Insights into Minor Piece Endgames

7/15/2019 – As Jacob Aagaard writes in his foreword to Understanding Minor Piece Endgames (Müller and Konoval, 2019), “every new book written by Karsten is an event for me”. Reviewer GUY HAWORTH brings you an in-depth look at this essential endgame extravaganza replete with illuminating examples.

Endgames of the World Champions from Fischer to Carlsen Endgames of the World Champions from Fischer to Carlsen

Let endgame expert Dr Karsten Müller show and explain the finesses of the world champions. Although they had different styles each and every one of them played the endgame exceptionally well, so take the opportunity to enjoy and learn from some of the best endgames in the history of chess.

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Review by Guy Haworth

‘UME’ will be eagerly snapped up by professional players but it is also accessible to club players and enthusiasts such as myself. This book combines the insight and enthusiasm of the well-known and prolific endgame expert with the technical precision of Yakov Konoval’s sub-8-man ‘DTC’ Depth to Conversion endgame tables. ‘Man and machine’ is an excellent combination and this is one of its finer feats of inexorable logic. It is both informative and entertaining, certainly a worthy successor to Understanding Rook Endgames (Müller and Konoval, 2016). The board has no queens or rooks but sports at least one minor piece on the board: no side has more than one. The core domain ranges from KNKP to KXPPKX¢P — where X and X¢ are B, N or P.

endgameDemis Hassabis once opined (Sadler and Regan, 2019) that it is “the exquisite balance of the bishop and knight across the set of all positions, despite their vastly different mobility, that creates the dynamic tension in the game”. Here, the book builds to Chapter 6, some 40% of the whole, where finally, spiritual and temporal, bishop and knight, face off against each other. In preparation, we study the single knight against foot soldiers (ch. 1), the joust of knight against knight (ch. 2), the sole bishop (ch. 3) and the ecclesiastical struggle of bishop against bishop, whether in the same church on the same-colour squares (ch. 4) or not (ch. 5). The drawish opposite-coloured bishop situations, incidentally, seem to be enjoyed by AlphaZero.

The finer structure is clear, once laid out, but it takes a mathematical, rigorous and perceptive mind like Karsten’s to realize what that structure should be. Beyond the focusing on specific endgames, the key characteristics and themes of each subdomain are defined and guide one’s understanding. Pawns may be on specific files, may or may not be close, connected or ‘passed’, a minor piece may (not) have the advantage, bishops do (not) control the queening square etc. The contents list could perhaps have usefully gone one or two levels deeper than the chapter headings.

The many examples — over 500 of them — tend to focus on but are not limited to sub-8-man positions. Here, you will find the skill and artistry of many World Champions on display and sometimes they face each other: only Tigran Petrosian is missing from the line of succession. Here are a couple of the famous and/or complex gems.

 

The corpus of didactic positions and chess studies also provides material. Some 340 ‘game’ exercises and 46 pages of solutions also help to check our under­stand­ing of the various points made. Here's a small selection for the reader.

You can take a stab at the positions on the diagrams, and then review the solutions in the full-sized game viewer below. Some broad hints are provided to the exercises and studies if you click or tap the hint button (life preserver icon).

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Chapter 8 merely picks up on a few studies which have been cooked or corrected en passant. Chapter 7 touches on some opportunities missed by chess engines, ‘limited’ or at least challenged as they currently are by ‘the curse of the knight’ zugzwang positions, their search-horizons and by ‘only’ having 6-man ‘EGT’ endgame tables. The now prominent Chiron (#8), Fire (#23), Houdini, (#5/26), Rybka (#21), Komodo (#6/7/12), Shredder (#10/11) and Stockfish (#16/18) all have their moments in the shade, but they are older, wiser and better informed now.

Nearly forty ‘longest-DTC wins’ show the full complexity of the various endgames, many of the lines being usefully commentated on. Endgame aficionados will also enjoy looking at the lines in the context of EGTs to metrics other than Konoval’s ‘DTC’ Depth to Conversion. The Lomonosov (2012) DTM(ate) EGTs are now joined by the equally extensive and popular ‘depth to plycount zeroing’ DTZ50 EGTs which take into account the 50-move rule (de Man et al, 2018). Deep lines to different depth metrics can eventually diverge as they are pulled in different directions by their specific objectives. For example, do the three frustrated wins (#2.47A KNPPknp, #3.66 KBPkppp and #6.178 KNPPknp) let go of their 50-move-rule defence because of the given DTC-centric lines? Do the DTM- and DTC-minimaxing lines diverge and if so, where? What can be learned at the branch-point? 

 
 

The maxDTC-deepest 'UME' endgames, both 1-0

Müller and Konoval have produced a definitive work here in UME, mastering a large subject with authority and organizing it so that it is more accessible to the greater chess community. The result is attractive, fascinating, instructive, enriching — entirely as one would expect from this team. It is a pleasure to see items of beautiful glassware being skilfully drawn from the silica of endgame data.


References

  • de Man, R., Fiekas, N. and Guo, B. (2018). https://tinyurl.com/icga007. Fiekas’ interface to ‘Syzygy formatted’ de Man sub-7-man and Guo 7-man DTZ50² EGTs.
  • Haworth, G. McC. (2019). http://centaur.reading.ac.uk/82423/. This item plus supplementary data on content, longest wins etc.
  • Lomonosov (2012). http://tb7.chessok.com/. Query interface to sub-8-man DTM EGTs.
  • Müller, K. and Konoval, Y. (2016). Understanding Rook Endgames. Gambit.
  • Müller, K. and Konoval, Y. (2019). Understanding Minor Piece Endgames. Russell Enterprises.
  • Sadler, M. and Regan, N. (2019). Game Changer. New in Chess.

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Halflash Halflash 7/18/2019 12:53
Thank you for helping with your analysis :)
Karsten Müller Karsten Müller 7/16/2019 09:29
Fischer's move 37...Ke4 is still playable. Only 39...f5? is the real mistake as 39....e5 still draws as Timman's and Byrne's variations show. But the resulting fortresses are misevaluated by the computer engines. This is one small area, where human analysis is still superior. It would be interesting to ask AlphaZero on this...
Halflash Halflash 7/15/2019 07:14
I may add some notes for Spassky-Fischer. I'm sorry but 37.Ba3 Ke4? loses. Black draws this with 37...a6! i.e. 38.Bf8 axb5 39.axb5 Ke4 40.Kf2 g6 41.b6 f5 42.Bh6 e5 43.Kg3 Kd5 44.Kf3 Kc5 45.Bg7 Kxb6 46.Bxe5=. That's why, 29...Bxh2! is a playable move if you search for the draw with Black...
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