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Bishop vs Two Connected Passed Pawns
by Arthur E. Holmer
The lone bishop vs pawn(s) endgame is not a common ending. In fact, it is somewhat rare. (A Bishop vs one pawn ending will be drawn in almost all cases; as soon as BxP is played, whether the Bishop is captured or not, the position is drawn due to insufficient mating material — ed.) Mueller and Lamprecht1 give us a quantitative look at how rare these endings are in the Statistics section of reference1, pp. 11-12. In 1,687,182 games of ChessBase's MegaBase 2001, only 16,953 games have a bishop vs pawn(s) ending, about 1% of all games. This is certainly not common, but what should you do if you find yourself facing two connected passed pawns with your bishop? Here are some practical techniques and examples to help plan your play in this type of ending.
|The “Standard Method” for drawing the game:|
|Diagram 1 - Black to play|
Mueller and Lamprecht1 use this diagram (No. 4.03, p. 94) to illustrate what they consider to be the standard method for drawing a bishop vs two connected passed pawns ending. They give the following line “1. ... Ke6 2. g5 Kf5 3. g6 Bd4 4. h5 Kg4! (in perfect harmony, the bishop stops the more advanced pawn, and the king the more backward one; we find this principle again in the ending rook vs two connected passed pawns) 5. g7 Bxg7+!=.” The authors also give additional lines and possibilities in reference1 for more advanced study. This is a very useful approach to drawing this ending and is worth keeping in mind.
Let’s see how other authors discuss the standard method.
|Diagram 2 - White to play|
Alburt and Krogius2 use this diagram (No. 127, p. 106) to illustrate the standard method. They give the following line: 1. Ka5 Kf6 2. b4 Ke5! 3. b5 Kd4! (only attacking from behind achieves the draw here) 4. Kb6 Bf3 5. a5 Kc4 6. a6 Kb4 7. a7 Ba8, draw. Alburt and Krogius2 also give many additional lines for advanced study. As we have seen, the standard method involves the king attacking the rear pawn from behind and the bishop attacking the forward pawn. It is obvious the king has to reach the pawns for this approach to work. So, what happens if the king cannot get to the pawns?
|Diagram 3 - Black to play|
Reuben Fine3 uses this position (No. 123A, p. 144) as an example of what happens when the king and bishop cannot work together to attack the pawns. He gives this line to illustrate the shut out of the king: 1. ... Kb2 2. f5 Kc3 3. f6 Bb3 4. g5 Bf7 5. Kf5 Kd4 6. g6 Ba2 7. f7 and White queens. In this case the king was unable to reach the pawns, as in diagrams 1 and 2, with disastrous consequences.
|Continued next column ...|
Fine then shows what can happen if the king can get in front of the pawns.
|Diagram 4 - White to play|
Fine3 uses this position (No. 123B, p. 144) to show an elegant draw when the king is in front of the pawns. He gives the line: 1. f5 Kf7 2. g5 Bxf5! draw (or if 3. Kxf5 Kg7 4. g6 Kg8 5. Kf6 Kf8 6. g7+ Kg8 draw).
Here is a CCLA game that illustrates what happens when the king and the bishop are not able to work together for the standard method or the king cannot get in front of the pawns.
[Event "North American Server Class B Champ- ionship, S92021"]
[White "Corbin, John"]
[Black "Strelecky, Rich"]
1. e4 d5 2. exd5 Nf6 3. c4 c6 4. dxc6 Nxc6 5. Nc3 Bg4 6. Be2 Qd4 7. d3 Qe5 8. Be3 Bh5 9. Nf3 Qd6 10. Nb5 Qd7 11. O-O a6 12. Nc3 Ng4 13. Nd5 Nxe3 14. Nxe3 e6 15. a3 Be7 16. Qa4 O-O 17. Ne5 Qd6 18. Nxc6 Bxe2 19. Nxe7+ Qxe7 20. Rfe1 Bxd3 21. Rad1 b5 22. cxb5 Bxb5 23. Qe4 Rfe8 24. Nd5 Qc5 25. Ne3 a5 26. Rc1 Qd6 27. Red1 Qb6 28. h3 Ba6 29. Rd2 Bb7 30. Qd4 Qxd4 31. Rxd4 Red8 32. Rxd8+ Rxd8 33. Rc3 f5 34. Rb3 Bc6 35. Rb6 Bd7 36. Nc4 Ra8 37. f4 h6 38. h4 Kf8 39. Ne5 Bc8 40. Kf2 Ke7 41. g4 fxg4 42. Nxg4 Ra7 43. Ne5 Kf6 44. Rb8 Rc7 45. Ke3 Kf5 46. Rb5 a4 47. Ra5 Bb7 48. Rxa4 g5 49. hxg5 hxg5 50. Nf3 gxf4+ 51. Rxf4+ Kg6 52. Ne5+ Kh5 53. Rc4 Rxc4 54. Nxc4 Bc6 55. Ne5 Ba4 56. Kf4 Bb3 57. Nc6 Kg6 58. Ke5 Kf7 59. Kd6 Kf6 60. Nd4 Bc4 61. Nxe6 Bxe6 62. b4 Bc4 63. a4 1-0
|Diagram 5. Position after 63. a4 ...|
This position has been solved by a tablebase algorithm. Black losses in all lines. The following is considered best play (Nalimov Endgame Tablebase analysis:) 63. ... Bb3 64. b5 Bc4 65. b6 Ba6 66. a5 Bb7 67. Kc7 Ba6 68. b7 Be2 69. a6 Bxa6 70. b8=Q Kf5 71. Qf8+ Ke5 72. Qd6+ Ke4 73. Qxa6 Ke3 74. Qe6+ Kd3 75. Qe1 Kd4 76. Kc6 Kd3 77. Kc5 Kc2 78. Kc4 Kb2 79. Qd1 Ka2 80. Kc3 Ka3 81. Qa1# 1-0
Unfortunately, the Black king is not able to approach the pawns from the rear, or get in front of them, and could not use the techniques given in diagrams 1-4.
In summary, the so-called standard method for a bishop vs two connected passed pawns ending involves combining the efforts of the king and bishop to stop the connected passers. The king must attack the rear of the pawn formation and the bishop must attack the front. The method will not work if either the king or the bishop cannot perform the necessary technique. In that case, look for a way to get the king in front of the pawns.
|1. Mueller, Karsten, Lamprecht, Frank, Fundamental Chess Endings, Gambit Publications, London, 2001.|
|2. Alburt, Lev, Krogius, Nikolay, Just the Facts! Winning Endgame Knowledge in One Volume, W.W. Norton, New York, 2001.|
|3. Fine, Reuben, Chess The Easy Way, David McKay Company, New York, 1942.|