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Queen and Pawn vs Queen Endings
by Arthur E. Holmer
Queen and pawn vs queen endgames rightly give the impression that they are very difficult to calculate and understand. After all, they have two queens on an almost empty board. The queens can fly all around the board and change the character of the position in a single move. While it is true that the queens have great mobility, there is an underlying decisive factor in these endgames that is easy to overlook — the position of the kings and the almost unnoticed pawn!
GM Lev Alburt makes an amazing observation about these endings with diagram no. 382 on page 287 of Just the Facts! 1
GM Alburt notes “Without kings, the pawn queens easily, no matter where the pawn is”. It is easy to see that any attempt by the defending queen to block the pawn leads to capture or queen exchange. The point is that the location of the kings and the pawn are the key to understanding this type of endgame. It makes sense when you compare the slow moving mobility of the kings and the pawn to the queens’ mobility. In most cases the outcome of the game depends far more on where the kings and pawn are than where the queens are located.
Let’s put some kings on the board and see what happens.
This diagram is from page 238 of Chess for the Gifted and Busy2. Lev Alburt gives ”Black enforces a perpetual check to draw. 1. ...Qe2+ (Not 1. … Qg6+ 2.Kh4 - no more checks now!) 2.Kg5 Qg2+ 3.Kf5 Qc2+ (yet another diagonal check) 4.Ke6 Qc4+ 5.Kf5 Qc2+, draw.” The presence of kings in this position led to a draw, quite different from diagram 382.
With all of these diverse factors to consider, what is the general approach for this type of ending? GM Reuben Fine provides guidance on page 538 of Basic Chess Endings3.
“This is a draw unless White has a bishop-pawn or center-pawn on the seventh rank supported by the king. As a rule, it is best for Black to have his king as far from the pawn as possible, unless, of course, it can occupy a square in front of the pawn, in which case the game is a hopeless draw”.
Fine continues “In general, it is impossible to advance the pawn very far. Black keeps checking until he runs out of checks and then pins the pawn. In view of the terrific number of possible positions, precise analysis can only be done by computer. (It is interesting to note this update. It was obviously added by GM Pal Benko for the revision.-ed) In practice, however, it is usually found that the pawn can be held back”.
To illustrate GM Fine’s guidance we will look at positions with pawns on various files and ranks.
This is diagram No. 1057 on page 539 of Basic Chess Endings3, an example of an advanced queen (center) pawn that can win. Fine teaches “Here it is possible to exhaust the checks and queen the pawn. 1. ... Qc5+ 2. Kf7 Qh5+ 3.Qg6 Qf3+ 4.Ke7 Qb7 5.Qd3+ Kg2 6.Qc4 Qa7 7.Qe4+ Kh3 8.Ke8 wins”.
This is diagram No. 1058, attributed to Philidor, 1782, on page 539 of Basic Chess Endings3, an example of an advanced bishop pawn that can win. Fine notes “ Philidor gave this as a draw, but subsequent analysis has established a win. The best defense is 1. … Qe5+ 2.Kf8 Ka4 3.Qf3 Qh8+ 4.Ke7 Qe5+ 5.Kd7 Qd4+ 6.Ke6 Qb6+ 7.Kf5 Qc5+ 8.Kg4 Qf8 9.Qf4+ Kb5 10.Kh5 Kc5 11.Qf6 Kb4 12.Kg6 Kc5 13.Kh7 Kb4 14.Qg7 wins.
This is diagram No. 1059, attributed to Lolli, on page 540 of Basic Chess Endings3, an example of an advanced knight pawn that can only draw. Fine comments “White cannot win with a knight-pawn because he is exposed to perpetual checks even with two queens. No. 1059 demonstrates 1. … Qh4+ 2.Qh7 Qd8+ 3.g8=Q Qf6+ 4.Qhg7 Qh4+ 5.Q8h7 Qd8+, etc. with perpetual check”.
This is diagram No. 9.12, Shrirov—Sokolov, Groningen, 1996, on page 317 of Fundamental Chess Endings4, an example of a mid-board rook pawn that can only draw. Mueller and Lamprecht note “1. ... Kc6! Black’s king has to leave the danger zone and must head for the south-west corner. 2.h5 Kb5! This is the only move that gives Black sufficient checks, as Qf6 and Qg6 are not counter checks anymore. 3.h6 Qg4+ 4.Qg6 Qd4+ 5.Kh7 Kb4=.”
GM's Fine and Alburt clearly point out that the queen and pawn vs queen ending is generally a draw by perpetual check unless the pawn is a center or bishop pawn that is far advanced and supported by the king.
When considering whether or not to swap down to this type of ending, the attacking side should first see what file the pawn is on. The best (sometimes only) chance to win is a center or bishop pawn. The next thing to check is what rank the pawn is on. The game can usually only be won when the pawn is on or close to the seventh rank. Last, where is the king? It has to be close to the pawn. The defending side needs to observe the same pawn parameters, but must attempt to get the king in front of the pawn. If this is not possible, the king should be placed so as to give the queen maximum mobility for perpetual check.
Recommendations for Additional Study
Mueller and Lamprecht present a geometric approach for determining drawing zones (best locations of the defending king to draw) for these endgames in pages 316-320 of Fundamental Chess Endings4. It is complicated, but worth reviewing.
Chris Shepard published an excellent tutorial for a related endgame, king and queen vs king and pawn, in "The Chess Correspondent"5. It is also worth careful study.
1. Alburt, Lev, Krogius, Nikolay, Just the Facts! Winning Endgame Knowledge in One Volume, W.W. Norton, New York, 2001.
2. Alburt, Lev, Lawrence, Al, Chess for the Gifted and Busy, Second Revised Edition, W.W. Norton, New York, 2015.
3. Fine, Reuben, Basic Chess Endings, David McKay Company, New York, 1941, Benko Revised Edition, Random House, New York, 2003.
4. Mueller, Karsten, Lamprecht, Frank, Fundamental Chess Endings, Gambit Publications, London, 2001.
5. Shepard, Chris, "Endgame Tutorials", The Chess Correspondent, Oct-Dec 2015, V88, No4, pp 86-87.