Round 5 of the Olympiad saw several critical games finish with a similar type of Rook ending that every aspiring master should learn early on. I remember some 40 years ago, when I made a first serious effort to improve my endgame skill, seeing the following position in Ruben Fine’s Basic Chess Endings:
This exact position can be found on page 325 of Fine’s book (diagram 354). He writes ”…this lack of mobility (of the White Rook) makes it impossible to win. For the Black King remains on g7, from which square he can be driven away only by an earthquake, while the Rook plods patiently to and fro along the b-file. The White King of course can not approach the b-pawn: as soon as he gets to c7 checks drive him away again.”
This drawing idea is easy to pick and you readily appreciate its enormous practical value. Of course, were the White b-pawn on b6, then White would win by advancing his King and hiding it in front of the pawn, freeing his Rook and then winning by standard methods.
But often in practice the pawn is forced to advance to the seventh rank, and then the defence is relatively straight forward. Draw.
But with a more central pawn White can force an instructive win:
This is, in essence, the basic theory of this kind of Rook and pawn endgame. Relatively easy to understand and straight forward to implement. The ending is either won or drawn depending on which pawn White has. All you have to do is hope you are on the ‘right’ side…(!)
In round 5, curiously, two important matches were decided with this same theme in the ending:
gm Ding,Liren – gm Navara,David China vs Czech Republic
gm Sutovsky,E – gm Shankland,S Israel vs USA
Sutovsky’s victory was well deserved and with it Israel achieved a well deserved draw (2-2) against the American team, which had been up to then unstoppable.
A really weird tactic!
The following position demonstrates a weird tactical theme that I had often given to many of my younger students as a quiz :
I think I gave this theme the name ‘The Subway Mate’, as in Montreal the subway is underground and all of White’s moves involve moving his pieces on the first rank.
I have to admit that I had never seen an example of this theme from actual master praxis. Up until this Olympiad, that is! Enjoy!