Sunday, December 19, 2010

Ulf Andersson's Dynamic Endgame Play (Part 1)

For a certain type of chess player, I imagine, there exists the following hierarchy: First, there are boring chess games; second, there are incredibly tedious chess games; and last, somewhere between somnolence and apathy, there are the games of Ulf Andersson.

This reputation for boring play is not entirely undeserved as Andersson, especially in recent years, has had a tendency to agree to many short draws.  Witness Andersson-Ruck, Banja Luka 2007:

1.Nf3 g6 2.c4 Bg7 3.Nc3 c5 4.g3 Nc6 5.Bg2 e6 6.e3 Nge7 7.O-O O-O 8.d4 d6 9.b3 d5 10.cxd5 cxd4 11.Nxd4 Nxd4 12.exd4 Nxd5 13.Nxd5 exd5 14.Be3 1/2-1/2

In that tournament, Andersson scored 4.5/9, a perfect record of nine draws with no wins and no losses.  His games with White, in particular, consisted of draws of 14, 25, 14, and 11 moves.

I don't know Andersson's reasons for agreeing to so many short draws, but I can speculate, based in part on his recent tendency to drop out of open tournaments before they are over, that perhaps he feels with particular acuteness the phenomenon, known to so many chess players, that the pain of a loss far outweighs the pleasure of a victory.

But Andersson's games were not always like the one quoted above and, indeed, in the past a simplified position like the one reached at the end of Andersson-Ruck would have been the starting point for a long attempt to grind out a win, rather than the time to shake hands.

In this post and its sequels, I will discuss some of Andersson's fascinating wins in the endgame.  In addition to showing that Andersson's games are not all boring, I want to make another point about the nature of good endgame play.  For some players--probably including many of the ones who find Andersson boring--endgame play is a matter of slowly and patiently grinding away with a static advantage (like a knight on a strong outpost) or against a static weakness (like a weak pawn).  The exploitation of static advantages is of course a key component of good endgame play, but very often, to win in a simplified position, one must play dynamically.  As there come to be fewer pieces on the board, the differences in their activity can assume decisive significance.  Andersson is a master of such dynamic endgame play.

Let's start with a simple example:

Munich 1979

1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.g3 b6 4.Bg2 Bb7 5.O-O g6 6.b3 Bg7 7.Bb2 O-O 8.Nc3 d5 9.Nxd5 Nxd5 10.Bxg7 Kxg7 11.cxd5 Qxd5 12.d4 cxd4 13.Qxd4+ Qxd4 14.Nxd4 Bxg2 15.Nxg2 a6

What position could appear more drawish than this one?  The pawn structure is symmetrical and the queens and three minor pieces have been exchanged.  The only apparent difference is in the relative activity of the knights--White's is in the middle of the board (though not on an unassailable square, since Black can attack it with ...e5) while Black's remains on b8, interfering with the coordination of the rooks. This difference might not seem like much--and, indeed, a draw is perhaps still the most likely result--but one lesson from this game is that the importance of a difference in activity between a single pair of pieces is greater in the endgame than in the middlegame.


A year earlier, in Andersson-Hort, Niksic 1978, Andersson preferred 16.Rfc1, though it is not clear that the choice of rook makes much of a difference, since White's plan is to double the rooks on the c-file.  Andersson achieved a substantial advantage in that game, but was not able to put it away.


White's threat to invade on c7 already forces this awkward move. If 16...Nd7 17.Rc7 Rfd8 18.Rd1 (threatening Nc6) and Black is already somewhat tied up, although no immediate win is obvious.


17.f4, creating an artificial support point for the knight and gaining space, is another approach to the position, played by Korchnoi, among others. Andersson's move is more direct and shows that he does not fear further simplification. Still, 17.f4 might well have been better.

17...Rd8 18.e3 e5

This move shows one reason that White might have preferred to play 17.f4. The knight gets chased back from its active post.

19.Nf3 f6 20.g4 Rd6?!

Black is trying to find a way to coordinate his rooks and get his knight out, but this move is not the best way to do it. 20...Rad7 21.Rfc1 Kf7 looks better. The knight actually plays a useful function at b8, preventing the White rooks from invading at c6, and Black can afford to coordinate his other forces before moving the knight, especially now that the White's knight is ineffectively placed.

21.Rfc1 Nd7 22. Rc6!
(Not fearing advantageous simplification.) Rxc6 23. Rxc6 Kf7 24. Nd2!
White's advantage is now reaching serious proportions. The knight is threatening to go to c4 or e4, targeting the weaknesses on b6 and f6.

24...Ke7 25. Ne4! Rb7 26. b4 Rb8 27. Nc3! f5?! Black has virtually no useful move, but a waiting move like 26...Rb7 was probably better than this pawn advance, which only creates new weaknesses on the kingside dark squares.


White's rook and knight completely dominate their Black counterparts.

28...Kf7 29. Kg3 Now the White king advances into the fray.

28... h5?
Under pressure, Black drops a pawn.

30. gxf5 gxf5 31. Rd6 Rb7 32. Kh4 Kg7 33. Kxh5 1-0

Black is helpless to avoid additional material losses. Every one of Andersson's pieces is vastly more active than its Black counterpart.

In future posts, I will look at other examples of Andersson's dynamic play in the endgame.


  1. You really need a comment for 20.g4. Its probably the move of the game.

    An explanation would help the masses with why it so important.