Game 12: SmithyQ-FlyingFortress: An Historical Endgame

This game shows my preferred playing style almost to a tee: I get a decent position in the opening, then immediately manage to inflict weak pawns on my opponent.  He suffers for the rest of the middlegame and endgame, and I have constant winning chances and no risks.

I don’t manage to win the game, mind you, but I was in no danger of losing, either.

For me, this game is most interesting in terms of historical importance.  At the time, I had never been much above 1800, and I struggled mightily against players 1850+.  My opponent was nearly 1900, and his highest rating was over 2000 … and I handled him easily.  He had no chances this game, and it took great skill for him to escape with a draw.  This game was the first indication that, holy cow, my training was working!

Let’s take a look at a long endgame.

[Event “Let’s Play!”]
[Site “Chess.com”]
[Date “2015.04.20”]
[Round “?”]
[White “SmithyQ”]
[Black “flyingfortress5”]
[Result “1/2-1/2”]
[ECO “B03”]
[WhiteElo “1739”]
[BlackElo “1892”]
[Annotator “Pettit”]
[PlyCount “135”]
[EventDate “2015.??.??”]
[TimeControl “1”]

{I fail to convert a promising Alekhine endgame.} 1. e4 Nf6 {When I was a 1600
player, I had a 1800-rated rival that always played this, the Alekhine, and I
lost game after game. My best results came from the Exchange variation,
meaning I got some draws instead of just losing, and that’s been my go-to line
ever since.} 2. e5 Nd5 3. d4 d6 4. c4 Nb6 5. exd6 {This line makes perfect
sense. It pushes Black’s Knight around, it gains a strong centre and it
exchanges the pawn so that Black has no target to attack. White gets a small
but lasting edge, and it’s not the type of position Black wants to get when
playing the Alekhine.} exd6 6. Nc3 Be7 7. h3 {White’s only potential weakness
is the d4-pawn, and the best defender of d4 is a Knight on f3. h3 thus stops
any potential pin with Bg4. I don’t think it’s the mainline, but regardless,
White keeps a safe and solid position with no risk.} Nc6 8. Nf3 Bf5 9. Be3 {
[%csl Gd4][%cal Ge3d4,Gd1d4,Gf3d4] d4 is currently protected by three pieces.
Black has no target. I will finish my development, castle and then try to
exploit my space advantage.} O-O 10. Be2 Bf6 11. O-O Nb4 {Black jumps forward,
perhaps trying to land a Knight on c2, but it doesn’t really threaten anything.
Because White has no weaknesses, Black has no threats. A better idea would be
d5, playing in the centre, or Re8, developing a Rook and playing in the centre.
} ({When in doubt, play in the centre before doing anything else. Here’s a
sample line.} 11… d5 12. cxd5 Nb4 13. Rc1 N4xd5 {Compare this position to
the game. Though the positions are similar, Black’s pieces are much better,
just by playing d5 first.}) 12. Rc1 {For my part, I develop a Rook and parry
Black’s threat of Nc2 in one go.} d5 13. a3 {I push Black’s Knight back,
preventing the Knight from landing on d5 like the above variation.} Nc6 14.
cxd5 {This move makes complete sense, as it opens the c-file that I just
placed my Rook on, but I had an even better option.} (14. c5 {The computer
likes this move more, as it forces the Knight to a weak square. I thought Nc4
would be fine for Black, but the engine shows that White can win a pawn then.}
Nc4 15. Nxd5 $1 Qxd5 (15… Nxe3 16. Nxf6+ Qxf6 17. fxe3 {d4 is fully
protected and White has an extra pawn.}) (15… Nxb2 $2 16. Nxf6+ Qxf6 17. Qb3
{and the Knight is trapped.}) 16. Bxc4 {White’s up a pawn, and with d5 coming
soon, he also has the initiative and a great game.}) 14… Nxd5 15. Nxd5 Qxd5
16. Rc5 {I exchanged pieces and now my Rook occupies a great square,
pressuring most of the board.} Qd7 {[%cal Gc5f5,Gd7f5] Forced, as otherwise
the Bishop drops.} 17. Bb5 {My pieces come alive. The Knight is pinned and I
can threaten it with almost everything: Qa4 and Rc1, not to mention Ne5 and,
of course, d5. Black must deal with this pressure.} a6 $6 {Black now plays the
most obvious move, challenging the pin immediately, but it’s not the best.
White wants to exchange on c6 and wreck Black’s pawn structure anyway. Black
had other was to deal with the pin, for instance, Rd8.} (17… Rad8 {This is
an obvious move, developing the Rook to pressure d4. Better, and less obvious,
it pins the d-pawn, as White’s Queen is insufficiently protected. If White
exchanges on c6, then Black is up a tempo compared to the game, and if White
tries to win the Knight, Black can counter.} 18. d5 Qd6 $1 {This move breaks
the pin on the Knight, allowing it to jump to e5, and it keeps the pin on the
d-pawn. dxc6? would now lose material, and trying to win a pawn with} 19. Bxc6
bxc6 20. Rxc6 {runs into another nice tactic.} Qxc6 $1 21. dxc6 Rxd1 22. Rxd1
Bxb2 $11 {Black has two Bishops on an open board and may even be slightly
better, but with most of the pawns soon to be traded, it’s almost certainly a
drawn endgame. This position is very easy for Black to play. Compare that to
what happens in the game, and you’ll see the power of a single tempo.}) 18.
Bxc6 bxc6 19. Ne5 {The Knight logically jumps in, hitting both the Queen and
the pawn, all but forcing Black to part with the two Bishops.} Bxe5 20. dxe5 {
Let’s look at this position rather closely. Material is even, though
opposite-coloured Bishops means it may be drawish in a long endgame. The most
important thing, though, is the pawn structure. Black’s pawns are terrible and
easily attacked. White will pile up his Rooks on the open c-file and win
something. It would be very hard for Black to maintain material. That said,
White’s position isn’t perfect. He’d much rather have his e5 pawn on e4, where
it would restrict Black’s Bishop. The e5-pawn currently just blocks White from
placing his Bishop on a good diagonal. White prolly wants to put that Bishop
on c5 or a5, as those are the only useful available squares (g5 would just get
pushed back by h6). For Black, he wants to put his Bishop on d5. If he could
do that, he’s be perfectly fine. That’s hard to do right now, though, because
White can always exchange Queens and deflect the Bishop. Because of the pawn
structure, Black is fighting for a draw here.} f6 {If you’ve ready my above
analysis, we should realize this is a mistake. White’s e-pawn is more of a
limitation than a strength. White would love to exchange it. Second, it
doesn’t do anything to help the Queenside pawns. Play Re8, play Rb8 and Rb5,
okay Qe6 and Rd8 or Be4, play something to help. Now I just roll forward and
exert tremendous pressure, mostly because Black essentially wasted this move.}
21. Qf3 {This move is natural, all but winning the c-pawn, and it leads to a
favourable endgame.} ({The computer suggests another try.} 21. Qxd7 Bxd7 22.
Rd1 {And now Black is forced to play Be8 if he wants to save his c-pawn,
because the natural} Rad8 23. Rc3 $1 {[%cal Gc3d3] and the threat is Rcd3,
pinning and winning the Bishop.}) 21… fxe5 22. Qxc6 Qxc6 23. Rxc6 {[%csl Ra6,
Rc7,Re5] After the flurry of exchanges material is still equal, but Black is
left with three weak pawns that will almost certainly fall.} Rfb8 24. b4 a5 25.
Bc5 (25. Bd2 {For some reason, the computer vastly prefers this move over my
choice of Bc5. I don’t really get it, as the Bishop looks more passive here
and can just be kicked by a Rook coming to the d-file. There must be some
reason having to do with keeping the c-file open for the Rooks, but this is
one computer move I just don’t get.}) 25… axb4 26. Bxb4 Rc8 27. Rfc1 {
I’ve now reached maximum activity. Every piece is doing something, with my
Rooks pressuring the weak pawn, my Bishop protecting my only weakness and my
King ready to soon jump in as well. Black remains discombobulated, and it take
real ingenuity for my opponent to hang on.} Ra7 28. R6c5 {In fact, my activity
is so dominant that Black can’t stop this simple threat.} Bg6 29. Rxe5 c6 {
[%cal Ga7f7] A good move. With the pawn on a light-square, he can protect it
with his Bishop and my own is helpless to attack it. It also lets his Rook
slide across the seventh rank if need be.} 30. Rec5 {I immediately pressure
the pawn again. If you have a weakness, attack it.} Be8 31. Rf5 {Here I start
chasing the wrong thing. My idea is stop his King from entering the game,
which would be great, but I also need to get my King to do something. Black is
already very passive, and it will take time for him to get his forces to
better squares. Instead of trying to stop him, I should have used that time to
make my forces even better.} (31. f3 {[%cal Gg1f2,Gf2e3,Ge3d4,Gd4e5,Ge5d6,
Gd4c4,Gc4b3,Yg2g4,Yf3f4,Yf4f5] The simplest strategy would be to bring my King
into the game and see what to do from there. Depending on how Black plays, I
can either move it to d6/c5 and attack the pawn, bring it to b3 and push my
own pawn, or even get ready with g4-f4-f5 and try to create a passed pawn over
there.}) 31… Bd7 32. Re5 Re8 33. Rce1 Rxe5 34. Rxe5 {Does this exchange help
or hinder me? If the Rooks get traded, it’s almost certainly a draw, as
opposite-coloured Bishops are notorious for that. However, if the Bishops get
traded, it’s not much better, as Rook endgames are just as drawish! All the
same, I’m still more active, I’m still up a pawn and I still have real winning
chances.} Kf7 35. Re7+ Kf6 36. f3 {I now start bringing my King into the game,
but five moves later. Notice how I tried to stop Black’s King, but it’s
actually further advanced than my own? That’s why the simple 31.f3 was better
than what I played.} Rb7 {Now let’s play a game. What’s the threat? You ask
that after every opponent’s move, right? Of course you do, because that’s one
of the first things a novice player is taught. What is Black’s threat? Does he
have one? What should white do?} 37. Kf2 {I play the normal move, which looks
normal and fine and perfect. Black is passive and just has to sit around and
defend, right?} (37. Re4 {was best, as it allows me to avoid Black’s tactic
and keep pressuring him. That said, winning in this position is still very
hard, even though I’m up a pawn. If Black ever plays g6, then my Bishop can
never attack any of his pawns, and he can likely stall this one out. That’s
always the peril of having opposite-coloured Bishops.}) 37… Rxb4 $1 {A
sudden tactic! One I should have seen had I bothered to ask myself, “What is
his threat?”} 38. Rxd7 (38. axb4 $2 Kxe7 {is of course the idea, where I’m
down a piece.}) 38… Ra4 39. Rd6+ Kf7 40. Rxc6 Rxa3 {I’m still up a pawn, but
the Bishops and Queenside pawns are gone … and that makes it almost a sure
draw. Well, maybe not, but Rook endgames with all the pawns on the same side
are notoriously drawish. I need to somehow get a passed pawn and push his King
away from the promotion square, which is often impossible. I try, but perfect
defence should hold.} 41. h4 {I start with h4, because I wanted to avoid g5
from Black. I don’t know if this is best, though, and Black soon gets me
tangled up.} (41. g4 g5 {[%csl Gf4,Gh4] This was my worry, where the pawn
controls two key squares and I need to trade either my f- or h-pawns for it.
The less pawns, the less my chances of winning.}) 41… Ra2+ {Black
immediately checks my King, forcing me to an awkward square.} 42. Kg3 h5 {
Stopping my King from eventually getting to g4. As is, it is tied to my g-pawn.
} 43. Rc4 g6 44. Rf4+ Kg7 45. Kh3 {I’m trying to untangle my pawns. The only
way I can win is by pushing pawns and trying to Queen, but Black’s Rook is
very annoying.} Ra6 46. g4 {Here we go, I get my pawn push in. Still not good
chances for winning this, but they are chances.} hxg4+ 47. fxg4 Ra3+ 48. Kg2
Rb3 (48… g5 {This move makes it a draw almost instantly. It seems strange,
but there’s a fun thing with b- and g-pawns: as long as the Black King is in
front of the pawn, he cannot lose. You’ll see why at the end of the game. In
addition, this is just a fortress.} 49. hxg5 Kg6 50. Rf5 Rb3 {[%csl Ra3,Rc3,
Rd3,Re3,Rf3,Gf5,Rg3,Gg5,Rh3] and how can White make progress? His King can’t
go passed the third rank, and his Rook must stay on the fifth to protect his
pawn.}) 49. Rf3 Rb2+ 50. Kg3 Rb6 {This gives me more chances.} (50… Kh6 {
and now, how do I make progress? If I move my Rook, I get checked for days,
and if I try to move my King forward.} 51. Kf4 Rb4+ 52. Kg3 {I have to move it
right back to protect the pawn.} Rb2 $11) 51. Re3 Ra6 52. Kf4 Ra4+ 53. Re4 {
By moving my Rook over, I’ve prepared this blocking check. Still trying to
make progress.} Ra6 (53… g5+ 54. hxg5 (54. Kxg5 $4 Rxe4) 54… Ra2 {And
we’ll have the similar draw as the main game. Again, see the final variation
for the general idea.}) 54. Re5 Ra4+ 55. Kg5 {I’ve made decent progress, and
though this is still a draw, Black now needs to be careful.} Ra6 $2 {This move
is not careful, and I can win … with the right idea.} (55… Ra7 {This move
stops the threatened check. Black may have been worried about} 56. Re6 {
where I attack the g6-pawn, but simply} Ra5+ {and I get pushed back.}) 56. h5
$2 {For my part, I blunder in return. This leads to a dead draw, though, in my
defence, had these pawns been on virtually any other two squares, it would be
close to winning. It’s the damn Knight pawns that spoil things!} (56. Re7+ $1 {
is the winning idea. The idea is to bring the King closer and then win the
g-pawn.} Kf8 57. Rb7 Kg8 58. Kh6 {The threat is now Rg7+, winning the pawn.}
Ra4 {Trying to counter-attack the White pawns, a good idea, but…} (58… Rc6
59. Rg7+ Kh8 60. g5 $1 (60. Rxg6 {this also wins, but it’s a bit more awkward.}
Rc4 61. Kh5 {and White needs to untangle his pawns and his King again before
advancing. The mainline is much cleaner.}) 60… Rc4 {Black tries to attack
the pawns, but} 61. Rb7 {and White is threatening mate.} Kg8 62. Kxg6 {White
again threatens mate, so Black has no time to win the h-pawn. Two connected
passed pawns should win easily.}) 59. g5 Rxh4+ ({Black cannot defend his pawn
with his Rook.} 59… Ra6 60. Rg7+ Kh8 61. Rxg6 $18) 60. Kxg6 {[%csl Gf7,Gg7,
Gh7][%cal Gb7b8] and White is threatening mate. This forces Black to respond,
and that tempo gives White the win.} Kf8 ({or} 60… Rf4 61. Rb8+ Rf8 62. Rxf8+
Kxf8 63. Kh7 {[%csl Gg6,Gg7,Gg8] White controls all the squares in front of
the pawn and Queens easily.}) 61. Rb8+ Ke7 62. Kg7 Rg4 63. g6 {and White will
soon reach the Lucena position, with a winning position.}) 56… gxh5 57. Kxh5
{This is basically the Philidor position, which is a known draw, and it’s also
the g-pawn, which makes it another draw. Too bad I didn’t know this at the
time.} Rb6 58. Kg5 Ra6 59. Kf5 Rb6 60. Re7+ Kg8 61. Re6 Rb1 {This move leads
to a more instructive draw, but why bother when the exchange is obviously
drawn?} (61… Rxe6 62. Kxe6 Kg7 63. Kf5 Kf7 $11 {and with the opposition,
Black has a textbook draw.}) 62. Kg6 {Things look good for White, as I’m
threatening mate!} Rb8 {Black defends, and now his Rook can never leave the
backrank. Again, looks good … but that’s exactly what Black wants.} 63. Rf6 {
The only way for me to possibly win is get my King to one of these squares,
where I can then excort my pawn to Queening. As long as his King is there, how
can I do that? How can I move his King?} Ra8 64. Kh6 Rb8 65. g5 {I start
advancing my pawn.} Ra8 {Black just moves his Rook back and forth.} 66. Rg6+
Kh8 {I’ve got Black’s King to move, but I still can’t get my King to the
important f7 square… and even if I did, Black can just check it away with
his Rook.} 67. Rg7 {Black has almost no moves …} Rb8 {… but he doesn’t
need to move, because I can’t make progress.} 68. Rf7 {I offered the draw here,
as there’s no way forward. This is the problem with Rook and Knight-pawn
endgames. If Black occupied the back rank, it’s a draw. This was a pretty
intense game, where I had lots of positional pressure for pretty much the
early middlegame on, but Black defended well and earned a hard-fought draw.} (
68. Rf7 Ra8 69. g6 {So the only way to win is to advance the pawn, so let’s
see what happens if that happens.} Rb8 {Black still just waits.} 70. g7+ Kg8 {
White has three options: move his Rook along the seventh rank, move it along
the f-file, or bring his King forward.} 71. Re7 {This is the prettiest finish.}
(71. Rf6 Ra8 72. Kg6 Rb8 73. Rc6 {and Black could just keep moving his Rook
back and forth, or he could go for the stalemate trap as well.} Rb6 74. Rf6 (
74. Rxb6 {again, stalemate!}) 74… Rb8 {and there’s no progress.}) (71. Kg6
Rb6+ 72. Rf6 Rc6 {and there’s that familar statelmate threat!} 73. Rxc6 (73.
Kf5 Rc8 {Kg6 would be a repetition, so} 74. Rg6 Rc7 75. Kf6 Rc6+ 76. Kf5 Rxg6
77. Kxg6 {it’s always stalemate in the end, it seems.})) 71… Rb6+ 72. Kg5
Rg6+ $1 73. Kxg6 {and it’s stalemate!}) 1/2-1/2

Conclusions

I had the advantage most of the game, but it never really approached a winning advantage.  The pieces left, so Rooks and opposite-coloured Bishops, always made a win difficult.  That said, I did have a winning position in the end, as the variation around move 56 shows.  A shame, but oh well.

Also, I lost a lot of winning potential when I overlooked Black’s tactic in exchanging the Bishops.  Never let your guard down, even in ‘simple’ or ‘easy’ positions.

Really, though, my big conclusion is a personal one.  Historically, I’d never done well against those 1900 and up, but here I had the advantage almost the entire time.  It was my opponent struggling, not me.  This gave me confidence to play higher-rated players, and soon my play and my rating zoomed to new heights.  This game solidified that my training with GMPU was working.

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