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Knight endings are not always like pawn endings!

by Sagar Shah - 29/06/2019

Mikhail Botvinnik once said, "Knight endgames are like pawn endgames." With this statement he meant that if you have reached a knight endgame, take out the knights from the board and if the pawn endgame is winning for one side, then the knight endgame would also be winning for the same side. Vishy Anand, however, begged to differ with Botvinnik's views in the second round of the Croatia Grand Chess Tour 2019. Anand was playing against Carlsen and was a pawn down in the knight endgame. It looked like the game was over and that Vishy should resign. But Anand found one resource after another and miraculously held the position in which he had a pawn against Carlsen's queen and a knight! Complete analysis of this fascinating endgame.

The 2019 Croatia Grand Chess Tour is the first of two classical events and the second stop in the 2019 Grand Chess Tour. Hosted by the Grand Chess Tour in partnership with Chess Club e4 from Zagreb, the tournament will see twelve of the world's top players, including the current world champion Magnus Carlsen and former world champion Vishy Anand, compete in 11 rounds of classical chess over a course of thirteen days. The prize fund at stake is $325,000, with $90,000 for the first place. It is an all-play-all event. Players will receive 130 minutes for the entire game, with a 30-seconds delay from move one. In case of a tie for first, rapid and, if necessary, blitz playoffs will take place on 8th of July which is the last day of the tournament.

In round two of the Croatia Grand Chess Tour, Magnus Carlsen faced Vishy Anand. Off late Carlsen has been able to put Anand under a lot of pressure and today was no different. From a roughly even position Carlsen managed to push Anand on the edge of the abyss, into a knight endgame where the Indian GM was a pawn down. Vishy Anand himself said in the post game interview that he felt like the position was lost, but decided to just make it as difficult for his opponent as possible.


Magnus Carlsen vs Vishy Anand

Black is a pawn down. If we take into account Botvinnik's rule - "Knight endgames are like Pawn endgames", then this position should be completely winning for White. However, as Anand mentioned, this position has some imbalances. If his pawn was on g7 then this would have been a stable position for White, but because there is an h-pawn against f and g pawns, it gives the position slightly imbalanced character where the knights have their own important role to play.

Carlsen missed chances to improve White's play (this is mentioned in the notes below) and we reach this position. The h-pawn and the g-pawn have been exchanged and White has the f-pawn, but now the winning chances look a bit dim because Black is ready to sacrifice his knight for the f-pawn and then run his king over to win the a-pawn. However, Carlsen is shrewd. He will not give up his f-pawn for the knight, in fact he will make use of his knight to attack Black's knight and push his f-pawn towards becoming a queen.

Anand found an ingenious defense. He got his knight to h7 and from there was ready to sacrifice his knight! Have a look at what he was aiming for...

This position is drawn! If you remove the knight from the board, this is a theoretical draw because the queen cannot win against a rook pawn on the seventh rank. With the knight on the board, things are not much different because the knight is just too far away, to get back into the thick of action it requires at least three moves! Also queen + knight vs queen is always drawn, and hence had Anand had miraculously saved himself!

Carlsen vs Anand in pictures

The two legends are ready for another grand battle! | Photo: Grand Chess Tour

1.d4 is what I would like you to play! | Photo: Grand Chess Tour

Come on Magnus, you have to win this one! | Photo: Grand Chess Tour

Vishy Anand was in trouble right from the middlegame and by the time the players landed in the endgame, the Indian GM was a pawn down! | Photo: Grand Chess Tour

Anand makes himself a nice tea for the long defensive task ahead! | Photo: Grand Chess Tour

Magnus is thinking of the best way in which he can extract maximum from the position | Photo: Grand Chess Tour

Anish Giri tries to assess if Vishy has any chances left to defend the position | Photo: Grand Chess Tour

The crowd is on the edge of their seats! | Photo: Grand Chess Tour

Magnus Carlsen is really annoyed that he couldn't win this one! | Photo: Grand Chess Tour