Sunday, July 04, 2010

64 Squares of Pain

It does feel like that sometimes. Ah, how bittersweet our game can be.

After my recent Art, Science, or Sport? blog entry, John from Endgame Clothing offered the above fine T-shirt for my collection, and I, having a very memorable bishop vs knight endgame, was pleased to accept.

Of course, as a card-carrying Member Of The Human Race, I appreciate free T-shirts (and as a materialistic chess player, I also accept "reasonably-priced" pawn and piece sacrifices). The ornately designed shirt is made of my favorite 100% cotton, and some of the company's other designs have been making the rounds recently.

2010 Samford Fellow GM Robert Hess is wearing one of Endgame Clothing's T-shirts on the cover of the June 2010 Chess Life, and the Karpov for FIDE president 2010 Fundraiser T-shirts were also designed by John's company. By association, my rating should soon be skyrocketing.

I see on the inside back cover of the July 2010 Chess Life that USCF Sales is also now carrying Endgame t-shirts. Anyway, here is my most memorable bishop vs knight endgame...

Ken Ho - John Muth
21 February 1994
U.S. Amateur Team East, round 6

Our 4-person team had won on one board, but had losing positions on two others. I needed to win this endgame to tie the match ("Captain's orders" ;-) ).

Being down a pawn, I thought I was worse, but now I think the endgame is actually equal. Perhaps having the extra pawn proved to be a psychological burden for my opponent, who pursued a win to his detriment, when a draw was the logical result.

After 29...Bxe4

30 Nc5 Bb1 31 Nxe6 31 Nxa6? Bxa2 32 Nxb4 Bxb3 gives Black the kingside majority and all the chances, though White may be able to draw. After the text, Black still has difficulty keeping his queenside pawns.

31...Bxa2 32 Nc5 a5

Black should consider 32...Kf7 33 Nxa6 (Given the possibility that Black can actually lose his way and worsen his position, White may actually have little motivation to play this capture immediately. 33 Kf2 Ke7 34 Ke3 Kd5 35 Nxa6 Bxb3 36 Nxb4 is a drawn ending.) Bxb3 34 Nxb4, when a draw remains the most likely outcome.

33 Kf2

33...a4? Black's queenside pawns are not going anywhere, but White's soon-to-be-new a-pawn is. 33...Bxb3?? loses, since the knight can easily stop Black's a- and b-pawns until White's king comes to vacuum them up: 34 Nxb3 a4 35 Nc5 +-.

I've looked at a couple of lines like 33...Kf7 34 Ke3 Ke7 35 Kd3 Kd6 36 Ne4+ Kc6 37 Kc2 a4 38 bxa4 f5 39 Nf6 Kb6 40 Nxh7 Ka5 41 h4 Kxa4 42 Kb2 Bf7 43 Nf8,

(Analysis position after 43 Nf8)

and I think that the position remains a draw, no matter what fantastical lines are explored.

34 bxa4 b3? This leads to a clearly worse position for Black. 34...Bd5 at least ensures the bishop has access to both wings.

35 Nd3 Bb1? Jettisoning the pawn with 35...b2, but allowing the bishop freedom, appears to be the best chance for a draw for Black.

36 Ke3! Preventing Black's bishop from getting out along the b1-h7 diagonal. 36...Bxd3 37 Kxd3 is an easy win for White, since the Black b-pawn falls, leaving White with the outside passed a-pawn, which is already "outside the square" of the Black king (i.e., cannot be prevented from promoting by the Black king).

36...Kf7? Jettisoning the pawn with 36...b2 still looks like the best chance to draw, but I think Black is likely lost. White should be able to force a position where Black's bishop is chased away from the immediate vicinity of the a8 square, and the White knight can then obstruct or smother the bishop, allowing the pawn to promote. A sample line is 36...b2 37 Kd4 (7/8/10: Oops, 37 Kd4?? Bxd3 -+. Well, I'm going to ignore that, because the original flawed analysis still leads to interesting analysis positions. 37 Nxb2 may still lead to a win for White, on the basis of the considerations already noted.) Ba2 38 Nxb2 Be6 39 Nc4 Bc8 40 Kc5 Ba6 41 Nd6 Kf8 42 Kb6 Bd3 43 a5 Ke7

(Analysis position after 43...Ke7)

44 Nb5 g5 45 fxg5 fxg5 46 a6 Be4 47 Kc7 (Keeping the Black king at bay so the White knight can do its stuff.) Ba8 48 Nd6 Ke6 49 Nb7 Kd5 50 Kb8 Kc6 51 Kxa8 Kb6 52 a7 Kc7 53 Nd6

(Analysis position after 53 Nd6)

Unfortunately for Black, played by my hapless PDA chess program for this analysis line, the old box-in-the-enemy-king-in-front-of-his-own-pawn trick does not work when the opposing side has enough material to produce a pawn promotion on the other wing.

Interestingly, if all the kingside pawns are removed:

(Conceptual analysis position after 53 Nd6)

White wins from the above position because it is Black to move, so that whatever Black plays, White responds with 54 Kb8 and 55 a8=Q (or 55 a8=R ;-) ).

However, if it were White to move in the above position, it is a draw because White cannot prevent the Black king from shuttling between c7 and c8. Because each knight move brings it to a square of the opposite color, it will never be able to alter the "polarity" of the situation to bring about a situation in which it controls c8 at a time when the Black king has to move away from c7. Fascinating stuff (to me, anyway), but back to the game....

37 a5 f5 38 a6 Ba2

39 Kd4! Holding d5 (and c4), so Black's bishop will not be allowed to prevent the pawn from queening, even if he jettisons the pawn with 39...b2.

39...Bb1 40 a7 Bxd3 41 a8=Q b2 42 Qb7+ Kf6 43 Kxd3 1-0

That's the kind of endgame for which this T-shirt was made!

Time-twistingly ironically, my opponent was the J. Muth who created another one of my favorite T-shirts (or so I have long believed, anyway), as I'd written about earlier.

Of course, before the endgame, the gods have placed the middle game. Those who have observed my amazing middle game blunders know that I have rather less of a predilection for the middle game than I have for the endgame.

In his "Memoir of Capablanca" which was included in Harry Golombek's Capablanca's 100 Best Games of Chess, J. du Mont wrote:
He made innumerable friends by his kindly and genuine manner. I remember his winning a brilliant game from Dr. Vidmar in London, 1922, and laughingly patting the loser on the back, saying: "He always give[sic] me a chance of a brilliancy; he is my meat'" -- this accompanied by such a charming and good-natured smile that everyone, including Dr. Vidmar, had the impression that he had bestowed the finest compliment on his opponent. Who else could make such a remark to his adversary and convey the feeling of the utmost friendliness?
If I ever come to the board and find my opponent wearing a T-shirt showing a chuckling Capablanca with the caption, "You are my middle game meat.", I may have to run screaming from the tournament hall.

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