GM Joel Gives an Endgame Lesson Print E-mail
By GM Joel Benjamin   
December 9, 2008
Dear Mr. Grandmaster Benjamin,

I played in a tournament a while ago and ran into this endgame as Black.

Starting Position

I was playing for a win. Is it possible? I ended up going into a drawn endgame where my opponent blundered and I won. It continued:
1.Ke5 Kg7 2.Re2 Bg5 3.Re1 Bf6+ 4.Ke4 Bg5 5.Ke5 h5 6.Re2 Kf8 7.Re1 Ke7 8.Re2 f6+ 9.Ke4 e5 10.g3 Ke6 11.h4 Bh6 12.Re1 f5+ 13.Kd3 e4+ 14.Ke2 f4 15.gxf4 Bxf4 16.Rb1 Kf5 17.Rb4 Bh6 18.Rb6 Bf4 19.Rc6 Bg3 20.Kxe3 Bxh4 21.Rc5+ Kg4 22.Kxe4 g5 23.Rc3 Bg3 24.Ke3 h4

Position after 24...h4

25.Rc1 Bf4+ 0-1

However, the game is a draw after: 25. Ke2 h3 26. Kf1 Be5 27. Rb3 h2 28. Kg2 Bf4 29. Ra3 Kf5 30. Ra5+ Kg6 31. Ra6+ Kf5 32. Ra5+ Kf6 33. Ra6+ Kg7 34. Kh1 Be5 35. Ra2 Kh6 36. Rxh2+ Bxh2 37. Kxh2 g4 and draw.

It would be great if you could tell me if this position is a draw or if Black could win by force (not because of a blunder.). Thanks :-)



I agree that White would have drawn if he had not blundered his rook.  I think 26.Rc4+ is even easier than your line.  White only needs to bring his king to the corner and sacrifice his rook for the g-pawn.  Black will be left with the wrong bishop and rook pawn combination.  Black can’t win that, even though your computer (without endgame tablebases) will tell you White should resign!

But let’s take it from the top.  Normally, a bishop with a five on two majority will blow away a rook.  But here the bishop is restricted and stuck defending the e3 pawn.  So Black faces a tough task to get his pawns going.  Black should consider jettisoning the e3-pawn in order to make healthy connected passed pawns.

Position after 10.g3

Here 10…h4!? comes into consideration.  Then11.gxh4 Bxh4 (11…Bf4!? 12.Rg2 f5+ 13.Kf3 Kf6 14.Ra2! Black cannot get organized after 14…Bh6 15.Ra6+ or 14…Kg7 15.Ra8) 12.Kxe3 f5 gives Black some chances with connected pawns, but here White should be able to hold.

Position after 12.Re1

Another try is after 12.Re1: 12...g5 13.hxg5 (13.Rxe3?? f5+ 14.Kd3 gxh4–+) 13...Bxg5 14.Rb1 e2 15.Kf3 Kf5 16.Kxe2 Kg4 17.Kf2 e4, which also looks drawn with proper play.

I hate to forfeit the possibility for connected central passers.  Black can try 13…f4 14.gxf4 exf4 15.Ke4 g5 16.hxg5 Bxg5 17.Rh1 h4 18.Rb1.  Here again Black is pretty tied up and his pawns are well blockaded, so I don’t think he can force a win.

Analysis Position after 18.Rb1

A few moves later, you had the opportunity to exchange g-pawn for h-pawn. The following variation might represent best play: 

Position after 16...h4

17.Rg1 g5 18.hxg5 Bxg5 19.Rf1+ Kg6 20.Rh1 h4 21.Rg1 Kh5 22.Rh1 Bh6 23.Ke1 Kg4 24.Rg1+ Kf3 25.Rf1+ Kg3 26.Rg1+ Kf4 27.Rh1 Bg5 28.Ke2 Kf5 29.Rf1+ Bf4 30.Rh1 Kg4 31.Rg1+ Kh5 32.Rh1 and Black has not made any progress.

I’m almost inclined to say you didn’t miss anything…but not quite.

Position after 11.h4

This was your big chance:
11...f5+! 12.Kd3 (12.Kf3 e4+ 13.Kg2 f4 14.gxf4 Bxh4 15.Rxe3 Kf5 Black is on the verge of winning)) 12...e4+ and now:

A)13.Kc4 f4!! 14.hxg5 (14.gxf4 Bxh4 15.Rxe3 Kf5 wins for Black) 14...fxg3 15.Kd4 Kf5 16.Kxe3 h4 and the Black pawns are unstoppable.)

Position after 16...h4

B)13.Kd4 Bd8! 14.Kxe3 Bb6+ 15.Kd2 Bc7 16.Rg2 Kf6 17.Ke3 Bb6+ 18.Ke2 g5 with excellent winning chances for Black.

Of course, we could then start to look for refinements in White’s defense.  So I would say the ending did not promise a forced win for you, just opportunities to press your advantage.