Kasparov Kramnik

Endgame Fundamentals:  The Berlin Ending

By Donny Gray

These days, if you follow chess much at all, you will see a lot of the top players going for the Berlin Defense against 1.e4.  The Berlin goes…

1.e4           e5
2.Nf3        Nc6
3.Bb5        Nf6



Diagram #1


Black plays 3… Nf6 instead of the normal a6 going into a Ruy Lopez.  It was this opening that helped  GM Vladimir Kramnick defeat World Champ Garry Kasparov in their famous match back in 2000.  In the hands of a good player, the Berlin is very hard to beat and leads to a lot of draws.  However, if black is not careful, he will fall in the ending due to the pawn structure.

Play can go something like:

4.OO         Ne4
5.d4         Nd6
6.Bc6        dc
7. de        Nf5
8.Qd8+     Kd8

We have now reached the following position:



Diagram #2


Let’s remove all the pieces from the board and notice the pawn structure in diagram #3.  This is what I want to talk about today.



Diagram #3


This pawn structure can also arrive with different openings, such as the Exchange Ruy Lopez.  White has three pawns on the queenside verses four for black.  However, we see that black’s queenside has doubled pawns.  On the king side, white has four pawns to three.

White’s long range plan is to hold black’s four queenside pawns back with just his three queenside pawns, and create a passer with his four against three on the kingside.  Since black has doubled pawns this is a strong possibility.

In the Exchange Ruy Lopez we reach this same type pawn structure with the moves:

1.e4         e5
2.Nf3      Nc6
3.Bb5      a6
4.Bc6      dc
5.OO       f6
6.d4        ed
7.Nd4     c5
8.Ne2     Qd1



Diagram #4


The pieces are in different places (as is white’s e pawn), but as you can see, you have the same basic pawn structure.

Bobby Fischer was well known to play the white side of the Exchange Ruy Lopez and win the ending.  He also played against the Berlin, and at the end of this article you will see an example of one.

When playing on the white side of these openings, each equal trade you make brings you just a little bit closer to this pawn structure ending.  And since this ending slightly favors white, it can be a powerful weapon to those who understand how to do so!

If we give the position of diagram #3 to the supercomputer program Komodo, and let it play itself, white wins in the following manner:

1.f4         Kd7
2.f5         g6
3.g4         c5
4.Kf2       Kc6
5.Kf3       Kd5
6.Kf4       b5
7.b3         b4
8.h4        a6
9.g5         a5
10.e6       fe
11.fg         hg
12.h5       e5+
13.Kg4    gh+
14.Kh5    e4
15.g6       Kd4
16.g7       Kc3
17.g8-Q           and wins easily now.
If we take diagram #4 and remove all the pieces, we get the following position in diagram #5:



Diagram #5


If we give Komodo the position in diagram #5, the play goes like this:

1.f4           Ke7
2.Kf2        Ke6
3.f5+        Ke5
4.Ke3        b5
5.g4           a5
6.c4           bc
7.a4           h6
8.h3          c3
9.bc          Ke6
10.Kf4      c4
11.e5+      fe+
12.Ke4     Kd7
13.Ke5     Ke7
14.h4       Kd7
15.Kd5    And white wins easily.


What is the point of all this?  We see that knowing what type of ending a certain opening produces is extremely valuable!  If you can practice the endings that your openings produce you will improve greatly.  Capablanca said it best:

In order to improve your game, you must study the endgame before everything else. For whereas the endings can be studied and mastered by themselves, the middle game and opening must be studied in relation to the end game. –  Capablanca


In a recent online 2 minute blitz game of mine, this same pawn structure appeared.  Since this was a 2-minute blitz game, there are many mistakes, but we can see what happens just the same.

White: Donny Gray
Black: Online Opponent

1.e4            e5
2.Nf3         Nc6
3.Bb5         a6
4.Bc6         dc
5.00           Bd6
6.d4           ed
7.Qd4        Ne7
8.e5           Nf5
9.Qc3        Be7
10.Na3      Be6
11.Be3       0-0
12.Rfd1     Qc8
13.Bc5       Bd5
14.Be7       Ne7
15.Nc4      Qf5
16.Ne3      Qh5
17.Nd5      Nd5
18.Qb3      b6
19.c4         Nf4
20.Qe3     Ne6
21.Rd7      Rad8
22.Rad1    Rd7
23.Rd7      Rd8
24.Rd8+   Nd8
25.Qg5      Qg5
26.Ng5      Ne6??

Big mistake.  White now has a pure pawn ending which we see from above is a win.




27.Ne6      fe
28.f4         Kf7
29.Kf2      h5
30.Kf3      Kg6
31.Ke4      h4
32.g4        hg3
33.hg        Kf7
34.g4        g6
35.f5         gf+
36. gf        ef+
37.Kf5      Ke7
38.e6        c5
39.Ke5     c6
40.Kf5     b5
41.b3        a5
42.a4       bc
43.bc       Ke8
44.Kf4     Kd8
45.Ke4     Ke8
46.Kf5      Ke7
47.Ke5      1-0

Now instead of one of my blitz games, let’s look at some players that are a LOT better.  How about the famous Fischer-Bisguier game where the Berlin was played.  It was 1963 and played during the U.S. Championship.

White:  Robert James Fischer
Black:  Arthur Bisguier

U.S. Championship 1963

1.e4            e5
2.Nf3         Nc6
3.Bb5         Nf6
4.00           Ne4
5.d4           Nd6
6.Bc6         dc
7. de           Nf5
8.Qd8+     Kd8
9.Nc3         Ke8
10.Ne2      Be6
11.Nf4       Bd5
12.Nd5      cd
13.g4         Ne7
14.Bf4       c6
15.Rfe1     Ng6
16.Bg3      Bc5
17.c3         Nf8
18.b4        Bb6
19.Kg2      Ne6
20.Nh4     h5
21.h3         hg
22.hg         g6
23.Rh1      Bd8
24.Nf5      Rh1
25.Nd6+   Kf8
26.Rh1      b5
27.f4          Kg8
28.f5          Nf8
29.e6         f6
30.Nf7      Be7
31.Bf4       g5
32.Bd6     Re8
33.Be7      Re7
34.Nd8     Re8
35.Nc6      Ne6
36.fe6       Re6
37.Na7      1-0

So, if black loses the pure pawn ending of the Berlin ending, why would anyone play it as black?  Good question!  The answer is there is a LOT of play before you get there, and with a good player playing black, it is VERY hard to break through.  And the biggest reason?  Black does not just go and trade all of his pieces to go to a pure pawn ending.  Remember the famous quote!

Before the endgame, the gods have placed the middle game.  – Siegbert Tarrasch

In closing, let’s take a look at how white can go wrong against the Berlin and why so many top players play it.  Good luck understanding what is going on in this game between two of the best players in the world!!

White: Giri, Anish 2734
Black: Karjakin, Sergey 2776
Beijing FIDE GP 2013

1.e4            e5
2.Nf3         Nc6
3.Bb5         Nf6
4.00           Ne4
5.d4           Nd6
6.Bc6         dc
7. de          Nf5
8.Qd8+    Kd8
9.h3          Ke8
10.Nc3      h5
11.Bf4       Be7
12.Rad1    Be6
13.Ng5     Rh6
14.Rfe1     Bb4
15.g4         hg
16.hg         Ne7
17.f3          Bc3
18.bc         Ba2
19.Ne4      Rh8
20.e6         Be6
21.Bc7       b5
22.Be5      Rg8
23.Nc5     Nd5
24.f4         Bg4
25.c4         f6
26.Rb1      Nb6
27.Bf6+    Kf7
28.Bg5       Nc4
29.Re7+    Kg6
30.Rbe1     Bf5
31.Kf2        Rad8
32.Nd3      a5
33.Rg1       Rd7
34.Bh4+    Kh7
35.Rd7       Bd7
36.Ne5       Ne5
37.fe           Re8
38.Re1       a4
39.Kf3       a3
40.Bf2      Rf8+
41.Kg3      Be6
42.Bc5      Ra8
43. Resigns   0-1


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