Endgame Series 18 – Opposite-colored bishops: Part 1
Hello, Dear chess friends!
In the previous two issues of Endgame series, we have discussed endgames with bishops of the same color. It seems, though, that in practice even more often we get endgames with bishops of opposite color. I am not sure why this is the case, but certainly, these types of endgames deserve special attention from chess players of all levels.
In this issue, we will, therefore, make a natural transition from same-colored bishops to opposite-colored bishops endgames. One peculiar and well-known feature of such endgames is that they can have drawish tendencies even when the weaker side is down several pawns. This is due to the powerful defensive technique called blockade. The blockade is, of course, possible in various types of endgames, but it is probably best pronounced exactly in opposite-colored bishops endgames. The reason for that is simple – with the bishops attacking squares of opposite color, it is impossible for them to ever get in “contact” with one another. Therefore, if the weaker side can set up a blockade on, say, light squares, the opponent may not be able to break it with his dark-squared bishop. While blockade may indeed be a very reliable defensive technique for the weaker side, there is a flip side to it. In such endgames, the stronger side usually faces no resistance on the squares of the color of its own bishop. Sometimes, by penetrating with its king along these squares, it can secure the victory. Needless to say, kings and pawns (especially passed ones) play an extremely active and important role in such endgames and the outcome of the game very often depends on them. For that reason, quite often we see some brilliant, even study-like ideas in endgames with opposite-colored bishops, which some people (mistakenly) take for boring. The final part of the game Topalov-Shirov from 1998., which we will analyze in the next issue, is just one point in case. In this issue, I have picked examples where basic techniques, such as pawn breakthrough and king's penetration, as well as their prevention, hold the keys to the evaluation of endgames with opposite-colored bishops. Having this basic knowledge will be important as we study more complex endgames of this sort in the upcoming issues. For the start, let us take a look at a basic example of how the weaker side can hold a draw being two pawns down by the virtue of blockade.