Can you play this endgame?

12/7/2001 – Can you win with a queen vs a rook? Don't be so sure – even the best players on the planet can run into problems when confronted with this endgame. Especially in rapid chess playoff games, during a world championship, with tens of thousands of dollars at stake. We hope he will forgive us for using this painful experience to demonstrate the cold perfection computers in such endgames. At least he did manage to win the playoff in the end. Take a look at the game here...

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Perfect Endgame Play

One of the first endgames that was exhaustively calculated was the four-piece ending queen vs rook. It was done by Ken Thompson back in the early eighties. He generated every legal position with K+Q vs K+R – 1,900,000 in all – and working backwards from mates created a list in which every position contained information with the distance to mate (the longest was 61 moves).

This is what we call an "endgame database", and a program that has access to it plays the endgame with absolute perfection – "as good as God", Thompson once quipped. In the subsequent years Ken Thompson and others worked out all five-piece endings, which have between 212 and 335 million positions each. If you buy one of our chess programs, they will already play a number of four and five-piece endings (e.g. Q vs R or R+P vs R) perfectly. With the "Endgame Turbo" (ChessBase shop, click "Endgame training"), which is delivered on four CDs, our programs will play all important five-piece endings perfectly. They will in fact use the endgame knowledge in the search, so that games against the computer these days usually end in mate announcements in 20 or more moves!

The endgame Queen vs Rook is still a classic and deceptively difficult to play. Most GMs are not able to win it against the perfect defence of the computer. Some have even practiced defending themselves, so that just in case it is ever necessary they can give their opponent a tough fight.

That is apparently exactly what happened at the FIDE world championship 2001 in Moscow. In the round five playoffs Peter Svidler reached the following position against Boris Gelfand:

Boris Gelfand – Peter Svidler, FIDE W

Position after 78.Rxf4

Instead of resigning, as most players would have done, Boris Gelfand simply challenged his opponent to prove that he could do it. Peter Svidler went to work against the almost flawless defence put up by White. Only on move 85 Boris allowed a deadly fork, which Peter did not see!

In the following game we have put in analysis generated by the endgame database. Behind each move you will see a number that shows you the number of moves left to mate – assuming perfect play by both sides, of course. Exclamation points are used whenever there is a single move which shortens the distance to mate.

Peter Svidler will hopefully forgive us for using what must have been a very painful experience to demonstrate the cold perfection of the endgame database. But (1) Peter is a friend of Ken Thompson; (2) he is technology fan and well acquainted with the endgame databases; and (3) he did win the playoffs in the end and proceed to the next round.

Click here to load the game

Please note that you can use the buttons below the board to replay the moves, but you can also click the notation and the board will follow.

 


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