Bishop and Pawn Endgame

I read a valuable chapter in Jeremy Silman’s Complete Endgame Course last night and wanted to share it today before this evening’s Chess Club meet-up. This endgame involves a bishop and pawn against a lone king. 

Let’s say you are in the position of having the lone king. As long as the following three things hold, you can force a draw (stalemate). 

  • The pawn is a rook pawn (on files a or h)
  • The queening square for the rook pawn is the opposite color of the bishop’s squares.
  • Your king can get to the queening square in time.

If any of these things are violated, then the player with the bishop and pawn can win. Let’s first look at a situation in which the lone king can force a stalemate.

WIth white or black to move, black can force a draw.

In the above diagram, with either color to move first, there is no way for white to stop black’s king from moving to the queening square a8. This is where black’s king can hover, and eventually force the draw.

With Black to move, black can force a draw.

With the above diagram, if it were white to play, white can win if he plays his king to f6 and force black’s king away from the queening square. White must be careful in protecting the pawn and bishop on following moves. However, black can force the draw if it is black to move as they can get to the queening square via King to g7.

Now let’s look at a few situations in which one of the laws is broken and white can triumph.

White can promote and win: pawn is not a rook pawn

Although in the above diagram, the queening square is an opposing color as the bishop and the black king can get to that square, because the pawn is not a rook pawn, black cannot force a draw without a mistake on white’s end.

Queening square same color as bishop

In this case, the second rule is broken. With the bishop having the same color as the queening square, white is able to force the king off and away from that square to promote the white pawn.

Black king cannot get to the queening square

In this situation, although white has a rook pawn with a bishop opposite in color to the queening square, the black king simply cannot arrive at the queening square of h8 without white making horrible blunders.

It would be good practice to plug the three positions above into a chess engine and make sure you can promote and win against the strongest of engines.

Given what we have learned, let’s look at the following position.

With either to play, white can win this game. Black, with a knowledge of endgames, knows he cannot win with a lone bishop, so is out to try and force a draw. Black will be ready and willing to sacrifice his bishop for the pawn on the b file (as long as it isn’t protected by the pawn on the a file). White must be aware of this stalemate situation, and offer the utmost protection to the b file pawn. With both pawns in play, white is also ready and willing to exchange bishops.

The Relative Pin

On Saturday, I had the opportunity to face a challenging opponent that was visiting the area. As he seemed to be on a time crunch, I didn’t want to record the game. In hindsight, this was a blunder, as I could have learned so much.

The match eventually ended in a draw, but I was able to recreate a position that we were in with white to move.  I recall it very specifically, as I thought I had found the best move in the position.  The position, it seemed, was not very pleasant for white.  Black had just placed a bishop on c3:

White to move

It appeared as if I was going to lose a minor piece in this situation. I had considered Rc1 for a long time, but saw that after the bishop takes my knight on f6, I would have to move my queen to safety giving black time to move their hanging knight on c3 to safety and I’d be a minor piece down.

I considered Nh5 also, taking advantage of the pinned pawn. But after black moved to h8 and the pin was released, I wasn’t sure how to proceed without losing that knight.

I finally landed on Qc1, which I was certain was the best move. This would initiate an exchange where I would remain a pawn up in the end game.  Black’s only good response would be to exchange at that moment. Play was as follows: 1 Qc1 Qxc1 2 Rxc1 Bxf6 3 Bxc6 and white was a pawn up in a challenging endgame.

Can you find a better move using the title of this blog post as a hint?

I was amazed later on analyzing this position with an engine to find the move Qe3! This places a relative pin on the bishop on c3, maintains the defense of my a2 pawn while immobilizing the bishop for at least one move. 

Although I am familiar with relative pins, they are usually something I can think about when I’m on the attack and in an offense mindset. My defensive mindset threw out the possibility of using a relative pin and even considering this move.

A move that seems to be just as good would have been Rb3. Can you find black’s best response to that?

Mate in 2 Studies

Studying mate in 2 (or 3 or 4) puzzles can reveal many different patterns that the chess student can benefit from analyzing. Let’s look at a few from this last week. All of these are black motifs (black to move) taken from 1001 Chess Exercises for Beginners by Franco Masetti & Roberto Messa.

I encourage you to take a long look at each one before reading through the solution to see if you can get it.

1. An “easy” one to start. Black to move.

In the first mate in 2 puzzle above, a deflection theme is involved in which we make a sacrifice in order to draw the king into a dangerous position. After black takes the bishop with the rook (Rxf1) white is forced to take the rook with the king (Kxf1). Then, black can simply move the queen down to the corner for checkmate (Qh1#).

2. Deflection tactic to mate in 2. Black to move.

Here again, a nice deflection is needed to deliver a check mate. We have both our rooks working for us on the g-file. We want to place the knight on f2 to checkmate the king, but white’s pesky rook is in the way.  By first getting it out of the way by moving Rg1+ we force white’s rook on f1 to take our rook on g1 with Rxg1 now providing the space for the knight to deliver checkmate: Nf2#!

3. White just moved their pawn to h7. Black to move with mate in 2.

Just because our rook is under attack and can be taken with the next move, doesn’t mean we can’t just leave him there and use other threats! This type of tactic is a difficult one to master. With the g-file dominated by our piece at the moment, we can deliver a check with Be7+. This forces white’s king to move up the h-file with Kh5. That is far enough to leave space for our rook to come in for the win: Rh3#.

4. With white’s pieces all out of place, they are lost in 2. Can you find it?

If we notice the king’s position, we can see that the king has nowhere to go except to the h1 square. Is there a way to threaten the g1 square and send the king to the corner? That’s right: Nh3+. After checking the king with the knight, white retreats to corner with Kh1, and we follow that up with Bd5#!

5. Yet another deflection themed mate in 2 puzzle for black.

With our knight guarding/attacking the g3 square, it would be nice to move our queen down there for a checkmate. However, white’s pesky queen is protecting it at the moment. With white’s king only move right now is along the f1-h3 diagonal, we can cause a deflection with the move Bf1+. White is forced to take the bishop with the only piece that can do it: Qxf1. With that deflection behind us, we can deliver the checkmate: Qg3#!