Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Practical Rook Endgames 16: Sack the Waterboy

The 1998 Adam Sandler football movie "The Waterboy" ended with a halfback option play. Sandler, the lowly waterboy turned punishing linebacker switches to offense and throws the winning touchdown pass to the quarterback. Sorry I spoiled it, but you had 17 years to watch it.

Theoretical generalizations seem to say that R2P versus R endings with a bishop and a rook pawn are drawn if the pawns are on the same side of the board and won if the pawns are on opposite sides of the board. After a seesaw game, I had the stronger side of the same-side ending but managed to find a way to win. This depended upon my opponent choosing the wrong time to ignore the weakness of my bishop pawn. I'm barely scratching the surface of this ending, but I thought I would share this position and its critical moment:

For the purposes of the Waterboy analogy, the f-pawn is the waterboy, the white king is the offensive quarterback, the white rook is the center or offensive line, and the black rook is the pass rush. White has just played 67.Rf6, so it's Black to move. I'm not sure why I put my rook on f6, but I think that I wanted my king to be able to lose contact with the f-pawn. My plan here was to move my king to e7 and perhaps block a Re1+ with Re6 and then try to queen the pawn. 67...Rg1+ 68.Kf4 Rf1+ 69.Ke5 Re1+ 70.Kd6.

Black to move. Here Black has to decide whether to chase the king further with 70...Rd1+ and live with 71.Ke7 or prepare some other way to get drawing chances. Actually, Rd1+ is still drawn and my opponent's choice is still okay to draw. 70...Ra1. Preparing lateral checks. The white king at this moment has no shelter from checks on the 6th, 7th, or 8th ranks. So I decided to create shelter. 71.Re6.

Black to move and draw. A critical moment has arrived. The two moves that can draw are slightly difficult to spot. 71...Ra5 and 71...Rf1 maintain tablebase draws. All other moves lose. Sample lines are: 71...Ra5 72.Re5 Ra4 73.f6 Kxh6 74.Ke7 Kg6= and 71...Rf1 72.f6 Kxh6! 73.Ke7 Kg6! 74.Re2 Ra1/b1! with lateral checks to hold. Unfortunately for my opponent, he didn't recognize that it was time to sack the waterboy. Instead, he followed my quarterback downfield to where I wanted to receive the Hail Mary pass and queen the f-pawn. The remaining positions are all tablebase wins for White. 71...Ra6+?? 72.Ke7! Ra7+ 73.Kf8! Ra5 74.f6! Ra8+ 75.Re8! Ra6 76.f7 Kxh6 Kg8! and Black resigned.

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