07 December 2013

An Exchange versus the Bishop Pair

In a recent game on ChessByPost, my opponent committed an all-too frequent error* in the King's Indian Defense that left me ahead an exchange. However, I failed to convert my advantage and had to settle for a draw.

White to move

I could not find a clear way to make progress here. My plan was to improve my king's position, sacrifice the rook for Black's light-squared bishop, and pick up the resulting weak c-pawn. I overlooked a simple tactic that dropped the b-pawn, still sacrificed the exchange, and had a king no more active than my opponent's.

Perhaps it is time to invest effort studying Michael Stean, Simple Chess, or some other book concerned with patiently nursing a clear advantage.

*My highest rated win on Chess.com was against an opponent who made this error. I was able to convert the advantage to an easily won pawn ending. In the 2009 Washington Open, my first round opponent committed the same opening error, and there also I had to settle for a draw.


  1. I'm just looking at the diagram here, not playing through any variations on a board, but it seems like White needs to realize that he is fine with a black-squared bishop trade. If it happens the win is much easier, because white's king can easily penetrate on the black squares.

    So my instinct would be to first play 1.b4 to guard the bishop and get the b-pawn to a safer square. And if Black plays 1...Bf8 that's great: 2.Rxc6 bxc6 3.Bxf8 Kxf8 4.g4! is straightforward and should set up either a path into Black's pawns or an outside passer after 4...fxg4 5.fxg4 Kf7 6.Ke4 Kf6 (or 6...Ke6 7.g5) 7.h4. White even has two extra waste moves on the queenside if he needs to gain tempi.

    Black can be less cooperative by playing something like 1...Bf6, but then white has a pretty straightforward plan of 2.g3 and f4, getting the pawns off the c6-g2 diagonal and attempting to displace the e5 pawn so white can use d4 for his bishop. If Black avoid that trade, Rf6 is nasty. Progress is being made.

  2. You have to read "Endgame Strategy" by Sherevsky, that is the all-time best work I've seen on this subject. His premise is virtually "Don't Hurry!" as he repeats many times almost to the point of infatuation; although he does applause the concrete moves when they are warranted, but that is most often a coup de gras type of shot. I've read virtually the whole book, over 90% of it.

    Before this book, I too was "Mr. Concrete, the finesse-lacker".

    "1...Bf8 that's great: 2.Rxc6 bxc6 3.Bxf8 Kxf8 4.g4!"

    This is brilliant, except that if Black notices that line then 1...Bb5! will be played as the reply.

    How about this: 1. Rd2 and the plan is to play f3, Kf2, Bc3, Re2, loading up on the d4 pawn, and then threatening to trade bishops down the long-diagonal with f4, forcing it.

    That is what you do, you come up with a plan, and then notice how if Black tries to counter this plan, Black will more likely than not create a fresh weakness to oppose it, and now you are out nothing as White, you can come up with a new plan if need by and Black is stuck always countering your plan, as long as you make proper note of Black's attempts to try and solve his problems with a trick.

  3. Unfortunately, 1.Rd2? has a slight tactical problem: 1...Bh6+

    Linuxguyonfics, I certainly agree that Sherevsky's books are excellent, and that "not rushing" is an important skill in the endgame. And your idea of getting white's bishop on the c3-g7 diagonal is good (that was my idea, too, albeit via the d4 square after Black's e-pawn is exchanged or forced to move).

    You correctly note that Black should not play 1...Bf8 after 1. b4. But your suggestion 1...Bb5 does nothing to stem the plan I mentioned for White: g3, f4 and taking the d4 square for White's bishop. My plan should win, as should your plan, if timed correctly. White has a winning advantage, after all. And there's nothing wrong with using both concrete variations AND general principles while deciding on an approach to a specific position, as I'm sure you'll agree!

  4. Right, Dave, I was being general and not blunder-checking. I was afraid that if I had gotten too specific and just been "right" it would have just been another variation, and there would have been no point to mentioning the book, or plans or anything else; it would only amount to "Fritzing" it for someone like a second.

    1.b4 Does appear to be the only move for White, as you say, else Black can get a d4 push to trade it for the b2 pawn, and then there is less of a structure for White to hold onto, so would be close to even.

    After 1.b4, I would go along with your plan to achieve g3 and f4. Instead of Rd2?, the rook can go to d1 and then to e1, with Kf2. If nothing else changes, the bishop can then play to Be3, then Bd2, Bc3 (this is also a good example of White taking it's time on the board to realize a plan).

    If Black varies, then White may able to win more quickly. Yes, the move order takes time to work out in order to avoid blunders on each move, but their is still a plan in place, as you pointed out, that's all I was trying to get at.

  5. Thanks for the instructive comments and discussion!

  6. The bishop pair + a pawn vs rook and knight is quite even.