Pushing Passed Pawns

While researching GE Wainwright I came across this game concluding wit a sharp rook ending in which he, on two occasions, played a move converting a win into a loss. |Yes, you’d be correct in inferring that, in between, his opponent also converted a win into a loss. In one of his last games, after a career lasting more than 40 years, the English international had the white pieces against Comins Mansfield, one of the most distinguished problemists of the last century, but also a pretty strong player.

In this case, the ending proved too difficult for either player to handle accurately. Chess is hard!

We’ll pick up the game with Wainwright, two pawns up, about to play his 33rd move. You’d expect him to win here, but you always have to be careful when your opponent has a passed pawn. Of course I wouldn’t have been able to annotate this intelligently myself, so I asked Stockfish 14 to do the work for me.

33. d5?!

The easiest way to win was 33. Ra6! with the idea of playing c4 at some point to trade off the c3 and d5 pawns for the a4 and b5 pawns, leaving Black with no counterplay.

33.. Kg7
34. Ra6?!

Now it’s too late: Black’s king is one square nearer the centre and the d-pawn is no longer defended. 34. Rb6 would have maintained White’s advantage.

34.. Rc8?

He should have preferred 34.. Rf3 35. c4 bxc4 36. Rxa4 Rc3, which should be drawn.

35. Rc6??

Turning a winning position into a losing position for the first time. The winning plan was to push the d-pawn and then, as in the note to move 33, play c4 at some point. Now Stocky tells me Black is winning.

35.. Ra8!

Correct – the only winning move.

36. Re6 Rc8?

Throwing it away. Passed pawns must be pushed! The fairly obvious 36.. a3 37. Re1 a2 38. Ra1 Kf6! (King Up For The Ending!) was winning.

37. d6 Kf8?!

Preferable was Rd8!, which should draw. Stocky now wants White to play Re7.

38. Re5 Ra8

We all know that Rooks Belong Behind Passed Pawns, but here Rd8 was better, probably still drawing.

39. Rxb5

Now White’s clearly winning again, although some of the lines are tricky.

39.. Ke8
40. c4 Kd7
41. c5 Kc6

42. c4?

The only winning move here was 42. Rb1!, following up with Rd1 to get behind the d-pawn. Now Black has one – not very obvious, I think – way to draw: 42.. Ra7! 43. Rb1 Kxc5 44. Rd1 Ra8!. I think I can understand most of this ending but the idea of 42.. Ra7! followed by 44.. Ra8! is too deep for me!

42.. a3?
43. Rb1 Kxc5
44. Kf2??

For the second time White converts a winning position into a losing position with a single move. The win, improbably perhaps, was 44. d7! with the point that 44.. Rd8 45. Rb3! Rxd7 46. Rxa3 Kxc4, which looked to me at first like a draw, but both engines and tablebases confirm that White has several winning moves. It’s instructive to play this out for yourself, or perhaps a good training exercise for your students.

44.. Kxc4?

Black again misses his chance. The win was 44.. a2! 45. Ra1 Kxd6! and his king will eventually reach a3. Now White has several drawing moves, one of which is 45. Ra1, when his d-pawn will ensure the draw if Black plays to win the rook.

45. d7?

The final mistake. Now Black’s path to victory is clear.

45.. a2
46. Rd1 Rd8
and White resigned

Not very impressive play by either side, according to Stockfish, although admittedly it was a very difficult ending. But there players were not beginners. Looking at Rod Edwards’ retrospective ratings, Wainwright had been 2400 strength at his best, and at the time of the game both he and Mansfield were somewhere around 2100-2150 strength. As I keep on saying, it’s even more important these days to be good at endings, especially pawn and rook endings. I hope you and/or your students will learn from this example.

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 (www.chesskids.org.uk or www.chesskids.me.uk) 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 www.minichess.uk, and writing coaching materials for children (and adults) who want to start playing serious competitive chess, through www.chessheroes.uk. View all posts by Richard James

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