Sunday, May 15, 2016

Practical Rook Endgames 13: Tactical Flourish or Positional Bind

Iron Man 3 saw Guy Pearce join Robert Downey, Jr., Don Cheadle, and James Dale in a tag team battle between two Iron Men and two Extremis mutants.

It was fun to see a couple familiar faces. The U.S. President in Iron Man 3 is played by William Sadler, who played Heywood in "The Shawshank Redemption" and butchered reading the name of the author of The Count of Monte Cristo as "Alexander Dumbass". Also, the fake Mandarin is played by Sir Ben Kingsley, who played Bruce Pandolfini in "Searching for Bobby Fischer". Incidentally, a fellow club member who is a New Yorker pointed out that Pandolfini should have had a Brooklyn accent, yet Kingsley played him with an Irish accent. I found this article to explain how that happened.

This post is the fifth and final installment from a semifinal game from my 2015 club championship run. The game is broken into phases running - Memento-like - in reverse chronological order. I have chosen Guy Pearce movie mashups to try to solidify themes of the game phases.

In this fifth installment, we rewind the game another six moves to the point where it became a double rook ending. White to move:

White has a dangerous passed pawn on d6 and the white rooks seem well placed to make it strong. The black rooks are struggling to prevent the pawn from queening and also defending against back rank mates. The white king is pinned against the a-file for now. The most forcing variations would be to queen by force and checkmate or win a rook. Such a variation doesn't exist. However, my opponent hallucinated a promising tactical flourish. Unfortunately for him, the variation he saw was not forcing and it allowed me to gain counterplay. The game continued 32.d7 Rfd8 33.Rb1?

Black to move. My opponent confidently went to the smoking area outside the club and expressed some happy words of confidence. If 33...Rxb1?? 34.Re8+ Rxe8 35.dxe8=Q or =R mate. Similarly, 33...Rxd7?? 34.Rxb8+ Rd8 35.Rxd8 mate. So I obviously should reject those two variations. If Black plays an indifferent move like 33...h6? to create some breathing room for his king, White still has 34.Rxb8 Rxb8 35.Re8+ Rxe8 36.dxe8=Q+. The Re8 variations can be neutralized by simply 33...Kf8! and now Black threatens to take at b1 and then on d7 when White would have nothing. Similarly I could see that with my king now only one step from Ke7 to support Rxd7, the advanced passer was not going to decide this game. White avoided the exchange of rooks with 34.Rd1 Rb7

Stockfish calls this a dead draw. If White decides to hold onto the d-pawn, 35.Red2 Ke7 36.Re1+ Kf8 37.Red1, he'll probably have to settle for a repetition draw. The game continued 35.Rd6 Rbxd7 36.Rxc6 Rd2+ 37.Rxd2 Rxd2+ and we have caught up to the previous post.

Instead of 33.Rb1?, how might White have improved?

Surprisingly, 33.Rde1 seems to be the path to victory. A plausible continuation goes 33...Kf8 34.Re7. White could also transpose and start with 33.Re7 Kf8 34.Rde1. 33.Rde1 allows Black to fall into 34...Rxd7?? 35.Re8+! Rxe8 36.Rxe8 mate. After 34.Re7:

I think this is where imagination helps the master find the right way. In this position, Black is nearly in zugzwang. The black rooks and king are tied to the eighth rank preventing disaster with Re8+. The white king is still trapped on the a-file, but Re1-Re3-Re1 can waste moves while Black can only waste moves with Rb8-a8, allowing the white king to break free and move up the board on a path like Kb3-a4-a5-a6xa7-b6xc5-d6. If Black moves his kingside pawns, the white rooks might gain more loose pawns as targets. Stockfish gives best play as 34...h6 35.gxh6 gxh6 36.R1e5 Kg7 37.Rf5 Rf8 38.Rxc5 Rfd8 39.Rf5 Rf8 40.h4 and evaluates this as about +4.0 winning for White.

So there you have it, a wild, blunderful rook endgame where I was:

  • lost after 32...Rfd8 33.Rde1
  • equal after 33.Rb1? Kf8!
  • winning after 45.Re1?! Re5!
  • equal but almost losing after 45...Rc7?!
  • lost if my opponent played 51.Kd7 and I couldn't find 51...Rh8! 52.c7 Kf5! 53.Re8 Rh7+ 54.Re7 Rh8 55.c8=Q Rxc8 56.Kxc8 a6!!=
  • and equal through my last move 59...Kf6
  • when my opponent resigned in a drawn position
It was a very instructive game that taught me rook endgame lessons such as:
  • No one ever drew a game by resigning.
  • Always keep your rook as active as possible.
  • Time is of the essence, almost all the time.
  • Don't give your opponent easy decisions.
  • Rook endgames are not just tactical; look for positional cutoffs and binds.
  • Two pawns, even if disconnected, can give a rook fits
  • Don't take any exchanges for granted in calculations.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Practical Rook Endgames 12: Position and Movement

I should go back and watch "The Count of Monte Cristo" because much of it fades from memory. I guess the gist is a grave injustice leading to prolonged imprisonment followed by escape and revenge. My header refers to "The Shawshank Redemption" which includes a line of dialog discussing "The Count." Both Shawshank and Count are about prison breaks. In this phase, the black king finally breaks free of back rank imprisonment.

This post is the fourth installment from a semifinal game from my 2015 club championship run. The game is broken into phases running roughly in reverse chronological order.

For this fourth installment, I'm going 13 moves into the past from the previous post to the moment the game became a single rook versus single rook ending.

In rook endgames, I often think of the rooks as monsters rampaging around and eating up peasants as fast as they can with the possibility that one side will end up with a decisive advantage in pawn quantity. These considerations of capturing speed often deal with how orderly the pawns are and whether it pays in tempi to attack or defend. The game continued along this line with 38.Kb3 Rxf2 39.Rxc5 Rxh2 40.Re5.

Black has gotten the material superiority, but White has several positional advantages: his rook cuts off the black king, his own white king has space to roam, and the c-pawn is the most threatening passer on the board. Incidentally, Stockfish at 30 ply sees a draw ahead. Maintaining activity of the pieces is important with all phases of the game and the ending is no exception. The rooks are weird in that they command as many squares from the edge of the board as from the center and in fact checking distance seems to make them want to lurk at the edge of the board. However, my opponent has utilized a cutoff idea which prevents my king from fighting White's passer. Here I made a decent move designed to disrupt the rook placement, but I missed two other ideas that are crucial to the position.

The first missed idea is that Black might try to sneak the h-pawn past an en passant attack. The distant passer is a strong asset and if the opponent respects it too much, the position could transform into another kind of advantage for Black. 40...h5!?.

Of course, one of the problems with this move is that White's threat of queening the c-pawn is stronger, especially when Black's king has back rank issues right now. Still drawish is 41.c5 Rh1 42.Kc2 Rh4 43.Kc3 Rh1 44.Kc2 and Black can draw by threatening to arrive at c1 or c4. This drawing idea by trying to enter on c1 or c4 is the second idea that would have been helpful to see. But the two ideas are nearly mutually exclusive. If Black got too cocky about the h-pawn, 44...h4? would be a mistake because it would prevent the threat of Rh1-Rh4-Rc4 stopping White's passer. But if White were to make the mistake of 41.gxh6 then Black does well to recapture 41...Rxh6, with plans to transfer both king and rook to fight the c-pawn and if White's threats can be neutralized there, the f-g connected passers will be very strong eventually. One of the advantages of h5 is that if White tries to oppose rooks, Black probably has a winning pawn endgame. Instead, I opted for a move that escapes back rank imprisonment and also gains a tempo on White's centralized rook. 40...f6 41.gxf6 gxf6.

Here I expected White to go back into pawn eating mode with Ra5, but he preferred the positional 42.Re1. The c-pawn in the hand is worth more than material parity. One thing to note about White's move is that Black can no longer play Rh1 and therefore the harassment of the c-pawn is now limited to squares c5-c8. Black's rooks needs more activity, so 42...Rh5 is a decent move.

White now played 43.Re6. Since he could have played this move last turn, I consider the excursion with Re1 a waste of time. However, I let down my guard at this point and contented myself with a passive placement of my rook. 43...Rc5

And I offered a draw. I expected White to play 44.Rxf6+ reestablishing material parity and allowing my king some breathing room. Both sides could nurse their passers. Mine would be more distant. But White declined with 44.Kb4 so I continued with 44...Kf7

Both sides now have rooks en prise. Since it's White's move, I can lose the f6 pawn and we'll then have a pure pawn ending with two pawns on each side. However, Black will have the advantage of the distant passer. The black king can step in front of the c-pawn rather easily, but it's not so easy for the white king to step in front of the h-pawn. Black will then be able to get to the a-pawns quicker and the head start might be decisive. So the offer of a trade is actually a tactical trap. Indeed, the actual line if White chooses to win a pawn leads to a win for Black. e.g. 45.Rxf6+?? Kxf6 46.Kxc5 Ke6 47.Kc6 h5! White will find it necessary to post his king on b7 in order to queen. That means that the h-pawn queens with check and then the black queen and king can make sure c7-c8=Q never works. Now 45.Ra6 ensures a drawish position. Instead my opponent plays an inferior move that sets up his own trap. 45.Re1?!

The idea White is playing for is to maintain the cut off of the black king so that the black rook has to fight the c-pawn by itself. However, Black can refute this plan and grab the advantage by playing 45...Re5!

White will have to content himself with a worse ending. e.g. 46.Rxe5?? fxe5 and the distant passer wins for Black. 46.Rb1 a5+ 47.Ka4 h5 and Black has no trouble pressing his advantage. Unfortunately, I was still in consolidation mode and only had eyes for Rc7 defending my scattered pawns. Unfortunately, the defender needs defending too. It could have been strongly posted at e5, but instead it is passively placed at c7 and vulnerable to attack. So the actual game continued 45...Rc7?

Of note, Stockfish still thinks this is a draw. White pressed on with 46.c5 f5 47.Kb5 h5 48.c6 Kf6 49.Kc5 f4 50.Kd6 which brings us to the previous post.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Practical Rook Endgames 11: Time, Efficiency, and Alternate Realities

About three months ago, a friend sent me a game where he had this position as White with White to play:

He chose to sacrifice his bishop on this move while Black's passer was on g3 and went on to win a nailbiting race in which his f-pawn queened just before Black's h-pawn queened, White forced the exchange of the queens on h1, and then White ran to capture a6 and successfully queen his a-pawn. Later, he had afterthoughts of whether he should have waited to sacrifice. His win would have been much easier had he just played f5. If Black played g2 next, he plays Bf2, and only after g1=Q, sacrifices with Bxg1+ Kxg1 f6, when his pawn is one tempo closer to queening than the played line. If Black played Kh3, then he plays Bxg3 Kxg3 and f6 when again, his pawn is one tempo closer to queening than the played line. I thought that I would advise him that logic dictates that one should always wait until the last second to sacrifice for a queening pawn, but the last second is difficult to determine if your opponent has a way to block the sacrifice. And then study of the following ending really humbled me with regard to timing and rules of thumb.

One lovely thing about chess is that you can relive the game from the recorded score. As long as the notation isn't botched, the record of the game contains the essence of what happened. There are no dice rolls or card deck draws to reconstruct. History is captured in a half-page of alphanumeric codes. The player's thoughts and calculations can be reconstructed afterward, but the logic engines can also look at relevant lines of missed or accurately evaluated variations. The variations are like parallel universes, alternate realities, counterfactual possibilities. Guy Pearce's "Time Machine" from 2002 was itself a remake of an earlier 1960 movie adaptation of H.G. Wells' novel. One of the ideas that came up is that despite Alexander Hartdegen's ability to alter some past events, he cannot change the the mortal fate of his girlfriend.

This post is the third installment from a semifinal game from my 2015 club championship run. The game is broken into phases running roughly in reverse chronological order.

For this third installment, I'm going four moves into the past relative to the previous post. After White moved 50.Kd6, I had this position to contemplate:

I could see that I was going to have to sacrifice my rook, but that my pawns stood a chance if only I could give them enough of a head start. I needed to put my rook in a position to slow down the pawn, but still sacrifice for it when needed. My main move was Rc8. I don't specifically recall if Rh7 entered into my calculations during the game, but it's instructive to go through the exercise. So bear with me as we go into a long variation that wasn't played. Analysis variation 50...Rh7:

Black's idea is to play Rh8 and Rxc8 only when necessary. But those moments arrive earlier than expected due to some tricky variations. 51.c7 Rh8 and now 52.Rb1!!

The hard-to-see threat is that Rb8 guarantees a queen. "So what?" you say. Black can still get the pawn and try to queen his own with 52...Rc8 53.Kd7 Rxc7+ 54.Kxc7 Kf5

We've seen a position very similar to this. Recall in the previous post, that White had a choice to lock out Black's passers or try to race with his own a-pawn from this position, White to move:

In the race variation, Black barely held a draw with 54.Kb7 f3 55.Kxa7 Kf4 56.a4 f2 57.Ra1 Kg3 58.a5 Kg2 59.a6 f1=Q 60.Rxf1 Kxf1 61.Kb8 h3 62.a7 h2 63.a8=Q Kg1!=. The problem for Black is that he is now 2 tempi behind: the h-pawn is on h5 instead of h4 and when he plays f3-f2, White will not have to spend a tempo moving a rook on e1 because it moved to b1 already.

The new race would look like this:

55.Kb7 f3 56.Kxa7 Kf4 57.a4 f2 58.a5 Kg3 59.a6 Kg2 60.Kb8 f1=Q 61.Rxf1 Kxf1 62.a7 h4 63.a8=Q h3 and White just needs to use checks to get his queen to g4 and Black won't have a self-stalemate resource.

So after 50.Kd6, 50...Rc8! is the only move that draws.

At this point, I noticed that White has two logical moves: c7 or Kd7. I was really relieved when the game continued 51.c7 h4 52.Kd7 Rxc7+! 53.Kxc7 Kf5 which brings us to the drawn position at the beginning of the previous post. During the game I didn't think that I could delay the capture of the c-pawn with a move like 52.Kd7 Rh8 because of 53.Re8. I didn't notice at the time that 53...Rh7+ could keep the sacrifice bid alive and 54.Re7 Rh8 might lead to repetition. It turns out that Black has a very narrow path to draw with 55.Re8 Rh7+ 56.Kd6 Rxc7 57.Kxc7

57...f3 and White has to run his king down to f2 and trade his rook for both passers. Back to the game, I really dreaded 51.Kd7

because I thought that I had no choice but to play 51...Rxc6 52.Kxc6. Compared with the barely drawing variation above, White's king is one step closer to e2 and Black's pawn is back on h5. Two tempi mean that White has the win. If White decides to go for the a-pawn race, he sacrifices one tempo because there was no advantage to play Kc6-b7 versus Kc7-b7, but chasing Black's passer with Kd5 means that Black's h-pawn hardly gets going before the f-pawn is dead. e.g. 52...Kf5 53.Kd5 f3 54.Kd4 Kf4 55.Re8 f2 56.Rf8+ Kg3 57.Ke3 h4 58.Rg8+! followed by 59.Kxf2. In home analysis, I was astounded to see the complexity of a draw beginning with 51.Kd7 Rh8!

Didn't we just refute something like this? Three diagrams ago, Black tried to save time with the narrowly losing variation 52...Rh8 53.Re8 Rh7+ 54.Re7 Rh8 55.Re8 Rh7+ 56.Kd6 Rxc7 57.Kxc7 Kf5 58.Rf8!. But here, the pawn is still back on c6. So let's try to win the game for White beginning with 52.c7 Kf5 53.Re8 Rh7+ 53.Ke6 Rxc7 54.Kxc7. Since Black had time for 52...Kf5, he is one tempo up on the losing variation and this is just enough to draw.

One more surprising idea is that Black has a very narrow path to a draw after 51.Kd7 Rh8! 52.c7 Kf5! 53.Re8 Rh7+ 54.Re7 Rh8 55.c8=Q Rxc8 56.Kxc8. Black to move and draw:

It's hard to believe, but the only move that draws is 56...a6!! Why that pawn and why just one step? With the rook on e7 already, it's worth it for White to spend the time to capture on a7 and maneuver back to b1 or behind the leading passer. Here are some sample variations if Black doesn't find 56...a6!!

56...f3?? 57.Rxa7 Kg4 58.a4 f2 59.Rf7 Kg3 60.a5 Kg2 61.a6 f1=Q 62.Rxf1 Kxf1 63.a7 h4 64.a8=Q h3. Again, White checks with his queen until he can get to g4.

56...h4?? 57.Rxa7 h3 58.a4 f3 59.Rb7! (or 59.Rc7!) Kg4 60.a5 h2 61.Rb1! Kg3 62.a6! Kg2 63.a7! h1=Q 64.Rxh1 Kxh1 65.a8=Q Kg2. Now the technique is standard to never let the f-pawn get to f2 otherwise a drawn queen versus bishop pawn ending can arise. The white queen checks its way to g4, forcing the black king to step on f2 and then the white king moves closer to the f-pawn.

56...a5?? This is the hardest to understand, but the key is that the white rook recovers some time with threats on Black's king or pawns. 57.Ra7! Kg4 58.Rxa5 f3 59.Rb5 h4 60.a4 h3 61.a5 h2 62.Rb1 Kg3 63.a6 Kg2 64.a7 h1=Q 65.Rxh1 Kxh1 66.a8=Q is just like the previous variation.

The reason why 56...a6!! escapes with a draw is that Black's f-pawn can run pretty fast if Black's rook is out of position and a6 is just such a bad spot. 56...a6!! 57.Ra7?! f3!. White can even lose with 58.Rxa6?? f2!-+. Instead, there is still time for White to draw with 58.Rb7, Rb1 and Kb7. If White tries to improve with 56...a6!! 57.Kb7, Black still draws with the just-in-time pawn race, making sure not to be caught on g2 when the a-pawn queens.

If White had chosen 51.Kd7, I don't think I could have found the saving variations of 51...Rh8 and the impossible 56...a6!! I was just lucky my opponent didn't force the issue for me to go down in flames with 51...Rxc6?? I would say that the search for improvements in time efficiency are extremely important to look for in endgame variations, probably more so than rules of thumb about when is the best time to sac for a passer.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Practical Rook Endgames 10: Abandon a Sinking Ship

It's going to seem as if I am a big fan of Guy Pearce, which is not really true, but instead of posting continuing phases of this game with contrived parallels to scenes in "Memento," I thought I would introduce more variety by relating them to Guy Pearce movies. The title of my post spoils part of the ending of the "Lockout" movie which apparently had a working title called "Escape from M.S. One." The makers of "Lockout" were successfully sued by the director of the "Escape From NY" and "Escape From LA" franchise. This practical rook ending comes from a semifinal game from my 2015 club championship run. The game is broken into phases running roughly in reverse chronological order.

On move 53, my opponent captured my rook which had just sacrificed itself for White's c-pawn, threatening to queen.

Black's only hope is that the f- and h-pawns might beat the rook. There is a rule of thumb that two connected passers on the 6th rank beat a rook, but concrete analysis is necessary to verify that the rule applies. Without connection, the passers will need a friendly king escort from g2. But what if the enemy king comes to defend? Black's king is closer to the queening squares, but escorting both pawns will take black almost 3 tempi (king-pawn-pawn) for every one tempo that the white king uses to step closer. The battle between the kings is interesting in that Black will try to muscle White away from the queening square at f1. When the king and rook cooperate, White can push the black king around. With the way the tempi stack up, the white king is aiming for e2 to capture the f-pawn, so the rook will probably have to help push the black king to the g-file. However, Black may have to move to g2 even without the rook's help, just to maintain threats of Pf2-f1 or Ph2-h1.

The position of the white rook deserves some consideration. With the pawns isolated, being on rank 1 is good because it forces Black to get his king to g2 to assist in queening. If the pawns were connected, this rook defense would be far less effective. At some point, in coordination with a closer white king, the white rook will be effective checking the black king from behind his advancing pawns (Rooks belong behind passed pawns). Even though the seventh rank seems almost as far as the eighth rank, checking distance still comes into play as we will see.

From the above diagram, I played 53...Kf5. Stockfish at 30 ply evaluates this ending as drawn as long as Black played either 53...Kf5 or 53...Kg5. Don't dilly-dally.

Now White has a choice: stop the f-h pawns from queening or counterthreat by capturing a7 and advancing his own passer. Analyses conclude a draw with either plan, but mere mortals might have trouble allowing Black to queen while nurturing a slow a-pawn. Stockfish gives 54.Kb7 f3 55.Kxa7 Kf4 56.a4 f2 57.Ra1 Kg3 58.a5 Kg2 59.a6 f1=Q 60.Rxf1 Kxf1 61.Kb8 h3 62.a7 h2 63.a8=Q Kg1! and Black draws since he can stalemate himself with Kh1 in response to White maneuvering his queen to g3. Instead, my opponent tried to lock down (or lockout) the pawn uprising with 54.Kd6.

Play continued 54...f3 55.Kd5 Kf4 56.Kd4

Black can choose to advance f2 here, but calculation shows that White will encircle the f-pawn. e.g. 56...f2 57.Rf1 Kf3 58.Kd3! and Black can't make progress unless he moves Kg2, allowing White to play Ke2, and Rxf2, probably with check. If Rxf2 happens then Black will need to have h1=Q ready just to have drawing chances, so the pawn will need to get to h2 anyway. The h-pawn still can't queen without Kg2, allowing Ke2, but it's the only chance to draw. Still, the steady advance of pawns was enough to make my opponent panic. Strategy-wise, f2 makes White's choice easier: it must play to f1 or some other square on the first rank such as c1. Allowing my opponent moves like Re4+ and Re8 makes his analysis more difficult. Never help your opponent out of a jam.56...h3.

In the post mortem, my opponent suggested 57.Re4+ as a way to improve. The problem is that the rook loses its checking distance and must go to the eighth rank anyway. e.g. 57.Re4+ Kg3 58.Ke3 f2 59.Rf4! h2!.

...and White still draws with 60.Rf7 or Rf8. Note the reliance on a skewer if Black queens the h-pawn, which is probably Black's most straightforward draw, e.g. 60.Rf8 h1=Q 61.Rg8+ Kh2 62.Rh8+ Kg1 63.Rxh1+ Kxh1 64.Kxf2=. Instead, my opponent went for the still-drawing variation of 57.Re8.

Here is where checking distance might have moved the game into a forced win for Black. 57.Re7?? seems like a multi-purpose move threatening Rxa7 at an opportune moment. However, watch the coming variations where the checking distance would have made a big difference. From the above position, 57...f2?? would have been a bad mistake punished by 58.Rf8+ Kg3 59.Ke3! and the h-pawn is not a big enough threat to hold the draw. e.g. 59...h2 60.Rg8+! Kh3 61.Kxf2 h1=N+ (spite check!) 62.Kf3 and Black is dead meat. I continued 57...h2!

White's safe path has narrowed. If 58.Rh8??, Black wins with 58...f2! The threat of queening one of the pawns succeeds after a move like Kg5, removing the immediate skewer. Other than the text, 58.Re1 would also have drawn. 58.Rf8+ is still drawing.

At this point, I almost played the automatic 58...Kg3, thinking "I have no choice but to support the pawns." But after 59.Ke3, I realized that with the king preventing the black king from getting to f2, f3, and f4, skewers from Rg8+ and Rh8+ were going to defang my queening threats. My plan is hopeless; the ship is sinking. But then I remembered that since the pawns are so advanced, they almost defeat the rook by themselves, so I searched for Plan B and hit upon 58...Kg5.

Abandon ship! Now the check in the back 59.Rg8+ allows me to get to the f-file and avoid the skewer of a short-lived queen on h1. White has no choice in this position. 59.Rg8+ is the only move that still draws and it is what was played.

Of course, my response was 59...Kf6!. Here is where the checking distance paid off for White. If White were checking from the seventh rank because he made the choice of Re7 on move 57, Black would now be attacking the rook on g7. A move such as 60.Rg7-h7 would be met by f2 and Black will queen successfully and win the game. After 59...Kf6, the game concluded with the first (last?) phase that I have already posted.

Looking back I realized that I used the f- and h-pawns to represent prison ship M.S. One, but in Practical Rook Endgames 05, I used the a- and c-pawns to represent the Death Star, another gargantuan space ship.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Practical Rook Endgames 09: A Helpswindle

In 2000, at the Venice International Film Festival, a not-so-famous Christopher Nolan debuted his film "Memento" about a man with short-term memory loss seeking revenge on those who had wronged him. The main character Leonard copes with his memory loss by using tattoos and annotated Polaroids as mementos to redirect him towards important information. Short-term memory loss would inspire comedic characters such as Dory of "Finding Nemo" and Lucy Whitmore of "50 First Dates".

But also groundbreaking in "Memento" was the use of reverse chronological order. The fact that the Leonard often began each cut with a jarring amnesiac disorientation helped to enable this nonlinear storytelling device. It is with this reverse order that I'm going to overanalyze one of last year's games. It was the second game of a 4-game match in the club championship semifinal. Game 1 had been a draw, to be blogged later. I played black in this game.

Here is the end, with White to move. What is the worst move? What is the best move?

Regarding the worst move, I was gifted an extra and undeserved half point when my opponent resigned??? in the position above. Savielly Tartakover said, "No one ever won a game by resigning." No one ever drew a game by resigning either. White must prevent 60...h1=Q so 60.Rh8! is necessary. But then, like the myriad zombies on today's video entertainment, Black continues 60...f2! How does White stop this f-pawn from queening?

61.Ke3! It looks like chasing a pawn while out of its queening square is futile, but the rook gives the king just enough help. 61.Rxh2? fails to 61...f1=Q and 61.Rf8+ Kg7 62.Rxf2 fails to 62...h1=Q. Now it is Black who has to play accurately.

61...Kg7! 61...f1=Q fails to 62.Rf8+ and 63.Rxf1 and the h-pawn is no threat. Now it's White's turn.

62.Kxf2! Kxh8! 63.Kg2! Best play for both sides means there is no getting around the sacrifice of the rook and the two-pawns-who-would-be-queen. In the ensuing race toward the a-pawns, Black's king is 1-2 steps ahead and can capture on a7, but White's king has enough time to reach the critical square c7 immediately after Kxa7, and save the draw.

I think that my opponent probably thought that two pawns on the seventh beat the rook, but the particulars of having the Rf8+ skewer and the White King being barely close enough did not enter into his resource inventory.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016


I caught the last two rounds of the US Championship as they happened with LiveStream coverage and concurrent sports commentary. It was fun to see the nation's best find computer-like moves and also miss opportunities that the commentary and computer analysis allow us to see. I almost felt an attraction to the game of chess again. I don't think this translates into tournament action any time soon, just that the positives are coming back. I keep thinking about blogging about a game I played last year, but there are so many positions where the tide turned that I might have to do it in installments. Unfortunately, it will likely mean that I will beat one game to death, but so be it.

The RBvR endgame came up crucially in a Caruana-Svidler Candidates game. The winning strategy is still so opaque even though I have spent some time trying to understand it. Frustrating.

I read an article on grit yesterday. I don't have grit, at least not in my current moods. Sticktuitiveness is lacking even with my current pastime of playing hand after hand of Spider Solitaire. I hate it when a position is too deep or difficult to analyze, so my tolerance for a tough position is poor. But there was a day when I played two skittles games and the strategies and even the moves stuck with me. And winning was a good feeling.