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Two Knights Against a Pawn at the Marshall Print E-mail
By Andre Harding   
September 18, 2009
During the last round of the Grandmaster Challenge! tournament held on June 28 at the Marshall Chess Club, an amazing spectacle occurred: two games—on neighboring boards, no less—reached the endgame of two knights (no pawns) versus one pawn!

I was watching the end of the round, and there were still a few games left, when I noticed there was a possibility to reach 2Ns vs. P on fifth board. Sure enough, in a few moves Mikhail Sher (2150) was able to sacrifice to reach a position with an e-pawn against GM Dmitry Gurevich’s two knights. The pawn started on e5 and eventually Sher was able to push it to e6, since Gurevich wasn’t in position to blockade it adequately.

Final position in Sher-Gurevich

Gurevich thought about it for a few minutes but realized the pawn had advanced too far and offered Sher a draw. If the pawn had instead been on e5 and Gurevich’s blockading knight on e6 (as in the following diagram), the two knights would have prevailed:

Analysis diagram

1…Nf4 2.e6 Nf3 3.e7 Nh3 4.e8Q Nf2#. If 2.Kg1 instead, then 2…Nh3+ 3.Kh1 Nf3 4.e6 Nf2# would do the trick.

While GM Gurevich was in deep thought, the virtually impossible happened. On board 4, Michael Thaler (2257) had two knights against FM Asa Hoffmann’s lone pawn! Thaler was extremely low on time as well and after making some attempts to progress simply took Hoffmann’s pawn and conceded the draw.

Two endgames with two knights vs a pawn occurring at the same time in the same round on neighboring boards? I and many of the players were wondering if such a thing has happened previously in the history of chess!

Another two knights vs.pawn game occured at the Marshall Chess Club recently in the U.S. Chess League New Jersey Knockouts- New York Knights first week match. New Jersey's IM Dean Ippolito had a huge advantage against GM Pascal Charbonneau, when Pascal found a way to transpose to two knights vs. a pawn.

Ippolito-Charbonneau, Position after 47.f6

47...Nxe5 48. Kxe5 Bb2+ 49. Kf5 Bxf6 50. Kxf6 

After 50. Kxf6

Dean told CLO, "I thought that his sacrifices to go into a two knight ending had to be losing, but the alternative for Pascal was to defend for 100 moves.  So in time pressure, I wasn't surprised that he'd go for it.  My first reaction was 'Oops...I guess he can draw this' because he's a strong GM and I thought he might know something I don't.  But within a few moves I was confident that it was an easy win since I had two big advantages, 1. His king was already cornered and 2. His pawn was on it's starting square."

50...Kh7 51. Nce4 Kh6 52. Ng3 Kh7 53. Ndf5 Kg8 54. Ne4 Kh7 55. Nc5 Kg8 56. Nd7 Kh7 57. Kg5 Kg8 58. Kh6 Kh8 59. Ne7 f6 60. Nf8

After 60.Nf8

This type of position is the backbone of the theory. If it wasn't for the f-pawn, Black could claim a stalemate, but instead he must resign or play f5, allowing Nf-g6#.
Grandmaster Challenge! is an experimental tournament held about once every four weeks at the Marshall Chess Club in New York City. It is a six-round, Swiss-system tournament, with a time control of 25 minutes per player for the entire game. It is USCF-quick-rated only, and scorekeeping is optional. However, the turnout is amazingly strong: for example the June 28 tournament drew four GMs, four IMs, three FMs, one WIM, and three additional masters. Grandmaster Challenge! offers prizes to the top six finishers ($350 for first place!), and a plethora of class prizes. There's also a prize for the highest finishing Senior (aged 55+) who receives a dollar amount equivalent to his or her age; the highest finishing Junior (>18) whose prize is three times his or her age in dollars; and a prize for the highest finishing female player, whose prize is equivalent to the number of participants in the tournament, in dollars. Besides the strength of the tournament and the prizes, there is also a free buffet for the participants featuring Russian cuisine. The next Grandmaster Challenge! event will be held on Sunday, Sept 20th at the Marshall, and the following one on October 25th. 

Andre Harding is a professional chess trainer and tournament director from New York City.