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…
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:
7. de Nf5
We have now reached the following position:
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.
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:
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:
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:
If we give Komodo the position in diagram #5, the play goes like this:
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
Big mistake. White now has a pure pawn ending which we see from above is a win.
36. gf ef+
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
7. de Nf5
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
7. de Nf5
43. Resigns 0-1