Home > Jacob Aagaard's training tips > Simplicity is Key

Simplicity is Key

This week I just wanted to give a little reminder to those who might be maximalists and not wanting to give up material in order to convert an advantage. I know it is a quick and boring blog post, but then the other guys have promised to put a few things up as well.

Filippov – Saric, Croatian League 2014

Black to play and win


73…Rc4+! 74.Kxb5 Rc8 wins incredibly easily.

73…Ra4!? 74.Kxb5 Ra8 also wins. The main point being 75.Kc4 Rd8, even though the white rook is so badly placed that even 75…Re8 wins.

74.Kd4 e3 75.Ke4!

Now White draws easily.


75…Rc3 76.Re1 b4 77.Rxe3 and draws.

76.Rg1+ Rg3 77.Re1 Rg2 78.Ke3 Kf5 79.Kf3 Rg4 80.Kxe2 Re4+ 81.Kd2 Rxe1 82.Kxe1 Ke5 83.Kd1 Kd4 84.Kd2 b4 85.Kc2


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  1. grinding_tolya
    December 1st, 2014 at 11:13 | #1

    In the endgame you need a different mindset after all. I believe the above example is partly due to not being able to adjust to circumstances and hence not see that material can be sacked.

    My main weakness in the endgame is adjusting to the new circumstances. Last week I lost a game after hanging in all game in a worse position and then tactically getting into an endgame with an exchange up. Totally winning, but I didn’t adjust to being in an endgame and playing some slow moves in order to prevent counterplay.

  2. Jacob Aagaard
    December 1st, 2014 at 13:06 | #2

    a) Adjusting to new circumstances is really really hard! I do not think you should feel that this is something GMs can do easily!

    b) Today there is a shift happening among professionals. Some study the opening very hard, while others try to follow Carlsen and focus on their technique to a great extent. Look for example at some of the Chinese!

  3. GM Rob
    December 1st, 2014 at 14:34 | #3

    How can it be mindset in this position? The endgame stage must have been reached many moves ago and plenty of time for the players to adjust. I just don’t get how such a strong player as Saric with all the great results he’s achieved in the last year could play this endgame position so poorly. I can only put it down to a combination of fatigue and trying to be too clever. I will never be able to produce chess of the high calibre Saric plays but it took me and my endgame knowledge all of 2 seconds to see that if black captured the b pawn it was an elementary won rook and pawn endgame.

  4. Ray
    December 1st, 2014 at 14:59 | #4

    This example is indeed quite striking, an incredible oversight indeed on this level! I regularly try to live by the principle to keep it simple, but last time I simplified from a complicated middel game with great attacking chances to an endgame with an extra pawn I thought was easily won but turned out not to be so easily won (in the end I even lost in time trouble). Afterwards it turned out that I could have won in the attack much more easily, but it took some calculation. Anyway, I guess that’s not what you meant with ‘simplicity is key’ 🙂

  5. Thomas
    December 1st, 2014 at 15:03 | #5

    @GM Rob
    You took 2 seconds because Jacob picked out this position.
    It’s plausible that Saric played this position without thinking, probably a tempo:
    King attacks rook, rook moves to a square where it keeps both pawns in the next move.
    Can’t be wrong, or???
    If someone told Saric to think in the position, he would without a doubt have found the solution immediately.

  6. Jacob Aagaard
    December 1st, 2014 at 15:06 | #6

    @GM Rob
    Thank you for your comment, it makes it possible to refine my points a bit.

    a) There is clearly a focus/time pressure going on for Saric. I think I would take your 1 minute thinking about this position over his 10 seconds – if this is what he took for this move.

    b) Obviously there is nothing here that Saric does not understand. But maybe there is a possibility that his intuition is much stronger in the middlegame. From looking at his games, I would assume so. (Btw. he is one of my favourite players).

    c) Finally, I am not out to evaluate Saric. I want to describe what is good chess and what is bad chess. I do not write books saying stuff like “how could such a player as Saric miss something so elementary!” I leave that to my mentor :-).

  7. Ray
    December 1st, 2014 at 15:20 | #7

    I guess it just goes to show again that chess is quite a difficult game.

  8. GM Rob
    December 1st, 2014 at 16:45 | #8

    Obviously I never intended to insult Saric as I stated he plays at a level I can only ever aspire to reach.
    The point I was trying to make is how could a very strong player miss or decline such a simple way to win the game? For me it was on a par with not taking a chance to swap down to a queen and king v king position. You do not need to be very strong chess player to evaluate K+Q v K to be a win. Likewise I believe a player of nearly 2700 strength just knows this particular R + P v R position is a simple win.
    The only explanation can be other pressures such as fatigue or extreme time pressure.

  9. Michael Bartlett
    December 1st, 2014 at 19:56 | #9

    Wow – another one I got quickly after some brief calculation. Jacob is training me well.

  10. Jacob Aagaard
    December 1st, 2014 at 20:50 | #10

    @GM Rob
    The question should be a true question. How can a player of that level miss this. Once you make it a true question, it becomes interesting. But I find the chess point nicer than this psychological analysis. To say that chess is difficult is a great enough point for me.

  11. December 1st, 2014 at 21:59 | #11

    I read an example just like this in one of Lev Alburt’s books, on an ending misplayed by Bent Larsen. He tried to hang onto to two extra pawns in a rook ending just like Saric did here and failed to win, where there was an easy win by sacrificing one pawn and winning with the other, just like here.

  12. December 1st, 2014 at 22:00 | #12

    PGN for the game, anyone???

  13. wok64
    December 1st, 2014 at 23:52 | #13

    Isn´t this more a matter of “Patterns are key”? In this case it’s all about the basic endgame pattern of cutting off the king either horizontally after Rc4+ Kd5 e3 or vertically after Rc4+ Kxb5 Rd8. Either you spot the pattern or you don’t, not much calculation required ifyou do…

  14. Michael Bartlett
    December 2nd, 2014 at 03:33 | #14

    wok64 – do you happen to know if there is any particular book or books that have these patterns?

  15. Jacob Aagaard
    December 2nd, 2014 at 08:31 | #15

    You can explain many things in many ways. Btw. Rc4-d8 is a killer!

  16. Jacob Aagaard
    December 2nd, 2014 at 08:32 | #16

    @Michael Bartlett
    There are an almost infinite amount of patterns. The best selection I know is Yusupov’s series.

  17. Sam Collins
    December 2nd, 2014 at 12:03 | #17

    As always, a nice example Jacob. I have far too many of these from my own games, but it’s less embarrassing to talk about an example I saw in Kilkenny this weekend. Alex Baburin was defending a worse endgame against Mark Hebden, and White is to move in the following position:

    White: pawn h4, Kg1, Rf7
    Black: pawns g4 and h5, Ke4, Re3

    Alex, seeing that his h-pawn is dropping, lost on time while executing the move 67.Kg2. Shortly after the game he realised that the position is a stone-cold fortress: 67…Rh3 68.Ra7 Rxh4 69.Ra3, and the rook stays on the third rank while the black rook is trapped.

    Alex was down to playing on increment (15 seconds), which is a marginal case since the idea is relatively sophisticated and unusual (certainly harder than the Saric example, which is itself even easier than the Larsen game referenced earlier). There was certainly some fatigue too, since this was the second game played that day. But he is an endgame expert with a particular knowledge and experience of rook and pawn endgames.

    The main factors have all been mentioned in previous comments on this post – fatigue, time trouble, and not being aware that there is a solution. I think these three combine to make it very difficult to stay sufficiently creative and resourceful. The main factor in Alex’s game which hints at drawing chances, relative to other 2 vs. 1 rook endgames, is the presence of the h-pawns – if you move the position one file to the left the fortress doesn’t work since the rook can escape using the h-file. Maybe one of the benefits of studying more theoretical positions is to pick up on aspects like this, which raises one’s alertness of the possibility of a solution. But Alex obviously has this knowledge in spades, so the example is probably more explicable by extreme time shortage and maybe fatigue.

  18. John Shaw
    December 2nd, 2014 at 14:06 | #18

    @Sam Collins

    There is an even more surprising fortress, in a vaguely similar position, that Dvoretsky gives:

    White: Kg1, Rb6
    Black: pawns g3 and h4, Kg7, Rh2

    Black to play: it’s just a draw.

  19. Sam Collins
    December 2nd, 2014 at 15:52 | #19

    @John Shaw
    Thanks John. With your position, if you move it all up one rank, the tablebases say it’s still a draw!
    The best spectacle I’ve ever seen with these structures is Carlsen – Kramnik, Tal Memorial Blitz 2013, available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3hA_TkpnyGs . I haven’t analysed the entire closing sequence closely yet but for Kramnik to hold that endgame with 4 seconds plus a 2 second increment, against Carlsen, shows the gulf between these guys and the rest. Incidentally, …Rg4-g6, played instantly by Kramnik, is the only move to draw.

  20. Capodoglio
    December 3rd, 2014 at 07:04 | #20

    73… Rc4+ came to me immediately in 2 millisencod, just looking at board, without even reading the topic.

    Cutting off the in rook endgame must have penetrated my mind quite deeply a long time ago I guess…

    But we don’t know the situation of the game. probably it was a tough fight, maybe Saric believed everything won… and anyway even the strongest players makes incredible mistakes!

    See last World Championship!

  21. Jacob Aagaard
    December 3rd, 2014 at 08:56 | #21

    The mistake made in the rapid play-off by Gelfand in 2012 was worse than any of these. Chess is a hard game even for the best of us. There is no embarrassment in that for me. Nor any criticism.

  22. Capodoglio
    December 3rd, 2014 at 09:16 | #22

    I couldn’t agree more, that’s why I love this game so much.

  23. Indra Polak
    December 16th, 2014 at 16:05 | #23

    I think the built-in assumption in our minds is that rook endgames R+Pawn vs R are more often drawn than R+2Pawns vs R and therefore the chess hand is reluctant to sacrifice pawns in those endgames.

    One should always try to reach and visualize a known winning position and positions with a cut-off King should be in every one’s repertoire.

    I recently (last Saturday) played a game where I also had 2 pawns up in a Rook+Knight+2Pawns vs Rook+Bishop ending. I was losing one pawn but achieved a cut-off king (more than 3 files 🙂 and the exchange of the minor pieces leaving me with a trivially winning Rook+Pawn vs Rook ending. However, I recollect being hesitant for an instant of the variation because I was “losing” a pawn, but in fact it was the easiest winning line.

  24. Jacob Aagaard
    December 16th, 2014 at 22:28 | #24
  25. GM Rob
    December 17th, 2014 at 10:01 | #25

    @Indra Polak
    Yes maybe a bit reluctant to swap off if we don’t see a clear win but in this position where you can see a elementary won position?

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