From Rook ending to Queen-versus-Rook

This endgame was played recently at the Pokerstars international in the Isle of Man, between WIM Yuliya Shvager and IM Max Illingworth begins at 47 Kxe4 when exchanges brought about a 7-man rook and pawn ending with White having f- and h-pawns against a-pawn. (See the top diagram.)

Since the Black king is over beside its own pawn, the characteristic draw against those split pawns is unavailable. The endgame should have ended quite soon in a draw. However, Black's 50th move was a blunder which brought about the pawnless ending of Queen verus Rook (see second diagram).

This series normally does not deal with endings of fewer than 7 men but the continuation of this game was extremely instructive and shows how hard it is in practice, against the clock, to win this endgame. In the position shown in the second diagram, White should mate in 23 moves, which means it is certainly on the difficult side, although White made good progress in the early stages. Then White missed an easy win at move 65, and after further mistakes at moves 69 and 74 was as far from victory as she had been at the start. Black defended tenaciously throughout and was eventually saved by the 50-move rule.

(1) Shvayger, Yuliya - Illingworth, Max
PokerStars Isle of Man International, 5 October 2015

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.g3 g6 7.Bg2 Bg7 8.0-0 0-0 9.a4 Nc6 10.Nb3 Bg4 11.Qd2 Qd7 12.f4 Bh3 13.Nd5 Bxg2 14.Qxg2 b5 15.axb5 Nxd5 16.bxc6 Qa7+ 17.Qf2 Nb4 18.Qxa7 Rxa7 19.Ra4 Rb8 20.Na5 Rc7 21.c3 Nxc6 22.Rc4 Rbc8 23.Nxc6 Rxc6 24.Rxc6 Rxc6 25.Kf2 f5 26.exf5 gxf5 27.Be3 Kf7 28.Ra1 Bf6 29.Ke2 e5 30.fxe5 dxe5 31.Ra5 Ke6 32.Kf3 h5 33.Ra4 Kd5 34.Ke2 Bd8 35.Kd3 e4+ 36.Ke2 Bc7 37.Bf4 Bxf4 38.gxf4 Rb6 39.Ke3 Rxb2 40.c4+ Kc5 41.Ra5+ Kxc4 42.Rxf5 Kb4 43.Rxh5 a5 44.Rh8 a4 45.f5 Ka3 46.f6 Rb7 47.Kxe4 Start of 7-man ending which should be a draw. 47...Kb2[] 48.Kf5 a3[] 49.Kg6 a2 [49...Rb6 also holds with correct play.] 50.Ra8 50...a1Q?? This leads to the lost R v Q ending. Black checks the White king from behind, but can also pin the pawn first, so two moves would have avoided that fatal outcome: [50...Rb6 and if 51.Kg7 (51.h4 Rb3[] 52.h5 Ra3 (or first ...Rg3+) draws.) 51...Rb4[] 52.f7 Rg4+ 53.Kf8 and now the f-pawn is blocked Black can play 53...a1Q 54.Rxa1 Kxa1 55.Ke7 (55.Ke8 Re4+ ) 55...Re4+ (55...Rg7? loses after 56.Ke6 Rg6+ 57.Ke5 "moving downstairs" 57...Rg5+ 58.Ke4 Rg4+ 59.Ke3 etc.) ; 50...Rb4 51.f7 Rg4+[] 52.Kf6 Rf4+[] 53.Kg6 Rg4+ (Also 54...Rf1 or 54...Rf2 would draw.) 54.Kf5 Rg2 (or 54...Rg1) 55.Ke4 Rf2[] ] 51.Rxa1 Kxa1 52.f7 The best Black can do here is to eliminate the h-pawn. 52...Rb2 53.f8Q Rg2+! [53...Rxh2 does not lose the rook immeemdiately but it makes sense to capture the h-pawn with check.] 54.Kh5 Rxh2+ This is the start of the Q v R ending; White should mate in 23 moves, which means it is certainly on the difficult side, although the fact that the defending king is already in a corner may be some help. White made good progress in the early stages. 55.Kg4 Rd2 This should lose in 19 moves; objectively Black should bring his R closer to the K. Because of the initial situation, Black is committed to the usual second rank defence, rather than the third rank defence which Nunn says is harder to break down. 56.Kf3 Kb2 This should lose in 16, compared with mate in 18 after ...Ka2 or ...Ra2. 57.Qb4+ The second best move; the K should be brought closer first. [57.Ke3 ] 57...Kc1 58.Ke3 Rh2 As good as anything, hoping to check from the side. 59.Qc5+ Kb1 [59...Rc2 should last one move longer.] 60.Qf5+ [60.Kd3 is best although the king can be driven to b5: 60...Rh3+ 61.Kc4 Rh4+ 62.Kb5 Rh1 63.Qe5 Rd1 64.Kb4 Rd2 65.Kc3 getting to close quarters 65...Rb2 Now if White could play Qa4 he would have Philidor's position (see Nunn, Secrets of Pawnless Endings #63 on page 51) which is the standard last phase before victory. He can force an analogous position very easily: 66.Qe1+ Ka2 67.Qd1! White now has Philidor's position, rotated 90 degrees. By denying Black a check, he is sure to win the rook by a fork within a few moves. ] 60...Kc1 61.Kd3 Rc2 62.Qe4 [62.Qf4+ is the precise move, mating in 12, but White should still win quite quickly.] 62...Kb1 63.Qe1+ Kb2? [63...Rc1 holds out longer.] 64.Qb4+ White should now mate in only 7 moves. 64...Kc1 65.Qa3+?! This should mate in 10 moves. [65.Qa4! is best,threatening mate in one on both c2 and a1. It should not be hard to see that Black's resistance must collapse, e.g. 65...Rd2+ (65...Rb2 66.Qa1+ Rb1 67.Qc3+ Kd1 68.Qc2+ (68.Qd2# ) ) 66.Kc3 Threatening Qa1 mate, and if 66...Rb2 67.Qa3 ] 65...Kb1 66.Qb3+ Ka1! Black relies on a stalemate trick; neither piece can take the rook. 67.Qa4+ The best reply. 67...Ra2 68.Qd1+ Kb2 69.Kc4? White's first retrograde step; now it will take 15 moves to mate with best play, whereas he could have mated in six by an elementary manoeuvre: [69.Qc2+ Ka3 70.Qc3+ Ka4 71.Kc4 ] 69...Ra6 70.Qe2+ Kc1 71.Qe1+ Wastes two moves; Qe3+ is best. 71...Kc2 72.Qf2+ Another move that helps Black to escape the corner; why not Qe2+. 72...Kd1 73.Kb3 Re6 Black finds the move that delays the mate longest, but the separation of king and rook should have given White a clue that the rook can be won. 74.Qf3+? This is a serious mistake, after which it is mate in 23 moves - the same as at the start of the endgame. [74.Qd4+! mates in 12 74...Ke1 (74...Kc1 and Ke2 are met by 75.Qc4+ ) 75.Qh4+ Kd2 (75...Kf1 76.Qh3+ ; 75...Ke2 76.Qg4+ ; 75...Kd1 76.Qf4 ) 76.Qb4+ and wherever the king goes White has a decisive fork: 76...Kd1 (76...Kc1 77.Qc4+ ; 76...Kd3 77.Qc4+ ; 76...Ke2 77.Qc4+ ; 76...Ke3 77.Qe1+ ) 77.Qg4+ ] 74...Re2 Now the rook is close to his monarch and White needs to begin again. 75.Kc3 The right idea but White cannot afford much more imprecision. 75...Ke1 76.Qh1+ Kf2 77.Kd3 Premature. [77.Qh5 mates in 20 as White will be able to bring his king closer after the reply.] 77...Re3+ 78.Kd4 Rg3 79.Qh2+ Now it's only mate in 23 again; several alternatives such as Qd1 and Qh4 were a move quicker. 79...Kf3 80.Qh5+ Rg4+ 81.Ke5 Kg3 82.Qh6 This looks a bit fishy but is no slower than Qf5. 82...Kg2 This shortens the solution by one move; 82...Kf3 was best. 83.Qd2+ Kf3 84.Kf5 Rg2 As good as anything else. 85.Qd3+ Kf2 86.Kf4 Ke1 87.Qc3+?! After several precise moves Black's situation was becoming critical again, but here White drifts off the path. [87.Qc4 should mate in 15, just within the "time limit".] 87...Kd1 Running from the corner. Now only very accurate play from White will do. 88.Qa1+ Ke2 89.Qa6+?! Long checks are usually not best unless they lead directly to a fork or mate. The queen should seize the long diagonal and attack the rook by Qa8 or Qh1. 89...Ke1 White must capture the rook or checkmate not later than move 104. 90.Kf3? Now it's 21 moves to mate and White can only win if his opponent blunders. [90.Qc4 was the last chance to mate in 15 against best defence. 90...Kf2 91.Qc6 Rh2 92.Qf3+ Kg1 93.Qd5 Kf2 94.Qd4+ Kg2 95.Kg4 and the rook will soon be lost: 95...Rh7 96.Qe4+ Kf2 97.Qxh7 etc.; 90.Qa1+ mates in 16 but does win as the rook is captured at move 99.; 90.Qa5+ mates in 17, capturing the rook on move 100.] 90...Rc2 91.Qa5+ Kd1 92.Ke3 Rb2 [92...Rc3+! is the best defence, illustrating another stalemate trap: 93.Qxc3?= but White can back off.] 93.Qa4+ Kc1 94.Kd3 Rb3+! Now he sees it. 95.Kc4 [95.Ke2 is better but it's becoming clear Black will survive.] 95...Rg3 [Not as good as 95...Re3 but good enough.] 96.Qa1+ Kd2 97.Qa5+ Ke2 98.Qf5 Ke3 99.Qe5+ Kf2 100.Kd4 Rf3 101.Qh2+ Ke1 102.Ke4 Rc3 103.Qg2 Rb3 104.Kd4 Drawn under 50-move rule though White still has a winning position. Impressive defence by Illingworth who kept fighting and did not make any serious mistakes. 1/2-1/2

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