The Bishop's Show: Intro
Now that we are experts in the bishop vs. knight endgames it is time to move on to the endgames that feature the knight's rivals - the bishops. We shall have several articles exploring different ideas in bishop endgames such as exchange, sacrifice, passed-pawns, zugzwang, stalemate, and others. Today is the first article, where I did not want to concentrate on a specific topic but give a general idea of what kind of positions we will look at in the future articles. Here, in one endgame one can see bishop sacrifice and deflection, zugzwang and the advantages/disadvantages of having the pawns on the same color squares as the bishop. There is no specific topic that stands out but rather a mix of different ideas. I thought of doing this to show that even the most boring looking endgame has so much hidden potential and has so many hidden ideas waiting to be discovered. Let us move on to the three examples.
White's position is better because he has more space and because his pawns are on dark squares and cannot be attacked by the opponent's bishop. However, it looks like black has built up a defensive line: the king is shielding the queen-side while the bishop protects the king-side. There are limited options for white's improvement of the position. There are pawn breaks b5 and f5 and there is a possible bishop exchange after white transfers the bishop to d3. I don't see more reasonable plans for white. What is the goal of these plans? The goal is to improve the position, which can translate into better piece placement, material advantage or some other type of advantage. And the last type is the creation of a passed pawn. In the following analysis we will look at all three plans and evaluate the end-positions to determine whether white achieved what they wanted.
The next example shows the disadvantage of having the pawns on the same color as the bishops. The pawns can get vulnerable - they need to be defended by the bishop or the king. And if there are also pawns present on the other side of the board the defending side might end up with too thin a line of defense. Here white sacrifices a passed pawn temporarily to get to black's kingside after which the winning strategy is just a matter of technique. The example also shows that the defending side can sacrifice the bishop (a line to move three) but collect all the opponent's pawns, since they cannot be defended with the bishop. So there are advantages as well as disadvantages to having the pawns on the same color as the bishop - one just has to have an open mind to unusual ideas such as the one given for the variation to move 3.
The theme of zugzwang is popular in all kinds of endgames. In the following example it reoccurred several times. Black used zugzwang to break down white's defense, although he had to be careful as with one misstep white could build a fortress. Black's king is too far away from the action but it is needed where it is now to stop the h-pawn. Similarly, the white king defends against the promotion of the a and b-pawns. Having an extra pawn greatly helps black and in the end he manages to realize it.
We went over three bishop endgame examples. In the first example white found a strong pawn break that created a passed pawn and the game was decided more or less on the spot. The highlight of the second example is the bishop sacrifice where black stands no worse. The third example showed how important the idea of zugzwang is. After having this introductory article you should be familiar with what to expect from bishop endgames. In the next article we will look closer at exchanges in bishop endgames.