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Queen Endgames! Lots of Fun, Right?

This article was originally written by Mike Williams and appeared in the November/December 1996 edition of The Gambit.

I’ve often wondered why most chessplayers spend so much time and effort studying opening theory, and so little time on endgames. (Personally, the endgame is my favorite phase of the game.) Sure, every game is going to have an opening, while not all reach the endgame. I can only wonder, though, how many points I could have saved over the years by simply thinking ahead towards the kind of endgame I was getting into.

Let’s look at Queen endgames.  Remember, we’re only talking about basic endgames with queens and pawns … although many of these ideas are also relevant with additional material still on the board.

There are two main ideas the weaker side should remember if he or she wants to get a draw: (1) Perpetual Check; and (2) Stalemate.

Black to play. (Szabo-Barcza, 1955)

Often a defender can draw by perpetual check if the enemy king lacks sufficient cover. The defender should not hesitate to throw his own pawns forward, either to rip apart the attacker’s pawn cover, or to help trap the king. In the diagrammed position (Szabo-Barcza, Budapest 1955) White has a powerful b-pawn. Black needs counterplay, pronto. So Barcza tried

1. … f5!

Now White can’t play 2. Kxh4 because of 2. … Qh1+ 3. Kg3 (if 3. Kg5?? Qh6#) … Qg1+ 4. Kh3 (not 4. Kf4?? Qh2+ x-raying the queen) … Qf1+! and Black has a perpetual.  The game continued

2. Qc7+ Kg6 3. Kxh4

The f5-pawn deprives the White king of a flight square and forces White into this undesirable capture. No better is 3. b7 Qf1+ which forces 4. Kxh4 anyway.

3. … Qh1+ 4. Kg3 Qg1+ 5. Kh3 Qf1+

Not 5. … Qh1+ 6. Qh2 Qf1+ 7. Qg2+.

6. Kh2 Qf2+ 7. Kh3 Qf1+ 8. Kg3 Qg1+ 9. Kf4

Why not?

9. … Qxd4+ 10. e4 e5+!

This pawn sac seals in the White monarch.  10. … Kf6 probably draws too.

11. Qxe5 Qd2+ 12. Kg3 Qe1+  ½-½

It was Black’s willingness to throw his pawns forward that generated the counterplay necessary to get a draw.

 

The other major drawing strategy is stalemate. Clearly, this can only occur with greatly reduced material on the board. Here is an example from my own tournament play (Bolitho – Williams, 1991).

Black to play. (Bolitho-Williams, 1991)

In this position it looks grim for Black.  White is up two pawns, and is about to get another queen.  But it is Black to move and instantly draw!  Try to find the draw before reading further.

The tournament conditions can really affect your chances of drawing or winning this type of endgame.  This position was reached while both players had less than five minutes remaining in a sudden-death time control.  Notice that Black’s king is already stalemated, and so Black can sacrifice his queen to ensure stalemate!  That’s exactly what Black did:

1. … Qe8+!  2. fxe8=Q  ½-½

I’ve never been happier to be behind by two queens!

In a future issue, we will explore winning strategies for the stronger side.

 

 

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