09 April 2012

Annotated Game #39: Rook Endings Are Always Drawn

The next tournament game, following on the heels of my most instructive loss, is typical of my play during that period of my chess career.  The opening is an English Four Knights with a slightly advantageous, or at least comfortable, position for White once the early middlegame is reached.  I don't have a particularly good idea of where to place my pieces, for example the bishop on move 12, the rook on move 14 and the queen on move 19.  These sorts of small positional errors accumulate and when White follows a skewed plan to push e4 using the f3 pawn as a support, tactics as a result appear for Black, who emerges up a pawn.

By the end of the exchanging sequence on move 26, we have a double rook endgame where Black has a central passed pawn and another one easily created on the queenside.  However, White is not lost, as his king is closer to the action and his rooks are active.  These sorts of endgames are notoriously difficult for the side with a material advantage to win; the move required for Black to win on move 35 would have taken a great deal of accurate calculation and nerves to play at the board.  White is able to exchange a pair of rooks and eliminate the central and queenside pawns in exchange for Black picking up two kingside pawns, which however means that Black's pawns will not be able to breach White's defenses.  By move 41 the draw has taken shape, with White's rook in an ideal position to prevent Black's king from getting into the fight.  By move 51 the draw is concrete, although it takes another 30 moves for my stubborn opponent to concede the fact (amusingly with both of us missing a threefold position repetition as well).

The main lessons I drew from the analysis of this game were:
  • Knowing an opening variation well is not enough, as some idea of the early middlegame requirements for the position is necessary to maintain momentum and accuracy of play.
  • Many times it is sufficient simply to follow a plan of improving the position of each of your pieces in order to increase their activity.  This is especially a good rule of thumb for when you know the opening well but lack experience with the resulting middlegame.
  • The defender in a rook endgame should never despair when he has active pieces that can get behind the enemy pawns and harass the king.  After all, all rook endgames are drawn, as the saying goes...

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