Luke McShane

Candidates debate

The grace of a snowflake lies in its outward simplicity, which on closer inspection reveals a sublime complexity. Chess endgames beguile me in much the same spirit. The examples below both occurred at the Fide Women’s Candidates tournament, which is currently approaching its conclusion in Toronto.

Just a few moves earlier, Anna Muzychuk had an extra pawn in a rook endgame, which was being patiently guided to victory. Lei Tingjie has sacrificed her rook to reach the diagram position, pinning her hopes on the passed g-pawn to salvage a draw. Crucially, her king can shepherd the pawn while also impeding the approach of the White king. Time is of the essence.

Anna Muzychuk–Lei Tingjie

Fide Women’s Candidates, April 2024

53 Rd5+? This natural move throws away the win. The correct idea was to place the rook behind the pawn with 53 Rg8!, though why that matters is not immediately obvious. After 53…g4 54 Kf7! Kf4 White must ignore the bait on f6 and aim for the h-file with 55 Kg6! and here 55…g3 56 Kh5 Kf3 57 Kh4 g2 58 Kh3 arrives just in time, or 55…f5 56 Kh5 Kg3 57 Rg7! waits and then 57…Kh3 58 Kg5! swaps sides yet again: 58… g3 59 Kf4 g2 60 Rh7# Kf4 54 Kxf6 g4 55 Rd4+ Kf3 56 Kf5 g3 57 Rd3+ Kf2 58 Kg4 g2 59 Rd2+ Kf1 59…Kg1! was neater, using a little trick: 60 Kg3 Kh1! 61 Rxg2 stalemate 60 Kf3 g1=N+ Check! The threat of Rd2-d1# makes this underpromotion a necessity. 61 Ke3 Black must tread carefully, but should not lose provided her knight stays in the king’s orbit.

Nh3 62 Rh2 Ng1 63 Rf2+ Ke1 Draw agreed at move 75.

A few rounds later, Muzychuk was defending with knight and pawn against rook, but this time the missed opportunity turned in her favour. With extra White pawns to contend with, her defence is far from easy, e.g. 53…e5+ 54 Kd5 concedes critical ground. There was a narrow path to a draw with 53…Nh2! 54 Rc3 Ng4 55 Kc5 f5! with just enough counterplay, but Muzychuk stepped the other way.

Nurgyul Salimova–Anna Muzychuk

Fide Women’s Candidates, April 2024

53…Ne5? 54 Rc3? Evidently, both players judged the pawn endgame after 54 Rxe5 fxe5+ 55 Kxe5 Kf7 to be a draw. But White wins with 56 Kf4! Kg6 57 e5 Kh6 and now the subtle sidestep 58 Ke3! seals the deal, ensuring that after 58…Kg6 59 Ke4! it is Black’s turn to move. Then 59…Kf7 60 Kd4 Kg6 61 Kc5 Kf5 62 Kd6 wins. Kf7 55 Kc5 Ng6 56 Kd6 Nxh4 57 Rh3 Ng6 58 Rxh5 Nf4 59 Rh7+ Kg6 60 Rh1 Kf7 The game lasted another 60(!) moves, but the result was never in doubt. Draw agreed