The following Bishop ending took place in the recently completed Spanish Team Championship in Linares.
Position after Black’s 50th move (50…Bxc6) It has been an uphill struggle for the Cuban superstar, having lost a pawn virtually right out of the opening. But he kept on fighting and has made it difficult for his opponent at every turn. Now, expecially, with such reduced material on the board, it is not inconceivable that Black might yet draw the game! However, Sargissian has a well deserved reputation for being one of the world’s best endgame players…
Gabriel Sargissian (born 1983) has been a member of Armenia’s prestigious national team since 2000.
Tempting, but wrong,is to simplify by trading Bishops: 51.Bxc6?! Kxc6 52.e4!? ( Curiously, 52.Kxg6 Kd5 53.Kf5 Kc4 54.e4 Kb3 55.e5 Kxa3 56.e6 Kb2 57.e7 a3 58.e8=Q a2 arrives at a well known theoretical draw! (diagram below)
If there were no a-pawns on the board, the ending would be a simple theoretical draw. But even so (with the a-pawns on the board) the Black King can get to the corner in time…for example: 56.Kf5 Ke8 57.Ke5 Ke7 58.Kd5 Ke8 59.Kc5 Ke7 60.Kd5 Ke8 61.Kd4 Ke7 62.Ke5 Ke8 63.Kd6 Kd8 64.Kc6 Ke7 65.Kb5 Kxe6 66.Kxa4 Kd7 etc.
THEREFORE, Sargissian avoided this simplification:
51…Kd6! 52.e4! Kc5!
Black does not fall for the trap; 52…Bxe4? 53.Bxe4 Kc5 54.Bc2! Now, however, Black threatens to take the e-pawn: 53.Ke5?! Bxe4! 54.Bxe4 Kc4 55.Bc2 Kc3 56.Bxa4 Kb2 etc.
Black heads over as quickly as he can to capture the a-pawn, being willing to sacrifice his Bishop in the process. Wrong now for White is to rush things with 54.e6?! Kb3 55.Ke5 Kxa3 56.Kd6 Kb2 57.Kxc6 a3 58.e7 a2 59.e8=Q a1=Q (see diagram below)
White can not win! Alexey Troitskymade a deep study of this type of ending and published many subtle studies where the stronger side wins, but here the White King is simply too far away to create any mating nets…
REALIZING this, Sargissian played better:
(After writing this analysis, I was informed that Black can still hold (!) with 54…Kd4: the analysis goes something like 55.e6 Bb5 56.e7 and only now …Kc3! This appears to be correct, verified by the table bases. Thx, Jean!)
A very precise move, and a difficult one to find as White deliberately gets infront of his passed pawn! Rushing things with 55.e6?! will allow Black to draw after 55…Kb3 56.Ke5 Bb5! (not 56…Kxa3 57.Kd6 Bb5 58.Kb5 and the Bishop has no moves) 57.Kd4 Bc4! when the danger has passed and the game will be a draw). White’s idea (Ke7) is that now if 55…Kb2 56.Kd6 Bb5 57.Kc5 Bd7 58.Kb4! protecting the pawn.
Black has nothing better; the Bishop will be forced to switch diagonals anyway. Black sets a little trap at the same time: 56.e6(?) Bd5! when Black will capture both pawns and draw.
Now if 56…Bg4 57.Kc5 Kb2 58.Kb4 followed by advancing his e-pawn. No different would be 56…Kb2 57.e6 Be2 58.e7 Bb5 59.Kc5 Bd7 60.Kb4!
Unfortunately for Black, there is nothing better. White can now win with 57.e6! Bb3 58.Kc5 Kb2 59.Kb4 Kc1 60.Bg8! and the pawn advances next move. Sargissian’s move is fundamentally just a transposition
The remaining moves need little commentary
57…Bb3 58.Be8 (or 58.e6 Bc4 59.Bg8 as in the last variation given above ) 58…Kd3 59.Bd7 Bd1 60.e6 Bg4 61.Bb5+
A very instructive ending, very well played by both sides.