxa4 44. Rb2 Rxa3 45. Rxb5 {We’ve traded lots of pawns, but it’s
not enough. Black has a winning position.} Ra1 (45… Ra4 $1 {His position
would be even more winning had he played this, preventing my c4 liquidating
attempt.}) 46. c4 dxc4+ 47. Kxc4 Ra4+ 48. Kd3 Rxg4 {True, I’ve lost another
pawn, but this position ahs certain practical problems for Black to overcome.
If I can win one back while keeping my King in front of the of the other pawn,
I might draw. I mean, my position is completely losing, but hang onto hope.}
49. Ke3 g5 50. Kf3 Rf4+ 51. Ke3 e5 52. Rb6+ Kf5 53. Rb8 {I prepare to check
the Black King, and then to harass whichever pawn he moves away from.} Kg4 54.
Rh8 Kg3 55. Re8 g4 {Black can’t see a way to keep his pawn and make progress,
so he sacrifices it. I suppose my plan worked.} (55… Rf1 {this would have
been an ingenious way of indirectly protecting the pawn.} 56. Rxe5 Re1+ 57. Kd4
Rxe5 58. Kxe5 g4 {and Black wins.}) 56. Rxe5 Rf8 57. Rg5 Kh3 58. Rg7 g3 {
Unfortunately, I cannot Black from establishing Lucena’s Position and winning.}
59. Rh7+ Kg2 60. Rg7 Kh2 61. Rh7+ Kg1 62. Rg7 g2 {Black’s King is in front of
his pawn and his Rook prevents mine from getting closer. Black has a textbook
victory condition. All he has to do is bring his Rook up to the fifth rank and
‘build a bridge’ to shield from the checks. Easy. I should just resign.} 63.
Ke2 Rf5 {Black starts building his bridge, putting the Rook in position.} 64. Rg8 Kh2 {
Now his King clears the way for the pawn.} 65. Rh8+ Kg3 66. Rg8+ Kh3 67. Rh8+ {
I just keep checking, as otherwise the pawn Queens.} Kg4 68. Rg8+ Rg5 {Now the
Rook slides in front, shielding the King from the checks and winning easily.}
69. Rxg5+ Kxg5 70. Kf2 {“Darn it!!!!!!!!” my opponent says.} Kg4 71. Kxg2 {
And I escape once again with a miracle draw against the same opponent.} 1/2-1/2

Conclusions

First, I apologize for playing such a boring game, but when Black plays the French defence, what can you do?

Second, and more importantly, what gives?  Didn’t Black play the Lucena position perfectly?  “He forgot a check,” I hear you endgame maestros out there say, and I agree.  He could have played 63…Re8+, leading to a position where White threatens Rxg2+ with an immediate draw.  Hmm, maybe that check wasn’t the best idea.  Black has nothing better than Rf8+, repeating positions.  It appears to be a draw… but why?

In truth, this isn’t the ‘pure’ Lucena’s positions.  Normally White’s Rook starts on the f-file, preventing the King from moving away.  That’s how most books show it.  This is a variation of Lucena, and Black needs to know a trick.

[Event “?”]
[Site “?”]
[Date “2017.02.28”]
[Round “?”]
[White “?”]
[Black “?”]
[Result “*”]
[SetUp “1”]
[FEN “5r2/6R1/8/8/8/8/4K1p1/6k1 b – – 0 1”]
[PlyCount “9”]

{[#]} 1… Re8+ (1… Rf5 {Just to recap, this is how the game went.} 2. Rg8
Kh2 3. Rh8+ Kg3 4. Rg8+ Kh3 5. Rh8+ Kg4 6. Rg8+ Rg5 7. Rxg5+ Kxg5 8. Kf2 Kg4 9.
Kxg2 $11) 2. Kf3 {This looks good for White, because he’s threatening to win
the pawn and get his draw. Does Black have anything better than Rf8+ with a
repetition?} Kf1 $1 3. Rxg2 Rf8+ {And now there’s no way to save the Rook.} 4.
Kg3 (4. Ke3 Kxg2) 4… Rg8+ 5. Kf3 Rxg2 $19 {This is the winning plan.} *

My opponent did not know this (he said in chat after the game that he didn’t know Lucena’s position, or rather, he knew it once but forgot the details), and as such, he fell for a simple trick. Obviously, basic endgames matter.  In this case, it was literally the difference between victory and a half point.  Imagine, you are playing against me (or if you prefer, Magnus Carlsen), and you reached the above position.  You’re just a few moves away from immortality.  Do you have what it takes?

Some people say studying theoretical endgames is boring, to which I say, maybe, but if it turns sure losses into draws, then I’ll take that boring work every day of the week.

2 thoughts on “Game 8: SmithyQ-DancingHare: The Lucena Position

  1. Gringo

    Does Smirnov’s Endgame Course cover Lucena positions and the like or is it more general in nature?

  2. JP Post author

    No, Endgame Expert mostly ignores theoretical positions. It focuses more on the ‘early’ endgame, if that makes sense. How to play with few pieces and no Queens for the most part.

    Or, if that’s not exact enough, see the spot in the game where I started making random pawn moves? Had I actually studied Endgame Expert instead of just watching the videos, I would have better moves around then.

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