Friday, 19 May 2017

018. All Rook Endgames are Drawn

Black: tripoduk -, 2017

For five years now I've been playing an ongoing series of friendly games on against someone under the name of “tripoduk”. I generally visit the site first thing in the morning, make a couple of quick moves, and go away again. As my opponent is much weaker than me, and as I don't play against anyone else on, my win-to-loss ratio is very high indeed. In fact there have been no losses at all, and when I'd racked up a score of +89 =2 -0 (98.9%), the site administrators decided I must be cheating and banned me – albeit only temporarily. Once I'd explained the situation to their satisfaction (CC-SIM vs. relative novice), they let me back on under a new name and gave me a Diamond membership too as a titled player. Well, grand.

Since then we've played another 41 games, the score in which is currently +32 =9 -0 (89.0%) in my favour. Still no losses, but you'll notice that my percentage has decreased somewhat. My opponent is getting better. And in the game below, he should have had me.

Most of the games with me as White have been King's Gambits, and the following critical line of Becker's Defence has arisen several times: 1 e4 e5 2 f4 exf4 3 Nf3 h6 4 d4 g5 5 Nc3, followed by 6 g3. John Shaw's King's Gambit book (pp 171-6, 231) has been useful here, and up to 2016 I'd scored 8/8 as White: five wins after 5...d6 6 g3 Bg7 7 gxf4 g4 8 Rg1!; one each against 6...Nc6 and 6...g4; and one more after 5...Bg7 6 g3 fxg3 7 hxg3 d6 8 Be3.

In our most recent game, my opponent repeated the last of those variations – and much more strongly. After his 12th move I was struggling to find any compensation at all for the sacrificed pawn. I continued struggling to find any as the game progressed, and watched rather helplessly as my position declined from worse to bad to lost. In the diagram below, White is completely lost.

The logical plan for Black now is to trade the g-pawn for the white a-pawn, swap the bishops off in the process, and win the rook endgame with two extra pawns.

It's not entirely trivial: the direct 55...Bb2 56 Kxg5 Bxa3? etc leads to a draw (as in the game); but rather than take the a-pawn at once, the switchback 56...Be5! forces the white rook to give way (57 Rd7+ Ke6 58 Rd8? runs into 58...Bf6+), after which Black should win easily enough. Temporizing with 56 Kf5 doesn't help either, since 56...Bxa3 57 Bxa3 Rxa3 58 Kxg5 wins for Black, if only just (58...Ke7! 59 Rd4 Ra1 60 Rxd3 a3 61 Rd2 Rf1! 62 Ra2 Rf3 63 Kg4 Rb3 64 Kf4 Kd6 65 Ke4 Kc5 and so on); while 56 Bd2 Rxa3 57 Kxg5 (or 57 Bxg5 Rc3) 57...Be5! is equally hopeless for White.

The immediate 55...Be5! is good too; e.g. 56 Rd7+ Ke6 57 Rd8 Bb2, when White can't take on g5 and otherwise Black takes on a3 and wins again.

Instead, I was given a reprise: 55...Bc3? 56 Bxc3 Rxc3 57 Kxg5 Rxa3 58 Kf4 and this rook endgame is drawn since Black can make no progress; e.g. 58...Rb3 59 Ke3 a3 60 Kd2 Ke7 61 Ra6 and if the black king advances up the board it gets checked away from behind; or 58...Ra1 59 Rxd3 a3 60 Rd2! a2 61 Rf2 (safeguarding the white king from checks) and if the black king advances up the board to the third rank, it gets checked away from the side. This made me think of Tarrasch's maxim: “All rook endgames are drawn”. By which he meant that even quite favourable-looking rook endgames can be difficult to win, and sometimes they can't be won at all.

As it happens we've just started another game with the same line (up to 8 Be3 so far), so I'll have to find an improvement pretty soon. Hmmm.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

017. Numerical Error

White: G. Benson - Koshnitsky Memorial Tournament, 2002

Most correspondence chess nowadays is conducted on online servers. Rather than replying to your opponent in hard or electronic format, as we used to do, you go and make your move on an actual board. The advantages of this method are significant: there is no chance of moves going astray, the time used for “thinking” is clear, and those errors unique to correspondence chess, such as writing your move down wrong, are ruled out. Obviously, human stupidity can never be prevented entirely; input errors are still possible.

The (Gary) Koshnitsky Memorial was played by email, using international numerical notation. In this system the squares on a chessboard are each given a two-digit code according to its file (1-8; replacing the usual algebraic a-h) and rank (1-8 as well), so that the square f3, for instance, is now 63. Making moves involved sending a four-figure number: the first two digits denoting the starting square of the piece or pawn you want to move, the second two digits indicating its destination. Thus 1 e4 would be sent as 5254.

International numerical was standard for international correspondence games, because different countries have different initials for the pieces arising from their different languages: such that a bishop is B in English, but A (alfil) in Spanish, C (слон) in Russian, F (fou) in French, L (läufer) in German, and so on. Using numbers rather than letters eliminates those discrepancies. The slight drawback in human terms is that moves are harder to visualize. 1 Nf3 may be immediately appreciable, but 7163 you have to think about for a moment. In the game below I failed to visualize a move correctly and duly made a numerical error.

The position in the diagram, arising from a Scotch Game, had been seen before. H.Staudler-V.Piccardo, 19th World CC Championship ¾-final 4 1999, continued 21 Ne3 0-0 22 Nxd5 Rxd5 23 f4 Bg5 24 Rc4 Re8 25 Kf2 c5 and was later drawn. My game went a different way: 21 Be2 c5 (aiming to ease my defence by eradicating the queenside pawns) 22 Ne3!? (an unexpected and dangerous sacrifice) 22...cxb4, and now 23 Bb5+ Kf8 24 Kf2 bxa3 25 Rhd1 gives White a strong initiative for the pawn. I hoped to be able to defend, but it didn't look at all easy. And sure enough my opponent played 23 Bb5+, but not as 23 5225. Instead, 23 6125 came back. Checking his earlier emails I discovered that White's 21st move was not 21 Be2 (6152) at all but 21 Kf2 (5162), which means that he basically has an extra tempo for his attack.

Returning to the diagram again: 21 Kf2 c5 22 Ne3 is now not even a sacrifice, and 22...cxb4? (22...0-0 is necessary here) 23 Bb5+ Kf8 24 Rhd1 gave White a big advantage. Subsequent play led to an endgame with rook vs. bishop and knight which I was unable to hold. Fuckadoodledoo.

Fortunately, that was my only loss in the tournament and I finished in joint second place, with a nice win against OTB GM Colin McNab along the way, and received a cheque for a pleasant amount of Australian dollars. I also, as I discovered years later, achieved a CC GM norm in the process. Damn, if I'd realized that at the time I might have tried to get another one. Nevertheless, I can't quite regard this as a missed opportunity, since in my next major tournament I came last.