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.

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