30 Jan

The Three-Footer

The great  Aussie player, writer and editor Cecil J. Purdy (1906-1979) was described by no less a figure than Bobby Fischer as being a great chess instructor. Fischer held Purdy in high regard, and through his early teens would  vociferously read everything he wrote on chess.  And indeed, all of Purdy’s wonderful writings on the game are highly instructive and should be read by all if you are looking for useful and simple tips to help improve your game.  


Purdy (who was the first world correspondence champion, so he did know a thing or three) once famously observed that “Pawn endings are to chess what putting is to golf.” What a wonderful analogy; and so true! Just like rook and pawn endings, a little bit of additional wisdom and knowledge in pawn endings can make the difference between losing and saving a game.

Although the Dutch can lay spurious 17th century claims to being one of the earliest inventors of golf that predates the game in Scotland, golf is not a great Dutch tradition - but chess certainly is, and that wonderful Purdy golfing analogy became a reality in the ‘Battle of the sexes’ encounter in round 11 at the 78th Tata Steel Masters in Wijk aan Zee.


In a tragic set of circumstances, after doing all the hard work to reach a totally drawn ending against Magnus Carlsen, Hou Yifan, the world’s top female player, was hit by the yips at the decisive moment that allowed the World Champion to (somewhat luckily) extend his lead at the top over American rival Fabiano Caruana going into Saturday’s penultimate round.

Photo © | http://www.tatasteelchess.com

Round 11
Wei draw Karjakin
Mamedyarov draw Caruana
Van Wely draw Navara
Tomashevsky 0-1 Ding
Eljanov draw So
Carlsen 1-0 Hou
Adams draw Giri

Round 11 Standings: 1. Magnus Carlsen (Norway) 8/11; 2. Fabiano Caruana (USA) 7; 3. Ding Liren (China) 6.5; 4-6. Anish Giri (Netherlands), Wesley So (USA), Pavel Eljanov (Ukraine) 6; 7-8. Wei Yi (China), Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan) 5.5; 9-10. David Navara (Czech Rep.), Sergey Karjakin (Russia) 5; 11. Loek Van Wely (Netherlands) 4.5; 12-14. Hou Yifan (China), Evgeny Tomashevsky (Russia), Michael Adams (England) 4.

Round 12 (Sat. 30th Jan): Karjakin-Giri, Hou Yifan-Adams, Wesley So-Carlsen, Ding Liren-Eljanov, Navara-Tomashevsky, Caruana-Van Wely, Wei Yi-Mamedyarov. There’s live video commentary with host GM Yasser Seirawan and his guest(s) each round, starting at 13:30 local time (07:30 ET, 04:30 PT) by clicking here.

GM Magnus Carlsen - GM Hou Yifan
78th Tata Steel Masters (11)
Petroff’s Defence
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 The Petroff's Defence. Before the revival of the Berlin 'Wall' Defence during the Kramnik-Kasparov London World Championship match in 2000, this was the dreaded drawing system Black player's would deploy  to thwart their opponent - and it was the chess equivalent of watching paint dry, as I sat through many pre-Berlin super-tournament press rooms in Wijk and Linares during the second half of the 1990s. Nowadays the Petroff is pyrotechnics personified in comparison to the Berlin! 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nf3 Nxe4 5.Nc3 Nxc3 6.dxc3 Be7 7.Be3 Nc6 8.Qd2 Be6 9.0-0-0 Qd7 10.b3 In those good old, bad old Petroff days, Peter Leko was something of a big fan - and when he had White, this became one of his ways of playing against it. 10...Bf6 11.h3 0-0-0 12.g4 h6 13.Bg2 Kb8 14.Rhe1 Rhe8 As you can see, White really has nothing to bite on - but this Magnus Carlsen, who loves grinding down opponents from such position. However Hou Yifan seems to be well-prepared and picks all the right moments to make exchanges. 15.Kb2 a6 16.Re2 Qe7 17.Rde1 Qf8 18.Nd4 Nxd4 19.Bxd4 Bxd4 20.Qxd4 Bd7 21.f4 Rxe2 22.Rxe2 Re8 23.Rxe8+ Bxe8 24.Qb4 c6 There's absolutely nothing in this position - and indeed, Hou should be commended for her play and preparation. 25.Bf1 Kc8 26.g5 Qe7 27.gxh6 gxh6 28.Qd4 f6 29.Qa7 Bd7 30.a4 Qd8 31.Qg1 Qe7 32.Qg6 Qe1 33.Bd3 Qh4! It was around here that Carlsen's body language suggested he had accepted this position was nothing but a draw. 34.Bf5 Bxf5 35.Qxf5+ Kb8 36.c4 Kc7 37.Qa5+ Kc8 38.Qd2 Kd7 39.c5 d5 40.Qe3 Qh5 Stopping any ideas Carlsen may have had of f5 and Qe6+. The problem Carlsen has in this position is that his weak pawns (c5, f4 and h3) could be more vulnerable than Hou's weak pawns (f6 and h6). And with the time control reached, everyone believed the draw wasn't far off now. 41.Qg3 Qf7 42.Qg4+ f5 43.Qg3 Qf6+ 44.Qc3 If 44.c3 Kc7 and Black just holds this pattern and White can't do anything. And if 44.Ka2 Qd4! White's pawns are coming under pressure. So Carlsen is left to offer the exchange of queens - and with it, there comes a technical nicety of a blockade that guarantee's the draw. 44...Qxc3+ 45.Kxc3 (See Diagram) All of Hou's hard work has been done, as she now is within an ace of her dream moment of drawing with the world champion and the world No.1 - a feat for a woman only ever achieved by Judit Polgar. But she has her ‘Doug Sanders moment’ by missing the three-foot putt... 45...h5?? It's that momentary loss of concentration that turns a well-deserved draw against the World Champion into a tragic defeat. Instead, as Carlsen himself pointed out as he hurriedly left the building, the draw was 45...a5! - the point (or perhaps half point in this case!) being that after: 46.Kd4 Ke6 47.h4 h5 48.Kc3 Kd7 49.b4 Ke6!! Once you have seen 45...a5!, then you can allow for 50.bxa5 with a very nice blockade (and one with an unusual pattern). 50...Kd7 51.Kd4 Ke6 and there's no way through for White's king, as both monarchs shuffle around in the same area of the board: 52.c4 dxc4 53.Kxc4 Kd7 54.Kb4 (54.Kd4 Ke6=) 54...Kc8 55.a6 bxa6 56.Ka5 Kb7 57.Kb4 Kc8 etc. This is a salient lesson not just for Hou Yifan but for all of us, as such saving blockades often arise in pawn endings - and knowing what to do is the difference between losing a game and saving a game. 46.Kb4 Kc8 47.Ka5 Kc7 48.h4 Kb8 49.Kb6 Kc8 50.b4 Kb8 51.b5 cxb5 52.axb5 axb5 53.Kxb5 Kc7 54.c3 1-0

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