From the Opening into the Endgame
Recently I have had too many draws in the Slav – a result of my opponent’s preparation and my unprincipled way of playing it. If you are ready to play the Botvinnik system or the Meran then you are in a good shape, however for me that is a scary prospect these days. Keeping up with the Botvinnik system's theory is a task of large dimensions, which I am incapable of fulfilling now. This is why these days I rely on less principled systems that often do not give me a large edge and sometimes result in dead draws. My reasoning is if I have a few such systems and have a better understanding of them than my opponent does and if I drag him out of theoretical knowledge then I can consider the opening stage successful.
Better understanding sometimes means knowing resulting endgames and pawn structures really well. Today I would like to give you an example of how to study openings while keeping in mind the resulting endgames. For some of you it might be an overwhelming task to think of endgames when you are still in the opening stage. I remember being 1900- rated and receiving advice from GM Gata Kamsky to study openings up to the endgames and then to analyze the resulting endgames. To me the idea was clear but how to implement it in training I had no idea, so it took me another 400 rating points to start working on openings as Gata suggested.
Below is one of the positions that I had to study – it can result from different move orders but for now we will not pay too much attention to that but rather go straight to the first critical position.
Both sides played logical moves, and white has a small edge due to more space and better development. Here, white has two moves, Qd3 or Re1. In the first game that we will look at white used the h6-pawn to mess up black’s pawn structure on the kingside. To keep the initiative white sacrificed a pawn but ensured that the bishop on c8 stayed out of play for some time. Occupying the d- and e- files with rooks gave white an easy game as he was the one choosing whether to attack the black king or the queenside. In the end the attack against the king proved to be fatal.
In the next game you will see similar ideas from the fist game but for the fact that white chose to capitalize in the center instead of the kingside as black’s kingside was intact. White played against the bishop on c8 for a while and then switched to the weaknesses along the 6th rank.
In the last example white once again used the e- and d–files to transfer the rooks to the kingside where the black king was not too comfortable. After tying down his forces there white did not find a good way to improve the position and lost most of the advantage. He should have probably opted for slow improvement of the position as black had no active counterplay. In the end the game should have ended in a draw but black in time trouble I suspect blundered and managed to lose.
Today we looked at an opening through endgame lenses. It is surprising to me how stereotypical the play in all three games is. Pawn sacrifice featured in the examples, then rook activity on the d- and e–files is common, and attack against the black king if the pawn structure is messed up there was seen too. In all three games white players played against the bishop on c8 – it had no good squares to enter the game. Having a good feel for the resulting endgames gives you a wider selection when you play the opening: you do not need to go for the most principled move if there is a choice to enter a familiar endgame.