SPRAGGETT ON CHESS
This year’s Dortmund super-tournament took place between the 15th and 25th of July. A six-player double round tournament, the participants were former World Chess Champion Vladimir Kramnik ( top seed.and winner of 9 previous editions!) Mamedyarov, Ponomariov, Leko, Naiditsch and the winner of the Aeroflot Open: the Vietnam prodigy 19 year old Le Quang Liem .
Ponomariov ran away with the tournament. Le Quang Liem surprised everyone with a solid performance and sole 2nd place, while Kramnik could never really find his form and had to be satisfied with a 50% score. Peter Leko found himself in an unusal position: sharing last place with the home town favourite!
Le Quang Liem: a rising star
The time control was 100 minutes for 50 moves, followed by 15 minutes for the rest of the game (plus, ofcourse, a 30 second increment starting from the first move). This means that every player must make 50 moves in slightly more than 2 hours (2 hours and 5 minutes, to be precise), and then finish the game in the next half hour (more or less…).
(Editor’s note: I have since been informed that the official bulletin of the tournament states that the time control is the FIDE long Fischer time control (100 min for 40 moves, plus 50 min for 20 moves, plus 15 mins for rest with additional 30 secs from move 1) This time control is also used at German Bundesliga etc. Thankyou, Christopher! )
When I took a look at the games from this famous tournament I found myself hard-pressed to find a good game to reproduce here for my readers. And the endings, especially, were generally very poorly played and will likely never find themselves included in endgame anthologies (except for how NOT to play endings!).
Perhaps it was the excessive heat during the tournament (on some days more than 30 degrees)that was responsible for the lower than usual performances…!?
The Kramnik vs Mamedyarov encounter in the last round saw Kramnik hold on to a pawn sacrifice that his opponent gave in the opening. This is the position after White’s 25th move:
This type of ending (all pawns on one side of the board; Rook, Knight and 4 pawns versus Rook, Bishop and 3 pawns) occurs hundreds of times each year in tournament practice. What are White’s REAL chances of winning this ending? Theory has not come to a conclusion, but I estimate that White has 50% chances of winning, though I would not be surprised if one day someone proves that it is a draw with correct play.
After all, White’s material advantage is very minimal. In practice, White wins sometimes but rarely. It is much easier for Black to draw than it is for White to win! In my own games I have never lost this ending from the inferior side.
The correct plan of defence, ofcourse, is for Black to park his Bishop on f8, limit the White Knight’s orbit by playing h6, and then to wait to see if White can make progress by advancing his pawns. Patience is necessary, as Black has no counterplay.
In anycase, I would expect atleast another 50 moves of play from this position!
But you will not believe that Black resigned in just 3 moves! How is it possible for a 2750 player to lose without a fight? Watch this:
It appears that Mamedyarov had not studied Rook and Pawn endings sufficiently…He forces Kramnik into a technically won ending!
28. ed! (ofcourse!) 28… Rxe4 29. Kd3 f5 (to let the King escape from the mate threat) 30. g3 Re7 31. Rb5
This is a known ending. I remember writing an article on this type of Rook and Pawn ending some 25 years ago: already then there was a lot of literature on this, and I found dozens of practical examples from master play. White wins by advancing his King and center pawn.
Even so, Mamedyarov should play on for a few more moves. Instead, he resigned. 1:0 With this unexpectedly easy win Kramnik was able to finish the tournament with a 50% score.
If the above example is hard to believe, take a look at this embarrassement:
Back to basics: buy Mamedyarov a book on how to play endgames!
This is position from the Ponomariov vs Mamedyarov game after White’s 29th move. The position is about equal, but if anyone has chances it is Black: his pieces are well centralized and the White pawns are easier to attack (g3) than the Black counterparts. Black could start probing manoeuvres (..a5!?) in an effort to create another White target. I would expect the game to end up in a draw, especially at this level of play.
But the next 8 moves by Mamedyarov are impossible to rationally explain: he started to put all of his wonderfully active pieces onto the worse possible squares! He soon found himself getting into trouble. Below is the position after White’s 37th move:
POSITION ONLY 8 MOVES LATER!
Take a look at Black’s Knight on h8: can you find a worse square for a Knight?? The Black Bishop is no longer on its best diagonal, and the Black Rook and King are out of play. What on earth was in Mamedyarov’s mind? While Black may not be lost in the above position, White has significantly improved his chances of winning. Ponomariov won on the 51st move after some more weak play by Black.
One more example of a misplayed ending….
Round one paring: Ponomariov vs Leko. How to lose an ending without really trying….
POSITION AFTER WHITE’S 26th MOVE (26.Rd1)
This tournament was to prove to be one of Leko’s worse results ever since cracking the 2700 barrier. Things started going wrong right in the first round. Here against Ponomariov Black has achieved a fully playable position. White has not even the hint of an advantage!
Besides the move played by the Hungarian, Black might want to consider taking the Bishop on c3 and activating his Rook via the 4th rank: 26…Nxc3 27.Kxc3 Rb4!?
Black gets counterplay with …Ra4, …Re4 or …Rg4. The White e-pawn is vulnerable and Black might even try to advance his c-pawn (with or without …Bf8). An easy defence for Black.
Instead, Leko played the reasonable 26…Nb4ch
and after 27. Bxb4 cb 28. Kb3
we reach the following position:
The White King tries to blockade the Black Queen-side majority. He threatens to get some play with Rd7. How should Black proceed if he is not to get the worse of it? Actively, ofcourse!
Black should play the Rook-lift 28… Rb5 (diagram,right),
attacking the e-pawn and threatening …Ra5-a3ch , activating the Black Rook.
After the logical continuation (29. Rd8 Bf8 30. Rd7 Ra5) we arrive at the diagram below,right:
Why is Black even a bit worse? If White plays 31.Kb2 then Black can simply force a repetition of position with 31…Bg7!. And if White instead plays for broke with the speculative 31. e6, Black gets the edge with 31…fe 32.Nd4!? (what else?) 32…Ra3ch!
Instead, Leko played the very passive 30…Bf8?!, and after 31.Rd7! and 32.Nd2! (threatening N-e5 -f6) Ponomariov built up some advantage that he eventually converted into a win some 25 moves later.