02 May 2014

Philidor Position: Practice

Demonstrating fundamental understanding of the Philidor position in rook endings is one of the tests for the Rook Award in my series of scholastic chess awards. Naturally, when I have a student working through that stage, I spend additional time looking through my own games both to find evidence of correct play and to extract study positions where failure occurred.

Tragicomedies abound in my database of online games, which includes thousands of turn-based (correspondence) games, nearly as many "standard" (fifteen minute and longer) live online games, and fifty thousand blitz games. There are dozens of games where the last several moves clearly indicate both players trying to run the other out of time in a dead drawn ending, or even in endings where one player has a decisive advantage but the other manages to win. There are also far too many games where moves played demonstrate intuitive failure or lack of understanding of correct technique.

Using the classification keys in ChessBase 11, I am able to quickly locate hundreds of rook endings and skim through the positions rapidly. With an eye for thematic positions, I seek those with results at odds with the truth of the position. I play out the position from before the error to practice correct technique. This practice also tests my understanding of which positions are drawn and which won or lost.

As White, I threw away a draw from this position, but then won on time a few moves later. The game was played on the Internet Chess Club in August 2000.

White to move

54.Ra6?? loses to 54...Rf6+. My opponent returned the position to drawn status with 54...f4, allowing my rook to maneuver to f1 where it awaited help from its king.

My ICC opponent in 2000 could have held the next position easily by shuffling the rook across to a3, b3, ... Even 78.Rh5, the move played, could have held if not for the blunder several moves later.

White to move

78.Rh5 Kg4 79.Rh3 Re7 80.Rg3+ Kf4 81.Rg2 Rh7+ 82.Kg1 Ke3 83.Rf2?? and I won with a rook swap that took us into an elementary pawn ending. Playing my opponent's position against Stockfish DD earlier this week, I reached a draw in a few seconds of play keeping the rook on the third rank until Black advancd the pawn to f4, then keeping up a barrage of side checks.

My own errors were glaring in the next game.

Black to move

In a three minute game on ICC in 2001, I played 55...Re5?? in this position. My opponent exploited the error to win.

In this game from 2001, I maintained the draw for several moves. Even so, my moves call into question my intuitive sense. Keeping my king in front of Black's pawn should not require conscious thought.

White to move

70.Ke3 (I played 70.Kf3 against Stockfish) 70...Ra3+ 71.Kd4 Ra4+ 72.Kc3?? and I lost the game.

Improvement?

Moving forward in the database to 2006, I should find better play. By then, I had spent at least a little time learning some principles of rook endings, although serious work began in 2007. It was then that I bought Jeremy Silman's new book, Silman's Complete Endgame Course (2007) and quickly went through everything up through the chapter for C Class. In the fall of 2006, I also broke through to B Class with my USCF rating.

After studying the section on the Lucena and Philidor positions in Silman's text, I changed the requirements for my Rook Award. The Lucena and Philidor positions replaced checkmate with a bishop and a knight. Silman's arguments concerning the relative value of each influenced my decision, as did one of my pupils requiring 51 moves to checkmate my king with a bishop and knight after many attempts over several weeks.

In this game on Free Internet Chess Server (FICS), I started well.

White to move

52.Rh3+ Ke4 53.Rb3 f4 54.Kf1 f3

I have occupied the third rank. Black has advanced his pawn.

55.Rb4+ Ke3 56.Rb3+ Kf4 57.Rb4+??

I threw it away. It was time to check from the rear.

In another game on FICS in 2006, I threw away a win.

Black to move

56...f2?? leaves my king unprotected from White's checks. Against Stockfish this week, I won quickly after 56...Re1+.

Several years later, rear checks allowed my to transition into a drawn pawn ending in this game from Chess.com that was played in 2013.

Black to move

70...Rxg3+ 71.Kf4 Rg1 72.Ke5 Re1+ 73.Kd6 Rxe6+ 74.fxe6 Ke8

My opponent tested my time management skills for seven moves before we reached stalemate.

Nonetheless, failures continued to manifest themselves in 2013.

I blew a draw in this game on Chess.com.

White to move

70.Rf3+?? leads to passive first rank defense that is lost (and straight out of the textbooks).

Against the engine, I held the draw after 70.Rb6+ Kc3 71.Kb1.

As recently as January of this year, I demonstrated a continuing need for improvement.

White to move
52.Kh1

Choosing the short side is as effective here as 52.Kf1.

52...f3 53.Rc4+ Kh3 54.Rc1??

54.Rc8 would have been simple and effective. Passive defense leads to checkmate.

The work continues.

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