Sunday, September 11, 2016

Practical Rook Endgames 14: Vancura Candidate

"The Manchurian Candidate" was first a book in 1959 written by James Condon. It was made into a black and white movie in 1962 starring Laurence Harvey as war hero Raymond Harvey, Frank Sinatra as his superior officer Bennett Marco, and Angela Lansbury as Shaw's mother Eleanor Iselin. The plot revolves around a Communist ploy to brainwash American POWs of the Korean War and turn them into subconscious sleeper agents in a bid to seize the United States presidency. The brainwashing occurs in Manchuria. Angela Lansbury, who I know as a sweet old woman of the "Murder, She Wrote" TV series and the voice of the animated teapot in Disney's "Beauty and the Beast," really shocked me with her range as a vicious and conscious sleeper agent earlier in her acting career.

Down the cast list is Leslie Parrish who plays Shaw's love interest Jocelyn Jordan. She appears in the middle of the movie to demonstrate the significance of the Queen of Diamonds and how firmly held the brainwashing control is on Shaw. Leslie Parrish makes several intersections with my cultural life: She appears in the original series Star Trek episode "Who Mourns for Adonais?" as a crew member who beguiles the Greek god Apollo. Leslie Parrish also figures prominently in Richard Bach's love story novel "The Bridge Across Forever." During their romance, they play chess together and she eventually becomes his wife in real life. Unfortunately, the soulmate subject of the book is somewhat invalidated by the fact that the two eventually separated.

"The Manchurian Candidate" was remade in 2004 starring Liev Schrieber as Raymond Shaw, Denzel Washington as Ben Marco, Meryl Streep as Eleanor Shaw, and Vera Farmiga as Jocelyne Jordan.

Whenever I try to remember the gist of the Vancura position, I feel like I have been brainwashed. It just doesn't stick. This morning, I listened to a lecture given by GM Alexander Ipatov on the Vancura position and for now, I have some memory stickiness. Interestingly, Ipatov pronounces it "van-chur-a" while I always thought it was "van-cure-a". Ipatov introduces the position with this diagram:

The elements of Vancura are the following:

  • Material is RPvR.
  • The pawn is a rook pawn, specifically on its 6th rank, not 7th.
  • The attacking rook is usually on the rook pawn's queening square.
  • The defending king is on the opposite side of the board, preferably on his knight-2 or rook-2 square.
  • Vancura's classic position has the defending king on g7 and the defending rook on f6.
  • The attacking king is not yet touching the rook pawn.

Black's formulaic method to draw is to Plan A) check the enemy king from the f-file, especially when it touches the rook pawn, or Plan B) shuffle his rook between b6, c6, and f6 when Plan A does not seem viable. If the pawn ever goes to a7, then the black rook belongs on the a-file and the black king must stay at g7-h7. One caveat: Don't put the rook where it will run into your king on the g-file or get behind your king on the h-file. Other than dropping a rook or forgetting to check the king when it touches the pawn, drawing this ending doesn't seem too hard. The attacking rook should never leave the a-file because the a-pawn will immediately drop. The defending king should stay in contact with the square h7 so that the attacking rook can't skewer. Sometimes, the rook will check Ra7+. The king just moves to g6 or h6.

The reason this formation needs extra significance is that the weaker side can't always leave his rook on the a-file and draw, especially if the stronger king can make it to a7. If the pawn moves to a7 and the king moves to a8, then the weaker side has to run his king toward the a-pawn before the attacker can set up the winning formation with Rb8, Kb7, and Pa7. With Vancura, the defender earmarks the f-file for his rook to harass the enemy king from afar. There is basically nowhere to hide.

This method can probably be extended to the situation where the rook pawn is only on the fifth rank, possibly even earlier. This method also works to draw against an extra g- or h-pawn held by the attacker. The defender must be careful that he doesn't allow a free check with Rg8+ or something, so sometimes the extra pawn sits en prise at g5 or h5 with the defending rook just shuffling around.

Karsten Mueller wrote an article about Vancura after the 2014 Sinquefield Cup game between Carlsen and Aronian, quoting some spectator as saying "It is insulting that Aronian is not resigning." But Aronian used Vancura-like methods to get a difficult draw three pawns down. Carlsen's extra pawns were at a5, h6, and h3.

1 comment:

Todd Bryant said...

Nice. The theory of rook + a-pawn versus rook is actually surprisingly deep, with lots of different techniques.

Here's a slight variation on Vancura for you:

W: Pa6, Ra8, Kf4
B: Ra1, Kg7

Black to play and draw.