Sunday, June 21, 2015

Practical Rook Endgames 07: Frontal Defense in Norway

According to some records I found on the internet, when David Letterman played a slow game of chess with Garry Kasparov in 1989, after the 14th move on November 21, David declared, "There just isn't enough televised chess." While I would love to see our beloved game get the love it deserves from the general public, I understand that watching people sit at a board thinking for 95% of the time and moving small pieces for 5% of the time would not make for very exciting entertainment.

In this internet age, when YouTube has essentially made cable TV obsolete in my household, I recently discovered a wonderful guilty pleasure of watching the first leg of the Grand Chess Tour 2015 at the Norway Supertournament. The big story through the first four and five rounds was the tragedies following Norway's favorite son of chess and current World Champion Magnus Carlsen. In round 1, Magnus worked to get a completely winning position by move 60 only to let his flag fall when he didn't realize that more time was not added for reaching move 60. After round 1, their fortunes diverged so much that by the end of round 4, Topalov was alone at the top, sitting on 3.5/4 while Carlsen's name was at the bottom of the standings alone at 0.5/4. This weekend, I watched the coverage of round 4 and 5 which was quite fun. European commentators New In Chess' Editor-in-Chief Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam and German Grandmaster Jan Gustafsson have provided very insightful commentary on the games, rotating through the five boards on a regular basis, and interviewing players afterward.

Today, in the Norway Round 5 video coverage, a possible endgame popped up in the video feed at time index 03:57:30. The scenario never showed, but I was tickled that it was exactly what I had been studying lately. I was also tickled that both GM Gustafsson and GM Yasser Seirawan struggled to correctly evaluate the following endgame:

White to move and draw

1.Kd3! Re6 White breaks for a Philidor and Black cuts him off.

White to move and draw. Rule of Five says Draw. Shredder says Draw.

The Rule of Five has pawn on 3rd plus 2 cutoff files equals 5 which is not more than 5, meaning draw. Shredder says draw, but only if White plays an only move here. Gustafsson thought this was probably a draw. Seirawan thought it was probably losing. If you read my Practical Rook Endgames 04, you should correctly guess the one drawing move. 2.Ra1! Now Black can play many moves that lead to a draw, but the most testing is probably the one that makes the Rule of Five point in his favor. 2...g5. Now the Rule of Five says 4th rank plus 2 cutoff files equals 6 > 5 should be winning. However, this is a knight pawn and the Rule of Five probably doesn't apply because Black's King doesn't have a wide avenue to walk serpentine down the board toward a rook checking from f1, g1, and h1. The pawn behind can be skewered on one of the Rg1+ moves.

White to move and draw. Rule of Five says Win. Shredder says Draw.

Now, the drawing line is narrow, but doable. White uses the Frontal Defense and never lets the g-pawn get closer. 3.Rf1+! Kg4 4.Rg1+! Kh4 5.Rh1!+ Kg3 6.Rg1+! Kf4 7.Rf1+! and the Black King can't make progress. In the video, Gustafsson analyzed 3.Rf1+! Kg6 4.Rg1! Re8.

Here, Seirawan suggested 5.Kd2? but again, students of the Frontal Defense know that staying on the third and fourth ranks are the best bets for a draw. Gustafsson ignored Yasser's Kd2 and played 5.Kd4!.

Black to move, White to draw. Gustafsson and Shredder say Draw.

Gustafsson then proclaims the position a draw and goes on to admit that "I pretend like I don't, but I have read some endgame books in the old days." ten Geuzandam then asks Gustafsson what his favorite endgame book was. When he named Keres' Practical Chess Endings and Shereshevsky's Endgame Strategy, I was delighted to find both on my bookshelf.

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