Saturday, July 4, 2015

Norway's Rook Endgame Showdown

Norway Chess never fails to give us wonders. Just last week we witnessed a fine attacking game between Anand and MVL. In the same round, another fighting game materialized between Carlsen and Nakamura. After a long and tiring struggle, the following position was reached:

Carlsen, Magnus vs Nakamura, Hikaru
Norway Chess 2015 Round 6
Position after 38. Rxc2

This may look like a complicated scenario, and Black cannot save that pawn on c2. However, Nakamura found a way to simplify the game by trading off all the Queenside pawns, leaving behind a 4 vs 3 position that is a theoretical draw. So let us look at how Black defends accurately in this rook endgame, and take it as a refresher of what we have gone through earlier.

38. Rxc2 Rc5

"The maneuver Kg1-f2-e2-d3 with pawn gain is inevitable, but Black has enough time to swap off the remaining pair of pawns on the queenside, thus reaching a theoretically draw endgame four versus three on the same flank." - Bojkov

39. Kf2 b5!
40. axb5 Rxb5
41. Rxc3 g6!
42. f4 h5!

"The best set up of the pawns on the kingside. Black is ready to trade them at the moment White starts advancing there." - Bojkov

43. Rc8+

If 43. Kf3 then 43... Rb4 followed by a5-a4.

43... Kg7
44. Ra8 Rxb3
45. Rxa5 (D)

Position after 45. Rxa5

Now we have a 4 vs 3 endgame. Black's pawn structure prevents White from grabbing too much space in the centre. This allows Black to draw by keeping his rook active, and seeking out soothing pawn exchanges.

45... Rb2+
46. Kf3 Rb3
47. Ra7 Rc3
48. Re7 Rb3
49. Kg3 Rb2

Notice how Black's rook ties down White's king to defending his pawns.

50. Kf3 Rb3
51. g4 hxg4+
52. hxg4

Trading one pair of pawns. Now it's a 3 vs 2.

52... Rb1
53. Rd7 Rf1+
54. Ke4 Rg1
55. g5 (D)

Position after 55. g5

White wants to use his pawns to grab enough space to "squeeze" Black.

55... Ra1
56. Ke5 Ra3

Black simply continues using his rook to interfere with White's plans.

57. e4 Ra5+
58. Kd6 Ra6+
59. Ke5 Ra5+
60. Rd5 Ra4

Wisely avoiding the rook trade. 60... Rxd5+?? 61. exd5 is winning for White.

61. Rc5

Or 61. f5 gxf5 62. exf5 reaching an easily drawn 2 vs 1 position.

61... Ra1
62. Rc2 Rf1
63. Rc7 Re1
64. Ra7 Rg1
65. Ra4 Rf1
66. Ra6 Re1
67. Kd4 Rd1+
68. Ke3 Re1+
69. Kf3 Rf1+
70. Kg3 Re1
71. e5 Re3+
72. Kf2 Rb3 (D)

Position after 72... Rb3

Cutting off White's king from the pawns. Once again, the key to drawing lies in active rook play!

73. Rd6 Ra3
74. Rd8 Rc3
75. Ke2 Ra3
76. Rd3 Ra1
77. Ke3 Re1+
78. Kd4 Rf1
79. Ke4 Ra1
80. Rd7 Ra4+
81. Rd4 Ra5
82. Rc4 Kf8
83. Rc8+ Kg7
84. Rc7 Kf8
85. Kd4 Ra4+
86. Rc4 Ra5
87. Rc8+ Kg7
88. e6 (D)

Position after 88. e6

The last slim chance.

88... fxe6
89. Rc5 Ra7

89... Rxc5?? 90. Kxc5 would really win for White, but no one is buying this.

90. Ke5 Rf7
91. Rc4 Rf5+
92. Kxe6

With an easily drawn 2 vs 1 position. Carlsen finally decides that he has enough.

92... Kg8
93. Rc8+ Kg7
94. Rc7+ Kg8
95. Rc8+ Kg7 (D)

Position after 95... Kg7

This game shows how important it is to have a good understanding of rook endgames. Without the necessary foundations, Nakamura would not have been able to defend correctly and secured the half-point.


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