"Always make a total effort, even when the odds are against you." - Arnold Palmer

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Rook Endings with a Distant Passed Pawn

In rook endings an extra pawn is not such a great advantage. And we have already see what difficulties I could have faced in my game against James Byrne if the defence had been correct.
The point is that the rook is a powerful, dynamic piece, and its degree of activity strongly influences the assessment of a position. As a rule, an extra pawn can be realized in a rook ending only if the pieces, and in particular the rook, are actively placed. If the rook is passively placed, this may lead to the material advantage being devalued.  
In his time Tarrasch put forward a rule, that a rook should always be deployed behind a passed pawn. If it is your own pawn, the rook as though urges it on, while if it is an enemy pawn, the rook restrains it and at the same time retains the possibility of mounting attacks from the side.  
As we see below, Tarrasch's rule is applicable in many cases, but is by no means universal. Usually this rule is correct only when it is the rooks that are involve in the battle with a pawn. But if a passed pawn is being opposed by the enemy king, the rook is better placed at the side, when it not only defends the pawn, but also takes part in the play on the opposite wing. 

Alekhine-Capablanca, 1927

As a typical example can serve a "chess classic", game Alekhine - Capablanca, 1927, which happened to be the first game in their match in Buenos Aires.
50.Rxd4 Kg7!  
If 50...Ra6 then 51.Kf3 …with the idea Ke4–d5. 
51.a5 Ra6 52.Rd5 Rf6 53.Rd4 Ra6 54.Ra4! 
 A very strong move. Alekhine deploys his rook in accordance with Tarrasch's rule. The black rook cannot move from a6 and is forced to remain passive, otherwise the pawn will immediately advance.   Now White's problem is to bring up his king and drive away the opponent's rook. Therefore Black must send his king to the aid of his rook.   
54...Kf6 55.Kf3 Ke5 56.Ke3 h5 57.Kd3 Kd5 58.Kc3 Kc5  
(for the moment Black succeeds in not allowing the opponent's king up to the pawn)   
White openly waits for his opponent to run out of moves and end up in "zugzwang". Black cannot win the a-pawn: this leads to a hopeless pawn ending.   
Capablanca finds the best defence: he blockades the pawn with his king, freeing his rook for active play. If 59...Ra8 then 60.a6± with the advantage for White. 
60.Kb3 Kc5 
Pawn ending after 60...Rxa5 61.Rxa5+ Kxa5 62.Kc4 would be lost for Black. 
61.Kc3 Kb5 62.Kd4! 
Exploiting the fact that the black king has been diverted by the passed pawn, the white king heads for the opponent's pawns on the opposite wing. This procedure is widely employed in the most diverse types of endings.  
[62...Kb4 63.Ra1! Kb3 64.Kc5+–] 
63.Ke5 Re6+ 64.Kf4 Ka6 
As Tartakower had already shown 64...f6 would have been met by 65.a6! Rxa6 66.Rxa6 Kxa6 67.Ke4+– and White is winning. 
White has achieved a major success: his king has broken into the opponent's pawn position. For this reason, 3... h5 seems to me to a poor move: without real necessity Black has weakened the approaches to his pawns.  
65...Re5+ 66.Kh6 Rf5 67.f4?! 
This allows Black to drag out the resistance somewhat. Playing for zugzwang would have immediately decided the game. Alekhine himself gave the line 67.Kg7 Rf3 68.Kg8 (68.Rd2 Kxa5 69.Rd5+ Kb4 70.Rd4+ and Rf4) 68...Rf6 69.Kf8 Rf3 (69...Rf5 70.f4) 70.Kg7 Rf5 71.f4 and White wins 
67...Rc5! 68.Ra3 Rc7
68...Rf5 69.Kg7 … with the idea Re3–e5.
If 69.f5 the Rc6! 70.Kg7 gxf5 71.Kxf7 f4! 72.gxf4 Rc4 as was shown by Tartakower. 
69...Rd7 70.f5
Much stronger was 70.Kf6! Rc7 71.f5 gxf5 (71...Rc6+ 72.Kxf7 gxf5 73.Rf3) 72.Kxf5 Rc5+ 73.Kf6 Rc7 74.Rf3 Kxa5 75.Rf5++– suggested by Alekhine. 
70...gxf5 71.Kh6 f4 72.gxf4 Rd5 73.Kg7 Rf5 74.Ra4 Kb5 75.Re4!  
The decisive move. The a-pawn has played its diverting role, and it can now be given up with a clear conscience.   
75...Ka6 76.Kh6  
Possibly stronger was 76.Kg8! Rf6 (76...Kb7 77.Re7+ Ka6 78.Rxf7) 77.Kf8 Kxa5 (77...Rf5 78.Kg7 Zugzwang) 78.Ke7!+– as was shown by Tartakower. 
76...Ka7 Kb7 77.Re5 (77.Kg7 Ka6 78.Kg8 Rf6 79.Kf8 Kxa5 (79...Rf5 80.Kg7 Zugzwang) 80.Ke7 Rb6 (80...Rf5 81.Re5++–) 81.Kxf7+– Becker) 77...Rxf4 78.Kg5 (78.Kxh5 Rf1!) 78...Rf1 79.Kxh5 f5 80.Kg5 f4 81.Rf5 f3 82.Kg4+– Alekhine 
77.Re5 Ra1 78.Kxh5 Rg1 79.Rg5 Rh1 80.Rf5 Kb6 81.Rxf7 Kc6 82.Re7 adjourned and Black resigned: his king cannot take part in the battle against the pawns.  

Thus we have seen the standard plan for realizing an extra pawn, which is applicable not only in the rook endings:  
  1. The stronger side creates a passed pawn, and with the support of the rook tries to advance it. 
  2. If the pawn is stopped by the opponent's rook the king heads towards the pawn, to drive the rook away. 
  3. If the pawn is stopped by the opponent's king, the stronger side should defend the pawn with his rook from the side, and try to penetrate with his king or rook into the opponent's pawns on the opposite wing.  
In the above mentioned game the king was easily able to penetrate into the opponent's position. Sometimes it is more difficult and to clear the way for the king, a breach has to be made in the enemy pawns.

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