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Best Endgame for 2018

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Bobby Ang

Chess Piece

My son Keith Colby is a student at Xavier School. Around two years ago my wife made me promise to spend more time tutoring him with his math lessons. I really tried to do that but it turned out that my son’s lessons were much too advanced for me — and he was only in high school! In between my high school days and his the information age arrived, and with the fast access speeds to information from anywhere in the world comes greater demands on the students to catch up fast.

Back in my days when I wanted to research on something I would go to the library to do some reading, or maybe schedule an interview with an authority on the subject or even go to the relevant government agency to get reference materials. Nowadays the children just Google it on their smartphones and they become instant authorities in a matter of seconds.

There is a trade-off to all this new-found access. The pace of life has increased and the demand for more knowledge is ever-expanding. Illiteracy is darkness and people don’t believe in staying at home doing nothing anymore.

One of the casualties of this digital age is the well-played endgame. We all want to finish our games in a single session — no more adjournments and staying up all night considering all the subtle nuances of the rook-and-pawn endgame. And the time controls have been sped up. The 7-8 hour playing session has been halved to 3-4 hours. By the time we reach the endgame we could be playing on increments and there is no more time to think about your endgames — just to act and react to specific threats.

When Kirsan Ilyumzhinov took over as FIDE president in 1995 he had some “radical” ideas to bring chess into the digital age, one of which was to revamp the format of the World Championship — no more interzonals, candidate matches or long-winded 24-game world championship matches. All the regional champions would come together into a massive 128-player Knock-Out event with whoever is left standing declared the world champion. There were, of course, a lot of discussions on the feasibility of his ideas, how the public will accept them, etc-etc, but he persevered, and the 1997 World Chess Championships took place on December 8th 1997 in Groningen in the Netherlands. 96 players played in Groningen and after seven rounds of elimination matches the winner qualified to play Anatoly Karpov in a six-game match in the Olympic Museum, Lausanne, Switzerland. The rapid play and sudden death games that are required for tie-breaks take place on the same day as the second normal time rate game.

The second thing he wanted was to speed up the game. One of the main promoters for faster time controls among the top grandmasters was Alexei Shirov. Together with Eugene Torre he campaigned to have the playing session shortened to 90 minutes per player. There was a lot of opposition to this but nowadays it is fairly standard in FIDE competition that each player gets 90 minutes for the first 40 moves, then 30 minutes for the rest of the game with 30 seconds added to your clock after every move.




I remember this game figures in the discussions, one of the most brilliant endgames I have ever seen.

Topalov, Veselin (2740) — Shirov, Alexei (2710) [D85]
Linares 15th (10), 04.03.1998

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.e4 Nxc3 6.bxc3 Bg7 7.Bb5+ c6 8.Ba4 0 — 0 9.Ne2 Nd7 10.0 — 0 e5 11.f3 Qe7 12.Be3 Rd8 13.Qc2 Nb6 14.Bb3 Be6 15.Rad1 Nc4!? 16.Bc1 b5! 17.f4!

Of course. White has to make use of his mobile pawn center.

17…exd4 18.Nxd4 Bg4 19.Rde1 Qc5 20.Kh1 a5 21.h3! Bd7 22.a4 bxa4 23.Ba2!

Absolutely correct, keeping up the pressure on the c4 — knight.

23…Be8 24.e5!

Topalov will be following up with either e5 — e6 or f4 — f5. Black’s position is on the verge of collapse.

24…Nb6

Intending to answer 25.e6 with 25…Bxd4 as the c3 — pawn is now pinned against white’s queen.

25.f5 Nd5

Not 25…Rxd4? 26.Be3 Rad8 27.Re2 White loses material.

26.Bd2?

A mistake. Correct is 26.Rf3 with the idea of f5 — f6 and e5 — e6.

26…Nb4! 27.Qxa4

Why was 26.Bd2 a mistake? Because now 27.cxb4? Qxc2 28.Nxc2 Rxd2 loses the bishop.

27…Nxa2 28.Qxa2 Bxe5 29.fxg6 hxg6 30.Bg5 Rd5!

Shirov has survived the attack and, with the two bishops and an extra pawn, he can actually start playing for a win.

31.Re3 Qd6 32.Qe2 Bd7 33.c4 Bxd4 34.cxd5 Bxe3 35.Qxe3 Re8! 36.Qc3 Qxd5 37.Bh6 Re5 38.Rf3 Qc5 39.Qa1 Bf5 40.Re3! f6

[40…Rxe3?? 41.Qg7#]

41.Rxe5 Qxe5 42.Qa2+ Qd5 43.Qxd5+ cxd5 44.Bd2 a4 45.Bc3 Kf7 46.h4 Ke6 47.Kg1 <D>

POSITION AFTER 47.KG1

OK, this is it. As GM Daniel Naroditsky explains it, “If White is able to bring his king to the center (d4, for example), Black might not be able to break through, even if he pushes his to a2. Unfortunately, 47…Bc2, attempting to clear the way for Black’s own king, fails to impress after 48.Kf2 Kf5 49.Ke3, and Black is one tempo too late.”

If 47…Be4, White holds with 48.Kf2 f5 49.g3 Kd6 50.Bd4 Kc6 51.Ke2 Kb5 52.Kd2 Kc4 53.Ke3! and there is no way to make progress. Black’s problem, then, is that as long as the bishop remains on the b1 — h7 diagonal, it will obstruct the king’s movement. Moving it to g4 doesn’t help, since White is able to reach the e3 square in time. But can the bishop move off the b1 — h7 diagonal with gain of tempo?”

47…Bh3!!

This is the only way to win.

48.gxh3

[48.Kf2 Kf5 49.Kf3 Bxg2+ 50.Kxg2 Ke4]

48…Kf5 49.Kf2 Ke4 50.Bxf6

[50.Ke2 f5]

50…d4 51.Be7 Kd3 52.Bc5 Kc4 53.Be7 Kb3 0 — 1

The finish will be 53…Kb3 54.Bc5 d3 55.Ke3 Kc2 56.Bb4 a3 Breathtaking!

One of the players told Shirov that shortening the time controls would mean that endgames as he played above will disappear. His reply was that these are the times we are living in.

Back to the present. The top chess website www.chessbase.com had a competition for the “Best Endgame for 2018.” The famous endgame expert and author GM Karsten Mueller put up a 10 game shortlist and the readers voted for no. 1. Here is the winner.

Carlsen, Magnus (2880) — Caruana, Fabiano (2789) [A22]
World Championship Playoff London (1), 28.11.2018

1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.g3 Bb4 4.e4!? 0 — 0 5.Nge2 c6 6.Bg2 a6!? 7.0 — 0 b5 8.d4! d6 9.a3 Bxc3 10.Nxc3 bxc4 11.dxe5 dxe5 12.Na4 Be6!

Black has to fight to keep his c4 — pawn, otherwise he has no compensation for the broken pawns in the queenside.

13.Qxd8 Rxd8 14.Be3 Nbd7 15.f3 Rab8 16.Rac1 Rb3 17.Rfe1

With Bf1 to follow and the c4 — pawn is lost.

17…Ne8 18.Bf1 Nd6 19.Rcd1 Nb5?

Perhaps 19…Nb7! was better, preventing Nc5.

20.Nc5!

After this Black is in big trouble.

20…Rxb2 21.Nxe6 fxe6 22.Bxc4 Nd4

[22…Kf7 is refuted by 23.Bxb5! axb5 24.Bg5! White wins material]

23.Bxd4 exd4 24.Bxe6+ Kf8 25.Rxd4 Ke7 26.Rxd7+ Rxd7 27.Bxd7 Kxd7

If White could only get his king out of the 1st rank then he would be winning, but that is not easy to do..

28.Rd1+ Ke6 29.f4 c5 30.Rd5 Rc2 31.h4 c4 32.f5+ Kf6 33.Rc5 h5 34.Kf1 Rc3?

I think this is where Caruana starts to go wrong. He should have kept his grip on the 2nd rank. After 34…c3 35.Ke1 Rg2 36.Rxc3 Ke5 I do not see a win.

35.Kg2 Rxa3 36.Rxc4 Ke5 37.Rc7 Kxe4?

The losing move. 37…Ra2+! should have been played. After 38.Kh3 Kxe4 39.Rxg7 Ra1 40.f6 Kf3 41.Kh2 Ra2+ 42.Kh3 Ra1 draw.

38.Re7+!

Very nice. Carlsen lets Black takes his f5 — pawn so that his rook can prevent the enemy king from getting on the f3 square. This prevents the drawing maneuver I showed in the previous variation.

38…Kxf5 39.Rxg7

Black cannot hold the h5 — pawn.

39…Kf6 40.Rg5 a5 41.Rxh5 a4 42.Ra5 Ra1 43.Kf3 a3 44.Ra6+ Kg7 45.Kg2 Ra2+ 46.Kh3 Ra1 47.h5 Kh7 48.g4 Kg7

Making it easy. 48…a2 would have forced Magnus to find some difficult moves. 49.Kh2! Kg7 50.g5 Kg8 51.Ra7 Kh8 52.h6! (52.g6? throws away the win 52…Rb1! 53.Rxa2 Rb5 draw) 52…Rb1 53.Rxa2 Rb5 54.Rg2! this is a book win.

49.Kh4 a2 50.Kg5 Kf7 51.h6 Rb1 52.Ra7+ Kg8 53.Rxa2 Rb5+ 54.Kg6 Rb6+ 55.Kh5 1 — 0

Technically perfect. Beautifully ruthless in its efficiency. But compare this with the Shirov game above. That is what we gave up.

 

Bobby Ang is a founding member of the National Chess Federation of the Philippines (NCFP) and its first Executive Director. A Certified Public Accountant (CPA), he taught accounting in the University of Santo Tomas for 25 years and is currently Chief Audit Executive of the Equicom Group of Companies.

bobby@cpamd.net