Game 21: Gavacho Iberico-SmithyQ: Simplifying When Up Material

In most GM games, if one side loses a piece, he then resigns.  In most tactical puzzles, if you win a piece the puzzle ends.  In a real game, though, your opponent might play on.  That’s perfectly in his or her right, and that can lead to some practical difficulties.

I have seen many amateurs, myself included, struggle when up material, even a whole piece.  Somehow, even though you know you should be winning, it doesn’t feel that way.  Things aren’t so simple.  If you know the general strategy of simplifying into the ending, though, then things can become very simple.

That’s what happened in today’s game.  I won a piece very early on, and then spent the rest of the game single-mindedly focused on the endgame.  In the end, it was a pretty easy win.  Let’s take a look.

[Event “Let’s Play!”]
[Site “”]
[Date “2015.05.18”]
[Round “?”]
[White “gavacho_iberico”]
[Black “SmithyQ”]
[Result “0-1”]
[ECO “C68”]
[WhiteElo “1582”]
[BlackElo “1806”]
[Annotator “Pettit”]
[PlyCount “70”]
[EventDate “2015.??.??”]
[TimeControl “1”]

{How to play when up a piece.} 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Bxc6 {I play 1.
..e5 as Black because I want to play certain lines of the Spanish … and I
never get them. Makes me sad. On the flip side, I’ve played the Exchange
Variation as White for a bit, so I know most of the ideas and how to counter
as Black.} dxc6 5. Nxe5 $6 {This idea has been proven to not work at least 150
years ago, if not back in the time of Greco in the 1600s, so I’m always
surprised when I see it.} Qd4 {The double-attack wins back the pawn with a
perfectly equal game.} 6. O-O {… unless White suddenly drops a piece for no
reason. In his defence, I think he thought I would play Qxe4, either now or
right after taking the Knight, when he then had Re1. I of course do not allow
that.} Qxe5 7. d4 {Let’s take stock for a moment. I’m up a piece, which means
I’ll easily win the endgame… I just need to get there first. My priorities
should be to finish development, get my King safe and then trade pieces. It
makes no sense to open the position (Qxe4?? Re1 and I lose), so I should keep
the position closed as well. That’s the plan: develop and castle. First,
though, my Queen is attacked, so where should it go?} Qe6 {This square seems
best: my Queen can’t be attacked by anything and it’s nearby to defend any
White threats. On e7 it would block my Bishop, on f6 it would block the Knight;
both are poor options if I want to develop quickly. True, on e6 it does Block
the Bishop, but Bd7 and 0-0-0 is good enough.} 8. Re1 Bd7 {It’s faster to
castle Queenside, so I try for that right away.} 9. d5 {White tries to open
the position up, which makes sense strategically. I want to keep things closed,
so I move my Queen to the only square that doesn’t block my development.} Qg6
10. dxc6 Bxc6 {White HAS managed to open the position slightly, and he has
even stopped my from castling, but he has also improved my position. My Bishop
did little on d7, but now it sits powerfully on c6.} 11. Nc3 Nf6 12. Bf4 {
Both sides develop naturally.} Rd8 13. Qe2 Bd6 {The tactical point is that e5
allows Qxg2#, making sure of that powerful Bishop on c6. If Black doesn’t
trade, then I may get a strong attack on his King starting with Ng4.} 14. Bg3
Bxg3 15. fxg3 O-O {I have now castled and caught up in development, so there
should be no more threats against me. I can now start trading pieces and
making my extra piece count in the endgame.} 16. e5 Nd5 17. Rad1 {Not a bad
move, but Ne4 prevents the exchange and makes my job a little tougher.} Nxc3
18. bxc3 Qe6 {Next I want to exchange Rooks, but if I do it right away, he
will have control of the d-file. My Queen prepares to go to e7, where I can
support Rd8, or I might pressure the advanced e5-pawn, which is a weakness.}
19. a3 Rxd1 20. Rxd1 Re8 {The pawn can’t really be defended, as Re1 allows f6,
and the pawn is pinned to the Queen.} 21. c4 Qxe5 22. Qxe5 Rxe5 23. Rd8+ Re8
24. Rxe8+ {This again makes it easy. As along as White had the Rooks on board,
he could harass me with checks and maybe win a few pawns. Without Rooks, the
endgame is trivial.} Bxe8 25. Kf2 {[%cal Gg8f8,Gf8e7,Ge7d6,Gd6c5,Ye8d7,Yd7e6,
Ye6c4] Winning this position is straight-forward. First I need to get my King
into the game; the Queenside pawns are very weak, so c5 makes sense. Next, I
bring the Bishop in to attack the pawns. He can’t defend, so I will win a pawn
and then Queen it.} Kf8 26. g4 Ke7 27. Ke3 Kd6 28. Kd4 {I can’t advance the
King anymore, so bring in the Bishop.} Bd7 29. h3 Be6 30. c3 Kc6 {[%cal Gc6b6,
Gb6a5,Ga5a4] I will bring the King to the a-file. Notice how White must defend
c4 with his King, which makes it impossible for his KIng to help the defence
of a3.} 31. a4 Kb6 32. g5 Ka5 33. Kc5 Kxa4 {[%cal Ga6a5,Ga5a4,Ga4a3,Ga3a2,
Ga2a1] I’ve won a pawn, and now I just need to Queen it.} 34. Kd4 Ka3 {[%cal
Ga3b2] Putting my King on b2 permenantly shuts White away from teh Queening
square.} 35. h4 a5 {And he resigns, because of course the pawn can’t be
stopped. This is the textbook way to play when up a piece.} 0-1


The main reason people struggle when up material is they don’t keep it simple.  They know they are winning, so they relax, play whatever … and suddenly things reach a crisis.  If you follow the general strategy I outlined, that will largely disappear and you’ll reap the benefit of more wins.

  1. Finish development and castle.  Consolidate.  You can’t lose if you have no weaknesses and your King is safe.
  2. Start trading pieces.  The more the better.
  3. Win the endgame with the extra piece.  If ALL his pieces are gone, this is very simple indeed, as he can do nothing to resist.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.