Queen Endgames: Pawn Sac
Today’s article is a continuation of the queen endgames theme. The last article we looked at stalemate ideas in queen endgames and today we will look at pawn sacrifices. In the first example, black sacrifices a pawn in hope of perpetual and an easy draw, while in the second example black sacrifices a pawn in order to win a game. Thus the idea of pawn sacrifice can come in handy both in defense and in attack in queen endgames. Let us move on to the first example, which is a game played recently by two top gradmasters.
White is a pawn up but as we have already seen in the previous articles being even two pawns up in queen endgames can result in a draw. The pawns are all on the same flank which definitely helps the defending side. White has no clear plan of breaking through. The king cannot get far because the black queen will chase it back with checks. White's queen can threaten the black king with a checkmate on f7 but the black queen should be able to shield the king from this threat. To me the easiest defense seems to be the passive defense – white has no way to improve. Moreover, pawn endgames with black king in the center are drawn. Let us first consider the passive defense line that was not played during the game.
Tkachiev found a very interesting idea for black. Last article we looked at stalemates in queen endgames. As you can notice, the black king is in a way in a stalemate and if we manage to get rid of the f- pawn and sacrifice the queen it would be a stalemate. The f4 move comes to mind but it has another idea behind it: weakening the white king. Overall, Tkachiev’s idea is brilliant; the fact that he did not find the right implementation on move 73 does not diminish the beauty of his idea.
You have to give credit to Wang Yue – he played the endgame flawlessly. Finding the Qg2 move – a move that Tkachiev probably overlooked and a move that led to a winning position is a tremendous feat. I am curious why Tkachiev resorted to the risky but rewarding f4? To me Qe7 looks dull but without much risk. Maybe black saw a danger that I was not able to uncover in analysis. If this endgame looked bizarre to you take a look at the next example.
Black is two pawns up and it is his turn to move. With two extra pawns he has to be better if not winning. It is questionable how much better he is because this is a queen endgame and a threat of perpetual check is always hanging in the air. For now Qg5+, followed by Q:g6 is threatened. Shabalov – playing black in the game defended with Kf6 but allowed white a series of checks when the position became impossible to win. Let us look at the continuation in the game first and then we will analyze alternatives in more detail.
We already know from the last two articles that with the king on h2 when g and h- pawns are present the best defensive location for the queen is the 2nd- rank. White's queen is located perfectly on d2. Therefore, we can ask a question of how to displace the queen. And the answer comes without much trouble: setting up bait. Both g5 and b4 moves deflect the queen from its ideal position but at the price of a pawn sacrifice. We will look at the g5-move first, which in my view is inferior to the b4- move.
We just saw that the g5-move was not good bait because white simply ignored it. The reason white got away with it is that g5 did not create any threats for white. In a real game I can imagine a player taking on g5 but Jakovenko has enough class to figure out that Qd3 is a better option. Now, we are left with the last continuation – b4, which carries a threat of promoting the b-pawn, and in many lines compared to the game removes the pawn from attack. If this move doesn’t achieve a significant advantage for black then the position is objectively closer to a draw than to a win.