Could Do Better

This is another post in my occasional series on pawn endings: here I was black against a lower rated opponent in an online rapid game.

It was my move in this position.

I should have played 35.. g5! 36. fxg5 Bxd2! 37. Kxd2 hxg5 38. f4 gxf4 39. gxf4 Ke4 here, with an obvious win, but instead, always eager to reach a pawn ending as soon as possible, I played the moves the wrong way round.

35.. Bxd2?

36. Kxd2 g5

Now it’s different as White can play…

37. Ke3 gxf4+

38. gxf4?

An unexpected decision, giving me an outside passed pawn. 38. Kxf4! is a draw as long as I find either 38.. b4 or 38.. Kc5.

Now I have two winning plans: 38.. a3! followed by a king march on the queenside and 38.. Kc6! heading for the other side of the board to protect my h-pawn. I also have two drawing moves: 38.. b4 and 38.. Kc5.

But of course I managed to find a losing move.

38.. h5?

Now White can win by playing 39. a3! when Black can neither make progress on the queenside nor defend the h-pawn so White is just winning.

39. Kf2?

This move, on the other hand, (just) draws. All other moves lose.

39.. h4?

Now White’s winning again. The critical line was 39.. a3 40. bxa3 Kc5 41. Kg3 Kb6 42. Kh4 Ka5 43. Kxh5 Ka4 44. f5 exf5 45. Kg5 Kxa3 46. Kf6 b4 47. cxb4 c3 48. Kxf7 c2 49. e6 c1=Q 50. e7 Qc4+ 51. Kf8 Qxb4 52. f4 Kxa2, which is a tablebase draw.

40. Kg2!?

Again 40. a3! is an easy win.

40.. b4?

This is the idea I’d been playing for all along, but it just loses.

A better try was 40.. a3!?, but after 41. bxa3 Kc5 42. Kh3 Kb6 43. Kxh4 Ka5 44. f5 exf5 45. Kg5 Ka4 46. Kf6 Kxa3 47. Kxf7 b4 48. cxb4 c3 49. e6 c2 50. e7 c1=Q 51. e8=Q Kxb4 it’s a tablebase win for White (although it might not be so easy over the board: queen endings are scary).

41. cxb4?

Falling for my trap. 41. a3! is still an easy win.

41.. a3

and White resigned.

Very poor play on both sides: we both could have done much better, and I, as the higher rated player, certainly should have done.

Being good at pawn endings is a vital skill in 21st century chess. Do take the time to play through the variations here yourself, looking at possible deviations as well as the lines I’ve given. Another useful technique when analysing any type of position is to look at the differences created by two superficially similar moves. There are some positions here where this will be very instructive.

You should, if you’re anywhere below 2000 or so rating, learn a lot – about queen endings as well as pawn endings, from studying this ending. As so often, you can often learn more from badly played games than from well played games.

Meanwhile, I’ll be showing this example to two of my students this evening.

Richard James

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Richard James

Author: Richard James

Richard James is a professional chess teacher and writer living in Twickenham, and working mostly with younger children and beginners. He was the co-founder of Richmond Junior Chess Club in 1975 and its director until 2005. He is the webmaster of chessKIDS academy ( or and, most recently, the author of Chess for Kids and The Right Way to Teach Chess to Kids, both published by Right Way Books. Richard has been a member of Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club since 1966. Richard is a published author and his books can be found at Amazon. Richard is currently promoting minichess (games and puzzles using subsets of chess) for younger children through his website, and writing coaching materials for children (and adults) who want to start playing serious competitive chess, through View all posts by Richard James

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