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The Practical Endgame / Instruction


Of Knights and Men


We real cool. We Left school. We Lurk late. We Strike straight. We Sing sin. We Thin gin. We Jazz June. We Die soon. ~Gwendolyn Brooks,


1960 By GM DANIEL NARODITSKY


GWENDOLYN BROOKS’ POIGNANT DE - pic tion of the tragic path followed by countless American youths in the 1950s and ’60s is one of the most notorious and influential poems of all time. It has been the subject of fierce literary and prosodic debate since its publication, but—to my amazement—no scholar has dared to approach this poem through the lens of our beloved game. Indeed, even a cursory analysis reveals that the mysterious we refers to—wait for it—knights. Knights are definitely real cool. They refuse to move in a conventional manner, so it stands to reason that they have not received a proper education. They strike straight through the heart of an unsuspecting king. They con - stant ly violate positional principles. And unfor- tu nately, their impudence often brings about an untimely demise. In the endgame, all of these qualities are


accentuated tenfold. To navigate the stormy waters of a knight versus knight endgame, calculation and theoretical knowledge is not enough; one must also understand and concep- tualize how a knight operates under various circumstances. Hopefully, the following recent endgame battle will help us do just that.


WE STRIKE STRAIGHT GM Baris Esen (FIDE 2562, TUR) IM Eesha Karavade (FIDE 2379, IND) Qatar Masters 2015, Doha, Qatar, 12.22.15


White is obviously in the driver’s seat. While


the disparity in knight placement appears to counterbalance his extra pawn, this disparity is nothing but an illusion. Indeed, White needs only two moves to entrench his cavalier on d6, where it will wreak further havoc on Black’s defenseless pawn. Sensing the danger, Karavade embarks on a last-ditch effort to hunt down White’s vulnerable kingside pawns.


28. ... Ne3 The only way to maintain drawing chances:


the knight heads for f1. Of course, Black’s aim is not to restore the material balance, but rather to create a passed pawn as soon as possible.


29. Nb5 Esen follows through on his own plan,


leading the knight to an imperial outpost on d6. These two moves alone illustrate just how skillfully knights target and eliminate undefended pawns.


29. ... Nf1 30. Nd6 Nxh2 31. Nxb7 Nf1 The first critical point has been reached. Even


BLACK TO MOVE 48 March 2016 | Chess Life


without calculating, it is evident that the game will eventually boil down to a pawn race. It is equally clear that White will have an advantage in this race; after all, he is the one with connected passers, and Black does not even have a passed pawn yet. To this end, it is very tempting to get the ball rolling with 32. a4. However, following 32. ... Nxg3 33. a5 Kc7 34. Nd6 h5 it transpires that Black’s king is more than equipped to restrain the a-pawn. White can squeeze out a draw with the computer-like 35. Nxf7! (Just plain awful is 35. a6? Kb6) 35. ... Ne4 36. a6 Kb6 37. Nd6!, but this is not the kind of finale one would envision. This brings us to a second important point: knights are very poor at close-quarter combat against the king. The king’s mobility is limited, but its ability to move in any direction usually enables it to circumvent the knight’s influence. With this idea in mind, White must make every effort to halt Black’s kingside progress:


Karavade’s choice is perfectly understandable:


34. ... Kc5 meets with 35. Ne2, when it appears that Black’s counterplay evaporates for good. However, the text move simply loses by force: Black will succeed in capturing on g3, but he will stand little chance in the ensuing pawn race. In fact, the game is far from over after 34. ... Kc5 35. Ne2 g5!. The problem is that 36. fxg5 hxg5 37. a4 is unconvincing due to 37. ... Nd2+ 38. Kc3 Ne4+, when 39. Kd3 falls prey to 39. ... Nf2+ 40. Kc2 (White loses one of his jewels after 40. Ke3 Nd1+) 40. ... Kb4. The king paralyzes White’s connected passers, and it is only a matter of time before the dreadfully weak pawn on e5 suffers a gruesome fate. Thus, White should try 36. Kc2 gxf4 37. gxf4, granting Black an outside passer but keeping the kingside pawns intact. Follow ing 37. ... Ne3+ 38. Kd3 Nd5, we reach a fascinating position:


(see diagram next page)


My intuition screams that White should eventually set his pawns in motion, but this is much easier said than done. After tackling this incredibly complex position with a strong


32. Nc5+! Kc6 33. Ne4 We strike straight! With the g3-pawn safely


protected, a2-a4 becomes a serious threat. Hence, Black has no choice but to draw her king further away from the queenside.


33. ... Kd5 34. Nc3+ Kd4?


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