Just Convert that Pawn!
Today’s endgame is from the category of practical endgames. What makes it practical? No precise positions, no theory involved… As a counter-example, this endgame without the knights, but with the rooks would be a theoretical position. Rook endgames are heavily explored, I wonder if it is because of Korchnoi’s (considered one of the best endgame players of modern times) obsession with them. However, rook and knight endgames are less frequent guests in practice and haven’t been studied to that extent.
The geometrical complexity of knight endgames is quite fascinating. A knight needs three moves to get to the adjacent square and the same three moves to reach the 7th rank from the starting position. This phenomena makes a knight both an awkward and at the same time mobile piece. No wonder that one needs tons of practice to feel comfortable in knight and rook endgames. To gain this practice partially, it is recommended to play out practical endgames such as the following position.
Let us start from the evaluation. This is easy: white is clearly better due to an extra pawn. Is the endgame winning? No, not yet, white must put tons of effort to convert the advantage. Let me mention that this endgame was played in the recent Candidates Matches and ended in a draw. Not converting an extra pawn at the very top level is just a proof that things are not that simple. I wonder if Federer had converted the advantage in the first set and won it in the recent French Open match against Nadal, would the whole match be different?
Back to the position: white’s plan is to advance the c-pawn as far as possible and maybe to take the weak pawn on a4. Black’s plan is to be aware of white’s actions, prevent the dangerous ones and let white implement the erroneous plans. Black can also try to get the king into the game but with the knights present the king might get in the way in the center of the board.
In the first game that I played, I had white and faced the challenges of realizing the advantage. Let me just tell you that I let it almost all slip with one move but my opponent did not use the chance and ended up in a passive position. One of the intuitive ideas learned after playing the game is that black should not let white place the knight on d3 for free. Once the knight arrives at d3 black should either immediately exchange it or create enough play against the g- and h-pawns.
The important ideas learned from the game are:
- Transformation of advantage is a powerful tool in material conversion. White could have sacrificed the exchange but gotten two passed pawns in the center against which black would have been defenseless.
- Another example of advantage transformation was featured in the game when white could have given up the e-pawn but gotten the powerful c-pawn.
- It is important to feel a critical moment in the position. Black played Nc5-Ne6 too many times and did not notice the moment when the white pieces were awkward and passive (Re2 and Nf2).
- The f5 break would have given black more space for the king and would have produced the weakness on e5.
- Once the critical moment is passed it is typical to see the game go downfall.
Next week we will continue with the same endgame and will look at my second game, as well as the real game played. Please, continue to practice this endgame against your friends in the meantime!