Endgame Study – Bishop and Pawn versus King

The Study Position

In this post we are only looking at a single puzzle! Don't be put off, there's plenty to digest here!

Chess problems can be beautiful in their complexity, infuriating in their simplicity when solved.

Before we solve this, we will take a little de-tour and see a little information first on fortresses!

Solving chess puzzles can be like peeling an onion - so many layers!

A fortress

Often a stronghold in olde literature, a fortress is a safe-haven, protecting the defender from harm.

A fortress in chess is often the last refuge of the scoundrel!

The idea of a fortress is to create an impenetrable set-up that the attacker, often despite being material ahead, cannot make progress. An example is below:

White is clear material ahead but cannot begin to make progress.
Black's strategy is simply to keep his king between g8-h8-h7; his rook remains planted on f6. White can do nothing but throw in spite checks! The game is drawn.

So the big question - why are we talking about fortresses in the starting position?

The fortress to avoid!

The position we are studying looks deceptively simple - surely 1. Bg2!? or 1. Bf1!? or in fact a lot of bishop moves just look good...right?
Chess is a cruel game. If black gets his king to h8, wherever the white pieces are, he can hold the draw effortlessly by moving his king between h8-h7-g7-g8 and white cannot progress his pawn.

Shouldering

Like the schoolyard bully, our king can throw his weight about.

The natural temptation in the starting position is to keep the black king near the pawn with moves like 1...Kf3 but due to the special geometry of the king, as long as he stays in the "square", he can move up the board (otherwise a timely h4! will decide outright) diagonally and after, say, 1. Bf1 Ke3! ruins the party.

The Solution

Don't feel bad if you didn't get this, it's very tricky.

There are two themes to get right -

  • Stop the king getting in the corner
  • Limited use of your own king
This leads us to a situation where we have to co-ordinate the bishop and pawn perfectly!
[Event "Example - Knight v Pawn"] [Site "Chess Toolkit (Author = TQM.)"] [Date "12/03/2017"] [White "Player, A"] [Black "Opponent, Anne"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "N/A"] [Annotator "TQM"] [SetUp "1"] [PlyCount "44"] [EventDate "2017"] [FEN "8/8/8/8/8/2K4B/5k1P/8"] 1. Bd7!! (1. Bf1!? Ke3!! 2. Bd3 {closing off the h7 point and plans to march the king to f6, as black moves to h6 - great idea! There's a rotten reason why this doesn't work!} 2...Kf4 {and suddenly white must lose one vital tempo!} 3. Kd4 Kg4! 4. Bf1 Kg5 {and black reaches h8 in good time and it's a draw! :(} 5. Ke5 Kh6 6. Kf6 Kh7 {and black just sticks in the corner}) (1. Bg2!? Ke3!! (1...Kxg2 {obviously not a great idea} 2. h4) 2. Bf1 Kf4 3. Kd4 Kg5 4. Ke5 Kh6 5. Kf6 Kh7 {and again, he's escaped!}) (1. Bc8 Ke3 2. Bd7 Kf4 3. Kd4 Kg5 4. Ke5 Kh6 5. Kf6 Kh7 {so why does 1. Bd7 work?!}) 1...Ke3 {black begins rightly by shouldering} 2. h4! Ke4 (2...Kf4 3. Kd4 {+-}) 3. h5 Ke5 {still in the 'square'} 4. h6 Kf6 {now for something incredible...} 5. Be8!! {this is not difficult to spot but playing Bd7, realising this move would be needed is pure genius! The king can't move forward from f6 and must concede he will never catch the h pawn} 5...Ke7 6. h7 and white will queen the pawn.
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