By Donny Gray
If someone asks you, who was the best chess ending player of all time, who do you say?
When we think of the top ending players we normally answer with names like Capablanca, Lasker, Rubinstein, Flohr, Karpov, or Smyslov. And, of course, we cannot leave out today’s current World Champion, Magnus Carlsen, who seemingly can win endings out of nothing against the best players in the world. However, you can create an ending you can be proud of even if no one has ever heard of your name. Of course, if you are not a famous Grandmaster it might be only one game in your lifetime that qualifies, but nevertheless, it can be fantastic.
There are millions of examples that would fit this, but we don’t have the space to cover all of them. Instead of trying to look at the more famous endings that everyone has seen countless times in books, how about we look at some little known ones? Let’s take a look at a couple of endings that anyone from World Champion to duffer would be proud to produce over the chessboard—and I doubt you have heard of the players!
First up is a correspondence game from 1979 between Olszewski and Chernik–not exactly household names when it comes to famous chess players. We will start with the following position that occurred in that game.
At first glance White seems to be in trouble. He is the exchange down and both his queen and knight are being attacked. But, let’s take a look a bit deeper.
Passive defense: If you were inclined to save the knight and queen from being taken perhaps:
1. Qg3 But after Qd1+
Black will now pick off the e pawn and should have little problem converting his advantages into the win.
Attack: If there is no defense how about we just attack! (Many times I tell my students just this.)
1. e7! White just leaves his queen and knight en prise
2.e8 – Q+ The White queen that just died on f3 reappears on e8 with devastating effect as White can now force mate:
Show of hands: Who wouldn’t just love to do this to their opponent in a tournament game?
Another try might go:
Now, White has a choice of two different mates:
Yet another try to stop White might go:
1.e7! Qf4 (but now White can force mate just like he did before with the smothered mate)
Not too shabby!
Now let’s look at one a bit more complicated. The following position is from 1995 between the players Wismont-Zielinski:
We can see that the material on the board is even. Each side has three (3) pawns and one (1) Rook. Black seems to be in the driver’s seat with that powerful looking passed h pawn. It is only 4 moves from Queening. So what is White to do?
Again let’s try Passive defense:
And Black will now play Rh5 and have a winning position.
Well, that did not work. Let’s see how Wismont won this game.
But Black has a passed pawn with a rook behind it!! Wismont does not care!! He has seen something. But what?
The pawn is getting closer to Queening.
Yikes. Pushing the pawn now is out of the question as White just plays Rc7+, Rh7, and then wins the pawn and the game.
What else is there to try? Black could try h2 or cd+. Let’s look at both of these tries before we continue with the game.
1st try: 4.d6! h2
The problem with this move is that White will queen with check and can in all lines mate the Black king before he can ever use his new queen.
Not bad. Not bad at all.
5.Kc6! Threat is mate. Black has 3 moves. All lose very quickly. So we are left with what Black tried in the game:
Of course not Ra7 here for Black as White again wins easy with:
Black had enough of the back rank mate threats and called it a day.
Again, I doubt any chess player would be ashamed to show off this ending! Also, I seem to be seeing a pattern here with passive defense always being wrong. Hmmmm…..