FM Steve Stoyko gave an excellent lecture on "Bishop Endings" at the Kenilworth Chess Club in September 2011. I have reproduced about half of his examples, with the goal of conveying the main themes he discussed. These included exploiting the short diagonal, needing "two weaknesses" to win, using the more active king, fixing targets on both sides of the board, deflection, and zugzwang.
The Short Diagonal
In B+P v B endings, the defender can draw if he can either sacrifice his Bishop for the pawn or place his King in front of the pawn on an opposite color square from the attacker's bishop. The superior side can win if he can push the pawn forward enough to shorten one of the defending Bishop's diagonals to three squares or fewer. The win is then executed by first chasing the defending Bishop off of the long diagonal and then taking advantage of the situation on the short diagonal to decoy the defender from covering the queening square.
From Nimzovich's My System
White to play
In the following ending, it is too late for the Black king to get in front of the pawn, but it looks at first like the black bishop will be able to safely guard the queening square using the long diagonal. However, if White can get his bishop to b8 he will force Black to defend along the short diagonal from a7 - b8 only, when the win is easy to achieve. This ending is given in Aaron Nimzovich's classic My System, where he writes: "The Black bishop is here defending, and the White bishop threatens to get to b8 via h4-f2-a7. However, it looks as if this threat can be parried with the King."
"Forcing the black bishop to move while preventing Bd6" says Nimzovich -- we will eventually see why it is so important to get that bishop to move from its original position on the other short diagonal, from g1 - h2, where it stands in the original diagram.
Now the Bishop forces the Black king back to c6 to guard against the threat of Be7-d8-c7.
Gaining the critical tempo: "Black will no longer have time for the resource Kb5-a6 whch he used before, for White has managed to gain a move" writes Nimzovich. Note that he could not gain this move if the black bishop were at either h2 or d6.
Forcing the black bishop off of the long diagonal; it is now forced to go to the short diagonal of a7-b8 to prevent the queening. But this diagonal is too short and the bishop is easily deflected from its task of guarding b8.
and wins. "A lovely ending" Nimzovich concludes.
Loek Van Wely (2400) - Vladimir Kramnik (2450) [A90]
EU-ch U20/Arnhem (8) 1990
The following game offers an excellent illustration of how "two weaknesses" are needed to win. In endings of Bishops of the same color, those weaknesses stand out like sore thumbs because they are pawns on the same color as the Bishops themselves. Smart players like Kramnik know how to set up these weaknesses in the middlegame. And they also know how to do some far-sighted planning to win these endings.
I was rather surprised not to find this instructive game in Sverre Johnsen's excellent "Win with the Stonewall Dutch," especially since Kramnik follows Johnsen's recommended set up so completely. But I guess White's play is not the most challenging.
Heading to f6 to pressure the isolated pawn.
Headed for a Bishop ending where the d4 pawn will present an important target.
Trying to fix White's kingside pawns on dark squares.
Simplifying Black's task by giving him the pure Bishop ending he seeks.
Black's active King is an important part of his winning advantage.
Fixing a second pawn on dark squares, fulfilling the intention behind 29...h5! Black now has two weaknesses to attack and an active King, which is all he needs to guartantee a win.
How will Black make progress toward the White weaknesses, as there is no entry way on the kingside? The answer is provided by the remainder of the game: the Black king must embark on an epic journey via the queenside in order to infiltrate the White position and attack White's kingside weakness from behind!
White has no active plan: he has no targets of attack and is prevented from gaining entry himself on either the kingside or the queenside.
The a-pawn will be exchanged for the b-pawn to help clear the way for the invasion. This will leave only the two weaknesses and Black's more active king -- the purest possible demonstration of the elements needed to win a bishop ending!
White cannot prevent the Black King's penetration even by 51. Kc2 Ka3 (51... Bb4?! 52. Bf2 (52. Bxb4? Kxb4 53. Kd3 Kb3) 52... Ba5 53. Kb2) 52. Bf2 Kb4 53. Kd3 Kb3 54. Be1 Kb2! (54... Bb4?! 55. Bf2 Bc3 56. Be3 (56. Ke3 Kc4 57. Kf4 Bxd4 58. Be1) 56... Be1 57. Bf4 Bf2=) 55. Bf2 Kc1 etc.
Stiffer resistance might be offered by 55. Bf4 Bb4! (55... Bxf4?! 56. gxf4 Ke1 57. f5 g3 58. f6 g2 59. f7 g1=Q 60. f8=Q=) 56. Bd2!! (Panchenko) 56... Be7 (56... Bxd2= is stalemate) 57. Bf4 Ke1 58. Ke3 Bb4 59. Be5 Bd2+ 60. Kd3 Bg5 61. Kc3 Ke2 62. Kb4 Kf3 63. Kc5 Ke4
A fascinating echo of the stalemate theme shown above -- but in this case it is zugzwang.
Having defeated all resistance, the Black King renews his epic quest to win the g-pawn.
and one of the two weaknesses must fall. An absolutely stunning game from Kramnik.
The More Active King
In all endings, the player with the more active King has a significant advantage, and this is no less true in bishop endings. Even where there is no guaranteed breakthrough, the active King can sometimes provoke the opponent to create weaknesses.
George Alan Thomas - Savielly Tartakower [C11]
Hastings (2) 1945
1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Nf6 5. Bg5 Be7 6. Nxf6+ Bxf6 7. Bxf6 Qxf6 8. c3
Luring White into his next to prevent the imagined threat of a5-a4.
Creating a tragic weakness on the light squares. This one weakness, though, may not have been enough to give Black a forced win. And we should note that White can definitely save the game by activating his King: 23. Kf1 Kd6 24. Ke2 h6 25. Ke3 Ke5
Black's more active King is important in making a win possible, though it does not guarantee victory on its own. Here, though, the threat of its invasion may have been stronger than its execution -- provoking White into a critical error.
Black now threatens to fatally weaken White's pawns by exchanging on a4, but for White to exchange pawns is even worse, since that gives Black a winning outside passed pawn.
Though a4 was a mistake, this seems the fatal error as otherwise it is not easy to see how Black penetrates the White position. Therefore 27. g3 is much more challenging, since there is no obvious breakthrough for Black after 27... bxa4 (27... h6 28. f4 f6 29. Bd1 Bf5 30. Kd2 is not more promising) 28. bxa4 Kc4 29. Kd2 Though the Black King remains more active and has targets, there is no clear path to victory.
White can make no progress on the kingside for a counter-attack, so Black's outside passer on the queenside decides the game.
Not the most challenging defense, but White is lost in any event:
and Black will force fatal penetration on the dark squares. Despite his more active King and the weakness at a4, I do not think Black should have won this game against best defense. And this makes sense, since White had only one weakness and not two. However, the game offers a wonderful illustration of the power of the more active king.
It is difficult or impossible to win endings with bishops of opposite color because the superior player can never push the defender's bishop off of a critical square that his passed pawn needs to cross. With bishops of the same color, however, you can typically chase the bishop away, often using the theme of deflection or decoy, where you sacrifice your bishop in order to force the defender to abandon his coverage of the critical queening square. The following ending offers a wonderful illustration of this theme.
Anthony Miles - Sergio Mariotti [D91]
1. d4 Nf6 2. Nf3 g6 3. c4 Bg7 4. Nc3 d5 5. Bg5 Ne4 6. cxd5 Nxg5 7. Nxg5 e6 8. Nf3 exd5 9. e3
Fixing Black's pawns -- especially the h7 pawn -- on light squares where they can be targets.
There was no need to prevent Kc5, as now Black is just a short step away from zugzwang and must eventually give ground.
White puts his last pawn on a dark square and spends a tempo to force Black to make a concession.
Black may still have drawing chances, and he can gain a critical tempo on the game line with 44... Bf5! 45. Ba4 (45. Bxf5 gxf5 46. Kd3 Kd6 47. Kd4 (47. a4 Kc5 48. Kc3 Kc6!=) 47... a4=) 45... d4+! 46. exd4+ Kd5 47. Bb3+ Ke4 48. Bxf7 (48. d5 is similar) 48... Kxf4 49. d5 Kxg5 50. d6 Kxh6 51. Be8 g5 52. d7 Bxd7 53. Bxd7 Kh5 and I'm not sure White can win this, despite the fact that his Bishop can control the queening square of his pawn.
A wonderful illustration of the deflection theme. Obviously if 51...hxg6, the White h-pawn marches freely to the queening square. So Black must play 51...Bxg6, but then the Bishop cannot stop two passed pawns and is eventually deflected by one from guarding the other: 52.d6 Bf5 (or 52...Be8) 53.g6! etc.
Fixing Targets on Both Sides of the Board
As we have seen in the previous two examples, you can guarantee that you will have two weaknesses to attack by blocking or "fixing" your opponent's pawns on the same color square as your bishop. Two targets become especially decisive when they are on opposite sides of the board, so that the attacker can switch from one to the other at the decisive moment. The following game offers an especially good illustration of fixing targets on both sides of the board.
R. Ofek (2245) - Y. Gruenfeld (2475) [B22]
ch-ISR/Ramat Aviv ISR (1.2) 1998
1. e4 c5 2. c3 Nf6 3. e5 Nd5 4. d4 cxd4 5. Nf3 Nc6 6. Bc4 Nb6 7. Bb3 d5 8. exd6 Qxd6 9.
Fixing White's pawns on dark where they are targets for the Bishop.
37. gxh4 looks like a better try, though White's pawns are then damaged.
Fixing a second target on dark squares, while also establishing a pawn very near to the queening square (which Black will later exploit). I should probably call this another theme.
Black exchanges the isolated d-pawn in order to better target White's weaknesses on opposite sides of the board. The White king tied down to the center, to keep the Black king from penetrating, and the White bishop is unable to guard targets on both sides of the board.
One pawn falls.
Black switches back to the kingside, where nothing can be done to stop Bxg3, deflecting the defender's pawn in order to push through his own to the queening square.
As in all endings, zugzwang or "the compulsion to make a bad move," is often important to exploit. The study-like quality of this game's conclusion is suprising to find in an actual game and offers a memorable example of the power of zugzwang.
Joseph Pinter - Boris Alterman [E15]
Beer Sheva 1991
1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 b6 4. g3 Ba6 5. b3 Bb4+ 6. Bd2 Be7 7. Nc3 d5 8. cxd5 Nxd5 9. Nxd5 exd5 10. Bg2
White struggles to find the thread.
Now he has found the idea.
Beautiful symmetry! Black resigned as he will be in zugzwang after.
Games in PGN
Copyright © 2011 by Michael Goeller