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Knights and Knightmares
The knight is a tactical piece, so concrete calculation is often called for to avoid unpleasant surprises.
A) Morozevich's Miracle
A rook is usually much stronger than a knight in a pure endgame.
155.01 Morozevich, Alexander (2727) – Van Kampen, Robin (2618)
The best chance to fight, as 50.g6?! runs into the direct 50...c3 51.g7 c2 52.g8Q Rg1+ 53.Kf2 Rxg8 54.Nxg8 c1Q-+.
51...Ra2!? is much easier; e.g., 52.g6 c2 53.Nxc2 Rxc2 54.Kf4 Kc7 55.Ke5 Kd7 56.g7 Rg2 57.Kf6 Ke8-+.
52.Kf4 Kc6 53.Kf5 Kd6 54.g6 Rg3!
55.Ke4 is met by 55...Kc5 56.Kd3 c2 57.Kd2 Rxe3-+, and 55.Kf4 by 55...Rxg6-+.
56.Nb4!? is more tricky:
A) 56...c2? is met by 57.Nxc2=.
B) and 56...Ke7?? runs into 57.Nd5+=.
C) 56...Kc5 works as well: 57.Nd3+ Kd4 58.Nc1 c2 59.Kf6
And now 59...Rg1 60.Ne2+ (60.g7 Rxc1 61.g8Q Rf1+ 62.Ke6 c1Q-+; 60.Na2 Ra1 61.g7 Rxa2 62.g8Q Ra6+ 63.Kf5 Ra5+ 64.Ke6 Re5+ 65.Kf6 c1Q-+) 60...Ke3 61.Nxg1 c1Q 62.g7 Qxg1-+.
D) 56...Kd7 57.Kf6 c2
White is defenseless because of 58.Nxc2 (58.Nd3 Rg3 59.g7 Rxd3 60.g8Q Rd6+! 61.Ke5 c1Q-+) 58...Rf2+! (58...Rxc2? 59.g7=) 59.Kg5 Rxc2 60.g7 Rg2+ 61.Kf6 Ke8-+; 56.g7?! Rxg7 57.Ke4 Kc5 58.Kd3 Rg3+-+.
56...c2? is met by 57.Nxc2!!
And now either a body-check or an underpromotion follows: 57...Rf2+ (57...Rxc2 58.g7 Rg2 59.Kf6= Body-check!) 58.Kg5 Rxc2 59.g7 Ke7 60.g8N+=.
White's passed pawn is not really dangerous anyway, so 57...c2! was called for: 58.g7 c1Q 59.g8Q
59...Qb1+! 60.Kd4 Rd2+-+ and Black wins the fourth phase of the game, as given in Chess Today #4758.
58.g7 Kf7 59.Kd3 Rf3 60.Kd4 Kxg7
The miracle has occurred. Black cannot free his rook, as he has to keep his c3-pawn.
61.Kd3?? runs into 61...c2 62.Kd2 Rxe3-+.
61...Kf6 62.Kc4 Ke5 63.Nb4 Ke4 64.Nc2 Rh3
64...Kf4 65.Nd4 Kg3 66.Ne2+= (However, not 66.Nxf3?? c2-+).
65.Nb4 Rg3 66.Nc2!
66.Kb3? Kd4 67.Na2 Rg2 68.Nxc3 Rg3-+.
66...Rf3 67.Nb4 Kf5 68.Nc2 Kg4 69.Nd4 Rg3
69...Rh3 70.Kb3 Kf4
This is met by 71.Kc2 (Of course not 71.Ne2+? Ke3 72.Nxc3 Kd4-+) 71...Ke4 72.Nb5=.
70.Kb3 Re3 71.Nb5 Kf4 72.Nxc3 Ke5 73.Kc4 Rh3 74.Nb5 Rh8 75.Nc3 Rc8+ 76.Kd3 Rd8+ 77.Kc4 Rd4+ 78.Kc5 Rd3 79.Kc4 Rxc3+ 80.Kxc3 ½-½
Morozevich certainly knew the following famous classic.
155.02 Lasker, Emanuel – Lasker, Edward
The knight can even draw against a knight's pawn.
93.Nb2 Ke4 94.Na4 Kd4 95.Nb2 Rf3
96.Nd1? Kd3 97.Kxb3 Kd2+-+.
96...Re3 97.Nb2 Ke4 98.Na4 Kf3 99.Ka3 Ke4 100.Kb4 Kd4
100...Kf3 101.Ka3 Ke2 102.Kb2 Kd2 103.Nc5 Re5 104.Nxb3+=.
101.Nb2 Rh3 102.Na4! Kd3 103.Kxb3 Kd4+ ½-½
B) Maxime's Miracle
In endgames with rook and knight against rook and knight usually a slight initiative weighs heavily.
155.03 Kramnik, Vladimir (2784) – Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime (2719)
The first check is right, as 57...Rxh5? 58.g6+- and 57...Nd6? 58.g6 Rg1+ 59.Kh2 Rc1 60.Ne6+ Rc8 61.Rb6 Nf5 62.Rb7 Re8 63.Kg2 Kh8 64.Kf3 Nd6 65.Rf7+- are both insufficient.
The best try, as 58.Kf2?! runs into 58...Rxg5 59.Ne6+ Kh7 60.Nxg5+ Nxg5 61.Kg3 (61.Rb6 Ne4+ 62.Kf3 Nf6=) 61...Ne4+ 62.Kh4 Nf6 63.Kg5 Ne4+=.
But the second check is wrong, as the checks will run out soon.
The only defense is 58...Nd6! 59.Ng6+ (59.Ke5 can even be met by 59...Rxg5+ 60.Kxd6 Rxh5 61.Ne6+ Kh7=) 59...Kf7 60.Ne5+ Ke6 61.Nf3 Ra1 62.Rb4 Ke7 when Black should be able to hold.
59...Nd8 60.Ne6 Re1+ 61.Kf4 Rxe6 62.Rxd8+ Kf7 63.g6+ Ke7 64.Rg8 Kf6 65.Rf8+ Ke7 66.Rf7++-; 59...Re1+ 60.Kf2 Rd1 61.Nd7++-.
The right capture, as 60.Nxg6+? is met by 60...Kg7 61.Rb7 Rg1
A) 62.Kf4 Rf1+ 63.Ke4 Kg8=.
B) 62.Nf4 Rg3+ 63.Kd4 (63.Ke4 Rxg5 64.Ne6+ Kf6 65.Nxg5 Nd6+=) 63...Rxg5 64.Ne6+ Kh6 65.Nxg5 Nxg5=.
C) 62.Ne5 Rxg5 63.Rxf7+ (63.h6+ Kf6 64.Nxf7 Rh5=; 63.Nxf7 Rxh5=) 63...Kh6 64.Kf4 Rxh5=.
60...Nd8 61.Nd7 (Of course not 61.Rxd8?? Rxf8 62.Rxf8+ Kxf8 63.Kf4 Kg7 64.Kf5 Kg8!=) 61...Kg7 62.Rxd8 Kxg6 63.Rg8+ Kh7 64.Rf8 Rxf8 65.Nxf8+ Kg7 66.Ne6+ Kg6 67.Kf4+-.
Now White's pieces are too clumsily placed and Kramnik's king has no good shelter. Thus, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave can make a Houdini-like escape.
Surprisingly the only move to win for White is 62.Nd7! Rf5 63.Rf8+ Kg6 64.Rg8+ Kf7
65.Ke4! The point, which was missed by Kramnik. 65...Ra5 66.Rf8+!? The smooth solution. (In this position the clumsy 66.Nf6 wins as well, e.g. 66...Ra1 67.Rd8 Kg6 68.Rd5 Re1+ 69.Kf4 Rf1+ 70.Ke3 Re1+ 71.Kf2 Ra1 72.Ne4+-)
A) 66...Ke7 67.g6 Kxd7 (67...Rg5 68.Rf7+ Ke8 69.Nf6+ Kd8 70.g7+-) 68.g7+-.
B) 66...Kg7 67.Kf4 Rd5 68.Nf6 Rxg5 (68...Rd4+ 69.Ke5 Kxf8 70.Kxd4+-) 69.Rg8+ Kxf6 70.Rxg5+-.
C) 66...Kg6 67.Ne5+!! Kxg5 68.Rf5+ Kh6 (68...Kh4 69.Nf3++-) 69.Nf7+ Kg6 70.Rxa5+- (Heimers).
62...Re1+ 63.Kf3 Rf1+ 64.Kg3 Rg1+ 65.Kf4 Rf1+ 66.Ke3 Re1+ 67.Kf3 Rf1+ 68.Kg2 Rf5 69.Nh7 Kg6 70.Rb7
Of course not 70...Rf7?? 71.Rxf7 Kxf7 72.Nf6 Kg6 73.Ne4+-.
71.Kg3 Ra4 72.Re7 Rg4+ 73.Kf3
73...Ra4 74.Rb7 Rh4 75.Nf6 Kxg5 76.Ne4+ Kf5 77.Re7 Rh8 78.Ke3 Rd8 79.Rf7+ Ke6 80.Rh7 Rd1 81.Nc5+ Kf5 82.Rf7+ Ke5 83.Nd3+ Ke6
83...Kd5?? runs into 84.Rd7+ Kc6 (84...Ke6 85.Nc5++-; 84...Kc4 85.Ne5++-) 85.Ne5++-.
84.Ra7 Rh1 85.Ke4 Rh4+ 86.Nf4+ Kd6 87.Ra6+ Kc5 88.Rg6 Kc4 89.Rc6+ Kb5 90.Rc1 Rh8 91.Ke5 Rh4 92.Rc8 Rh1 93.Ne6 Rh5+ 94.Kd6 Rh6 95.Rc1 Kb4 96.Kd5 Rh5+ 97.Ke4 Rh4+ 98.Nf4 Kb5 99.Ke5 Rh8 100.Rc2 Rh4 101.Rf2 Kc4 102.Ke4 Rh8 103.Rc2+ Kb5 104.Ng6 Rh1 105.Ne5 Re1+ 106.Kd4 Rd1+ 107.Nd3 Kb6 108.Rc3 Rb1 109.Kd5 Rb5+ 110.Nc5 Rb1 111.Nd7+ Kb5 112.Rd3 Rb4 113.Ne5 Rb1 114.Nc4 Kb4 115.Nd2 Rb2 116.Kc6 Rc2+ 117.Kb6 Rb2 118.Kc6 Rc2+ 119.Kb7 Rc3 120.Rd8 Rc5 121.Ne4 Rc4 122.Re8 Rc2 123.Kb6 Re2 124.Kc6 Re1 125.Nd6 ½-½
C) Knight Forks and Knightmares
With a dangerous passed pawn, promotion combinations often occur.
155.04 Rudolf, Anna (2281) – Kristinardottir, Elsa Maria (1819)
A very strong push of the passed pawn.
45...Nf3+?! wins as well, but is much more complicated:
A) 46.Kc5 Nxh2 47.b5 axb5 48.Nd5 (48.a6 f3 49.a7 f2 50.a8Q f1Q-+) 48...f3 49.a6 f2 50.a7 f4 51.a8Q f1Q-+.
B) 46.Kc3 Nxh2 47.b5 axb5 48.Nd5 f3 49.Ne3+ (49.a6 f2 50.a7 f4 51.a8Q f1Q-+) 49...Kf4 50.Kd2 f2 51.a6
B1) Of course not 51...f1Q?? 52.Nxf1 Nxf1+ 53.Ke1 Ng3 (53...h3? 54.Kxf1 h2 55.Kg2+- even backfires completely.) 54.a7 h3 55.a8Q h2=.
B2) 51...Ng4! 52.Nf1 Ne5 53.a7 Nc4+ 54.Ke2 Nb6 55.Ne3 Ke4-+.
46.Ke3 also does not defend; e.g., 46...f4+ 47.Kf2 Nd3+ 48.Kg1 Nxb4 49.Kf2 Nd3+ 50.Kg1 Ne5 51.Nd5 h3 52.Nc3 f2+ 53.Kxf2 Nf3 54.Nd5 Nxh2 55.Nb4 Kf5 56.Nxa6 Ng4+ 57.Kg1 f3 58.Nc5 h2+ 59.Kh1 f2-+.
Black rushes and overlooks the coming knight fork. A real knightmare.
After 46...f4!!, there is no way to stop the forward f-pawn:
47.b5 (47.h3+ Kxh3 48.Kxf4 f2-+) 47...f2 48.bxa6 f1Q 49.a7 Qa6-+.
Of course not 47.Nd5?? f4-+.
47...f1N does not help because of 48.b5 Nxh2 49.bxa6 Nf3+ 50.Kf6 h3 51.a7 h2 52.a8Q h1Q 53.Qg8+ Kf4 54.Qc4+ Nd4 55.Qxd4+ Kf3 56.Qd5++-; 47...f1Q 48.Ne3+ Kh3 49.Nxf1+-.
47...Kf3 is met by 48.Nxh4+ Kg4 49.Nf5 Kf3 50.Ng3+-.
48.Ne3 Kxh2 49.Kf4
The direct breakthrough 49.b5 wins as well.
49...h3 50.Kg4 1-0
D) The Breakthrough
One method to break a fortress is the creation of a passed pawn.
155.05 Schnegg, Anna Lena (2076) – Sikorova, Olga (2278)
The direct way does not work as White can sacrifice her knight.
74...Ke4!! wins, as Black can always create at least one dangerous passed pawn:
A) 75.gxf4 Nf3 76.Kf2 Nxh2 77.Kg3 Nf1+ 78.Kxg4 h2-+.
B) 75.Kg1 Nf3+ 76.Kh1 Nxh2 77.Kxh2 f3 78.Kg1 Kd3! 79.Nf6 (79.Nf4+ Kd2 80.Nd5 Ke1 81.Ne3 f2+-+) 79...h2+ 80.Kxh2 f2 81.Kg2 Ke2-+.
C) 75.Nxf4 Nf3 76.Kf2 Nxh2
In the next step Black's king wants to invade to f3 or f2. This cannot be prevented in the long run, as the passed pawn h3 is very dangerous: 77.Nh5 Kf5 78.Nf4 Ke5 79.Nd3+ Ke4 80.Nc5+ Kf5 81.Nb7 Nf3 82.Nd6+ Ke5 83.Nc4+ Kd4 84.Nd6 Ne5 85.Nf5+ Ke4 86.Nd6+ Kd5 87.Nf5 Nd3+ 88.Kg1 Ke4 89.Nd6+ Kf3 90.Nf5 Ne5 91.Kh2 Nc4 92.Kg1 Nd2 93.Kh2 Kf2 94.Kh1 Nf1-+.
75.Nxf4? Nxg3+ 76.hxg3 h2-+.
The wrong capture.
76.Nxg3! Nxg3+ 77.Kg1! leads to a fortress; e.g., 77...Ne2+ 78.Kh1 Nxf4 79.Kg1 Ne2+
80.Kh1!= (However, not 80.Kf1? Ke3 81.Ke1 Ng3 82.Kd1 Nf1 83.Ke1 Nxh2 84.Kd1 Nf3-+).
Exercises (Solutions next month)
E155.01 Agopov, Mikael (2435) – Arnaudov, Petar G (2448)
How to continue Black's initiative?
E155.02 Varley, Peter (2251) – Sipila, Vilka (2463)
Is Black's knight the best or worst minor piece on the board? Black is to move.
Endgame Corner #155 (Ebook)
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