29 November 2012

Rabinovich on a 'Large Number of Fighting Units'

Even though I've already discussed 'The Russian Endgame Handbook' by Ilya Rabinovich in two previous posts -- A Textbook for Teaching Endgames and Rook Endings According to Rabinovich -- there is much more to say about the book. The most interesting section for the advanced player is undoubtedly chapter 8, 'Exploiting the Advantage in Endings with a Large Number of Pieces (Basic Technical Methods)'. It starts,

In practice, endings with a large number of fighting units have an importance of the first magnitude. Before we can reach a position with one or two pawns, the game necessarily must pass through a more complex endgame.

This is the sort of chapter that I would expect to find last in an endgame book, after all of the individual chapters on specific pieces in combat with each other or with Pawns. Indeed, the first five chapters are elementary mates (listed in my 'Textbook for Teaching' post), chapter 6 is titled 'Mate with Bishop + Knight', and chapter 7 is titled 'Minor Piece vs. Pawns'. Now in chapter 8 we jump from the simple to the complex, another example of the sometimes strange order that Rabinovich uses to present his material. He explains,

We consider it possible to start with the examination of endings containing a large number of fighting units, now that in previous chapters we laid out all the steps necessary for this. In this chapter we shall deal with endings defined by a superiority either in position or in force.

Next to the exploitation of such an advantage, "technique" alone is sometimes enough -- that is, knowing a few methods which have been utilized previously in similar positions. Here is a classic example of this type.

Another curiosity about the book's structure concerns the sections of chapter 8. The table of contents divides the chapter into subjects like 'Aggressively placed pieces' and 'Queenside pawn majority', to repeat the first two. These classifications, as useful as they are to understanding the theme under discussion, are nowhere to be found in the text of the chapter. The first example in the chapter, an example of aggressive pieces, starts from the diagram.

Spielmann - Rubinstein, 1909 St Petersburg

After 44.Kg3-f3

Here the author uses a key technique to understand endgames, which is also key to understanding positional play in chess. I call it 'verbal analysis', but have also seen it called 'schematic thinking', in contrast to the calculation of variations. Rabinovich starts by looking at the pieces.

First let's compare the position of the pieces. The strength of the Black pieces is self-evident. His Rook is attacking the enemy pawns, and the white rook must defend these pawns; the Black Rook occupies an active position, while White's is in a passive position. Black's King is also more active than White's: it will go to d5, where not only will it be completely safe, but it will bring pressure to bear on the d4- pawn, and in some cases on the White Rook (by ...Kc4/e4).

Then he looks at the Pawns.

Now let us turn our attention to the Pawn structure. In this regard, too, Black must be preferred. White's Pawn position is "nothing but weaknesses": all his pawns are broken up, isolated; it is true that Black's Pawn position is also not perfect: the d6-pawn is isolated, and the g-pawns are somewhat restricted by their "doubled" state. If now we proceed from formal analysis to a deeper evaluation, then White's pawn structure does not come off any better: on the contrary, we can see that the weakness of the Black d6-pawn is only apparent, since that pawn is well-enough protected by its King. Further, the position of Black's Pawns is such that White's King cannot approach them, while Black's King is threatening to invade through either e4 or c4.

What can White put up against all these advantages? Only the presence of a passed (but stymied) pawn on a3, and the faint hope that the loss of one pawn might not equal the loss of the whole game.

Only then does he look at the course of the game, which continued 44...Kd5 45.Ke2, a Pawn sacrifice. Again we have verbal analysis,

White makes skillful use of his only chance – the passed Pawn. Now it would not be good for Black to take on d4, since after the trade of Rooks the a3-Pawn acquires threatening power.

This is followed by a specific variation that must be calculated (and that I won't repeat here). The more than 30 positions in the chapter, all from grandmaster play, are filled with this weaving of positional considerations and tactical calculations, the same sort of thought process that a beginner must learn to become a good chess player. Anyone who masters this, masters chess.

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