Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Practicality of Endgame Studies

You may have noticed that from time to time I mention that solving studies was something I was encouraged to do when I first started taking chess lessons.

In fact, if you read my "other" blog at then you will see me talk about them even more often.

The reason that studies were suggested to me are as a form of calculation exercise.  But the truth is that there is a lot more to them than just that.  The truth is that studies can be very practical.

The reason that studies can be very practical is that often times the study is based on one aspect of the position that if you could change it would lead to a win.

Let's take a look at this study by Alois Watawa that appears in Mark Dvoretsky and Oleg Pervakov's excellent book Studies for Practical Players

This is a study that I just finished solving.  It's White to play and win.

The reason that I find this to be practical is that while this position isn't that likely to occur in a game, the idea itself is.

If you would like to take a crack at solving the study first please do so.  Then continue reading below once you have worked this

When I began looking at this position the first thing that became immediately obvious was that Black's king can't move.  With that in mind it's a simple deduction that if White can give check it's going to be mate.

So how can White give check.  The obvious way is along the h file.  Of course the problem is how to move Black's rook off the h file?  I couldn't figure out a way in which to do so.  The Black rook can shuffle endlessly between h6, h7, and h8 and there is no way for White to attack all of those squares simultaneously with just a rook.  And clearly the White king can't run around to help since Black's h pawn would promote.

So the next evolution in my thinking was that if there was a way to give a check from the White side of the board on the h file then that might win as well.  The issue is that I couldn't find a way to get the White king out of the way and even if I could there is no way to then insert the rook so that it can capture the pawn while being guarded by the king in order to deliver mate.

Then I realized that White could play Ra1 - Rg1 - Rg3 and if Black captures the rook with the f pawn then fxg3 by White is checkmate.  Ah, but there is a problem...After 1.Ra1 Black can simply play 1...Re7 (or d7, c7, or b7 for that matter) and then after 2.Rg1 Black plays 2...Re2.  Now if 3.Rg3 then Black wins with 3...Rxf2+ picking up the White rook when the king steps away from the check.

Seeing all of that you now see that if there was a way to prevent Black from swinging his rook over to the e/d/c/b file then White would have a vital tempo needed for the Ra1 - Rg1 - Rg3 plan.

Which makes the solution suddenly obvious...1.Ra8.  This forces 1...Rh6 to prevent 2.Rh8+ leading to mate.  Now White plays 2.Ra1 and with the pawn on g6 blocking his rook Black has no defense.

The idea being that while this position isn't likely to occur over the board, the idea of winning a vital tempo will.  And that is something that has a practical application OTB.

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