Weekly Endgame Column #9

Lund 2018: Black to move and win.

In this week’s column, we shall go through the solution to my study composition from last week. The subject is knight vs. pawn(s).

3…Kd2!

A surprising first move, but based on the ring system: White is not allowed to get to f4 with check. The f6-pawn plays a crucial role here by covering the e5-square.

The full explanation of the ring system can be found in Sharp Endgames, the chapter on Lord of the Rings.

3…Kd3? 4.Nh3!

The ring system 1-2-3: the pawn must be stopped on a3 (with Na2).

4…Ke3 (4…a5 5.Nf4+=) 5.Kg6! a5 6.Kf5! a4 7.Nf4 a3 8.Nd5+ Kd2 9.Nb4=

The perfect defensive setup for White: the knight takes care of the a-pawn whereas the king controls the f-pawn. But with 3…Kd2!, Black steps carefully and is able to avoid this.

Position after 3…Kd2!

4.Nh3!

4.Nf3+ Kd3!

The f6–pawn covers the important e5–square. White can try: 5.Ne1+ Kc3 6.Ng2 a5 7.Ne3 a4 8.Nd5+ Kb3 9.Nf4! Back into the connecting point of ring 2 – a typical maneuver, explained in Sharp Endgames. 9…a3 10.Nd3 The knight entered ring 1 in time (a2–b4–d3–c1) to stop the a-pawn, and the White king is close to the f-pawn. However, now black combines the threats on both sides of the board – and play continues as in the main continuation after 10…Kc3 11.Nc1 Kd4!

4…a5 5.Nf4

White has entered the connecting point of ring 2 and is ready to stop the a-pawn via the path f4-d5-b4.

5…a4!

If instead 5…Kc3? 6.Kg6!, the king takes care of f6, the knight of the a-pawn. 6…a4

This position (without the pawn on f6, and Kg6 elsewhere) occured in a study by Frantisek Prokop which I have included in Sharp Endgames. The following 2 maneuvers are typical: 7.Nd5+! (7.Ne2+? Kd2! covering both c1 and d3, forcing the knight out of the ring system – now there is no point in going back into the previous connecting point on f4. 8.Nd4 a3 9.Kxf6 a2 10.Nb3+ Kc3 11.Na1 Kb2 12.Ke5 Kxa1 13.Kd4 Kb2–+) 7…Kb3 (7…Kc4 covers both b4 and d3, but 8.Nb6+= eliminates the pawn. This is the argument for choosing 7.Nd5+!) 8.Nf4!= Back into the connecting point of ring 2.

Beside Prokop, Nikolai Grigoriev has contributed greatly to the endgame knight vs. pawn with several studies where the knight has to approach the pawn from afar. My study builds on this knowledge as well as the explanation of the ring system in Sharp Endgames – and with an extra pawn in the position, I have added a few nice points.

6.Nd5 a3 7.Nb4

It looks as if White has achieved his goal: the knight takes care of the a-pawn, the king can handle the f6–pawn. But Black has ways to combine play on both sides of the board.

7…Kc3!

Black wins a few tempos to make sure that the f6–pawn is not lost.

8.Na2+ Kb3 9.Nc1+ Kb2 10.Nd3+ Kc3 11.Nc1

The knight must be on c1 before Black approaches the f-pawn.

11…Kd4!

Now begins a curious march of the king along the h-file to try to get in front of Black’s f-pawn. This shows yet another function of the f6–pawn: by covering the g5–square, the White king is not able to get in front of the pawn at this point.

12.Kh5

12.Kg6 Ke5!–+ and the king successfully supports the f-pawn. Knight checks do not help White: 13.Nd3+ Ke4 14.Nc5+ Kd4 15.Nb3+ Ke5! and the knight must return to c1 to stay within ring 1, leading to a worse version of the main continuation.

12…f5! 13.Kh4

13.Kg5 Ke4–+

13…f4! 14.Kh3

14.Kg4 Ke3–+

14…f3! 15.Kh2 (D)

If 15.Kg3, then 15…Ke3–+

15…Ke3!

With this and the next couple of king moves, Black combines the threats of both pawn advances to win the game.

Of course not 15…f2?? 16.Kg2 Ke3 17.Kf1= when White succeeds with the defensive plan outlined earlier: the knight takes care of the a-pawn, the king stops the f-pawn.

16.Kg1 Kd2! 17.Na2 Ke1–+

From the starting point on c3, the Black king’s journey was d2-c3-b3-b2-c3-d4-e3-d2 to end up on e1.

In the end, the White king was not able to get in front of the f-pawn.

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