All the same these rook endgames are never won!
The final match for the crown is a real endgame manual where the theme is "mysterious survivals in totally lost positions". You can judge it by yourself: in the second game Kosteniuk did not win the rook ending three pawns up, in the third game she drew with two extra pawns! Aleksandra had 5 spare pawns in the two endgames. The analysis showed that these results were just: the drawing tendencies were too strong, and Hou revealed all the defensive resources needed to survive.
In the third game the Chinese player again demonstrated her phenomenal tenacity and fantastic defensive technique.
Hou Yifan started with a good novelty, won a pawn and got the initiative, However, did not use the benefits of her position. Black managed to get a good counterplay which confused the Chinese girl and she made a blunder - 28.dxc4? After this move the result of the game and of the match was in the hands of the Russian. However, Kosteniuk did not use her chance. In the time trouble Aleksandra exchanged the last pair of minor pieces and reached the dangerous draw territory again.
HOU YIFAN - Aleksandra KOSTENIUK
Ruy Lopez C88
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 0-0 8.h3. A new attempt to avoid the old lines. Instead of pushing the a-pawn, the Chinese makes a symmetrical move on the kingside.
9...d5! The total success of the Marshall Attack pushed the players to sacrifice on e5 in other lines too. There is already a big chain of such schemes, where Black gets good initiative for a central pawn. The ideas of Marshall live and win!
10.exd5 Nxd5 11.Nxe5 (the most principled) 11...Nd4. Good maneuver. The exchange of the strong bishop on b3 guarantees Black the two bishops advantage in the future.
13.c3. I am sure that this novelty will be studied in the best chess laboratories all over the world.
Previously grandmasters tried to avoid weakening the light squares, However, this did not bring any advantage. For example, 13.Ndf3 Nxb3 14.axb3 f6 15.Ng4 Qd7 16.Bd2 c5 17.Qe2 h5 18.Ngh2 Bd6 19.Qf1, draw, Ivanchuk-Svidler, Foros 2008, and it feels like Black is better here.
13...Nxb3 14.Nxb3 (Nb3-a5 is a threat, so Black's reply is forced) 14...c5 (14...Bd6 15.Na5!) 15.Qh5! White does not think about defending, unlike in the previous games, However, irritates Black with one-move threats and forces her to create pawn weaknesses.
15...g6! Probably, the best. It is almost impossible to decide for 15...f6 16.Qf7+ at the board. Though in the analysis the idea proved to be correct: 16...Kh8 17.Nf3 Rf8 18.Qh5 g6 19.Qh6 (19.Qg4 f5 20.Qg3 f4!) 19...Qc7 - Black parries White's threats and arranges the pieces conveniently.
16.Qf3 f6. The next strike of Hou Yifan produced shock among the spectators.
17.Nxg6. The speed of performing the move spoke for the home preparation. However, during the game and in the analysis I got the feeling that this sharp operation doesn't provide White with good perspectives.
In my opinion, 17.Ng4! is simple and strong. Black is defeated after 17...Qd7? 18.c4! Nb4 19.Rxe7! Qxe7 20.Qxf6 and so on.
17...Qc7! is more reliable, now 18.Qe2?! is not good for White: 18...Bd6 19.Qxe8+ Rxe8 20.Rxe8+ Kf7 21.Re1 h5, and the knight must be placed on h6, as on 22.Ne3 Black continues with 22...Nf4 23.d4 Nxg2! 24.Nxg2 Qc6! with unavoidable threats. That is why 18.c4 is the move: 18...Nb4 19.Qe2 (19.Rxe7 is not enough: 19...Rxe7 20.Nxf6+ Kh8 21.Ne4 Nxd3!) 19...Qc6 20.f3 Bf8.
We come to another important moment. Complications after 21.Be3 f5 are good for Black. For example, 22.Na5 (or 22.Nf2 f4 23.Ne4 fxe3 24.a3 bxc4 25.dxc4 Qb6 26.axb4 Bxe4!) 22...Qb6 23.a3 Nd5! 24.cxd5 fxg4 25.Nxb7 gxh3 26.Qf2 Qxb7 27.Bxc5 Qxd5 with the initiative.
21.Qxe8 is more cautious: 21...Rxe8 22.Rxe8 Kf7 23.Re2 Nxd3 24.Na5 Qc7 25.Nxb7 Qxb7.
Black's activity should be enough for the positive result in the endgame. Of course everything I said needs to be studied more carefully.
17...hxg6 18.c4 (White wins a piece back) 18...Qd7. In my opinion, 18...Rb8 19.cxd5 Qxd5 is even stronger - the exchange of queens leads to a comfortable ending for Black.
19.cxd5 (in case of 19.Na5 Nb4 20.Nxb7 Nc2 White does not have enough compensation for an exchange) 19...Bxd5. Take a look how strong the bishop on d5 is! It is almost impossible to believe that the Chinese team considered the compensation for a pawn insufficient during the home analysis. However, I do not see another explanation.
20.Qg3 g5! The toughest and most aggressive reply. Black is ready to upset White's queen after Be7-d6. Reliable move 20...Kf7 suggested itself, and only in case of 21.Bf4 Black plays 21...g5! The following variation is interesting: 21.Be3 Bxb3!? (21...Rac8 22.Nd2!?) 22.axb3 Qxd3 23.Qc7 Rec8 24.Qb7 Rcb8 25.Qf3!, and here not 25...Qxb3? 26.Bxc5!, However, 25...Rd8 allows Black to hold the equality.
21...Rac8. Honestly, I was surprised by this decision a lot. It was so difficult to stay away from 21...Bd6. The counterstrike on ñ5, of course doesn't work, and 22.f4 is too risky. That's why 22.Qg4 is forced: 22...Qxg4 23.hxg4 Rac8 and... we reach the position from the game!
22.Qg4. Incredible modesty! It was the part of the game when the spectator of any level could not guess any move of the players.
22.f4! is absolutely natural. Not only positional, but the sportive point of the game forces White to attack. However, Hou Yifan did not go for it for some reason. I cannot explain why. She must have realized that in the endgame Black would have serious positional benefits...
On the press-conference, being asked about the possibility of 22.f4, Kosteniuk mentioned that in her opinion this move can harm White as a boomerang and that is why the choice of Hou Yifan did not surprise her.
Although after this move a very complicated encounter will appear. It is possible: 22...Bd6 23.Qf2 Qc7! (not everyone would find this move and all the following nuances) 24.fxg5 Bh2+ (24...Bg3 25.Qf5!) 25.Kh1 Qg3! 26.Nd2 (26.Nxc5 Rxe3!) 26...Qxh3 27.Ne4 Bxe4 (27...Rxe4? 28.gxh3) 28.dxe4 Qh7 29.g6 Qh8! 30.Qf5 Rcd8 31.Qh3 Qxh3 32.gxh3 Be5 33.Bxc5 Rd2
And this very original endgame with two extra pawns for White can be won only by...Black.
After all said the preferable move in the position is 24.Rf1, and Black is practically forced to sacrifice an exchange: 24...Rxe3 25.Qxe3 Bxf4 26.Qf2 Qd6 27.Rae1, and unpredictable game with three possible results is in front...
22...Qxg4 23.hxg4. Is it possible to win such an endgame with White? It seems to be just unreal. Black has the bishop pair and better pawn structure. The bishop on d5 is especially good. If the game opens (and this is what happened in actual game) Black will have dangerous activity.
23...Bd6 (23...Kf7 is more precise) 24.Rec1. In case of 24.Rac1 Kf7! White still can't take on ñ5, and the a2 pawn becomes weak.
24...Kf7. Calm and strong.
25.Nd2. Bad is 25.Nxc5? Rxe3! And 25.Bxc5, firstly, lets Black transfer the game into a nearly equal ending with the opposite-colored bishops, and, secondly, it allows an interesting counterattack: 25...Bf4!? 26.Rc3 Rh8!, which leads to troubles for Black again and again in my analysis.
25...Be5! (White's queenside is under big pressure) 26.Rc2 Be6 (and kingside too) 27.Ne4. In the variation 27.f3 Red8 28.Ne4 Rxd3 29.Bxc5 Kg6! it is very difficult to find the next move for White.
27...c4. For the third time in the match we notice the same situation - in the middle of the game Hou Yifan gets tired and starts making unforced mistakes.
28.dxc4? Why she opens the center for Black's bishops, and the b-file for Black's rooks? Obviously, the center should remain closed: 28.d4 Bb8 29.Nc5 Bxg4 30.Nxa6 Bd6 31.Nc5: White holds an extra pawn while Black stays with dangerous initiative.
The game could proceed 31...Re7! (the pressure on the e3-bishop doesn't let White to play f2-f3) 32.a4 (extremely dangerous for White is 32.Re1 Bf5 33.Rcc1 Ra7! 34.a3 Rh8 35.f3 Bg3 36.Bf2 Bh2+ 37.Kf1 Bf4!) 32...bxa4 33.Rxc4 (33.Rxa4 Bd1) 33...Rh8 34.Rc3 (However, not 34.Rcxa4? Bh2+ 35.Kf1 Bf4 36.Kg1 Rxe3!) 34...Bh2+ 35.Kf1 Bf4 36.Kg1 Bh2+ 37.Kf1 Bf4, draw.
28...Rxc4! (the defender of the b2-pawn must be traded) 29.Rxc4 bxc4. The roles are clear now. Black is the stronger side. White's queenside is on the edge of total disappearance.
30.Rd1. 30.Re1 leads to very complicated but still dangerous for White endgame: Rb8 31.Ba7! Rxb2 (31...Rb7 32.Bd4!) 32.Nxg5+ fxg5 33.Rxe5 c3 34.Be3 c2 35.Rc5 Rxa2 36.f3 a5!
30...Rb8 (30...Bxb2? 31.Nd6+) 31.b3! The only chance. White should try to exchange as many pieces and pawns as possible. 31.Bd4 did not work due to 31...Rd8!.
One of the most important moments in the game. It seems exactly here Kosteniuk lost her chance to finish the match ahead of the schedule.
32...Rxb3. Loses the biggest part of the advantage. During the game it seemed that 32...Bxb3 is practically winning, and the analysis proved the strength of this move: 33.Rc1 (or 33.Rd7+ Kg6 34.Ra7 Bd5 35.Nd2 Ra8!) 33...a5!? (not necessary but interesting) 34.Rc5 a4 35.Nxg5+ Ke8 36.Nf3 Bb2! 37.Nd2 Bg8 38.Nc4 a3 39.Nxa3 Bxa3 40.Rf5 Be7. A very difficult defense awaits for White as it is impossible to exchange the pawns: 41.g5 Be6 42.Ra5 Rb1+ 43.Kh2 Bd6+ 44.f4 f5!.
Maybe 32...Bxg4! is even stronger: 33.f3 (33.Rd3 is not good: 33...Be2 34.Rd2 Rxb3!) 33...Be6 34.Nc5 (on 34.Nd6+ Kg6 35.Nc4 except from moving the e5-bishop Black has an easy reply: 35...Bxc4 36.bxc4 a5) 34...Bxb3! 35.Rd7+ (35.Rb1 Bc4!) 35...Ke8! 36.Ra7 (inhuman resource 36.g3 doesn't worth analyzing as Hou Yifan can't play like this) 36...Bc4, and White doesn't have tempi to capture on à6 because of 37.Nxa6? Rb1+ 38.Kf2 Rf1#!
33.Bd4! (the exchange of the bishops makes the task of White easier) 33...Bxg4 34.f3 Bxd4+ 35.Rxd4 Be6. No chances for success are left after 35...Bf5 36.Nd6+ Ke6 37.Nxf5 Kxf5 38.Ra4, e.g., 38...Rb6 39.Kf2 Ke5 40.Ke3 Kd5 41.f4 gxf4+ 42.Kxf4 Kc5 43.Ra1 Rc6 44.Kf5 Kb6 45.Rb1+ Ka7 46.Ra1 Kb7 47.Rb1+ Rb6 48.Ra1, and there is no more resources for an encounter.
36.Rd6! (36.Nc5 is not so convincing: 36...Rb6!) 36...a5 37.Nc5 (a trap: 37.Rxe6? Rb1+! Is too obvious) 37...Rb1+ 38.Kf2 Bf5 39.Ra6. 39.g4, suggested by spectators, also leads to the goal: 39...Rb5 40.Rc6 Bc2 41.Rc7+! (41.Nd7?! Ba4!) 41...Kg6 (41...Ke8 42.Nb7!; 41...Kg8 42.Nd7!) 42.Ne6 Bb1 43.Rg7+ Kh6 44.Rf7=.
39...Rb5 40.Ne4 (40.Ra7+ Kg6 41.Nb7 just pushes the pawn- 41...a4!) 40...Bxe4 41.fxe4. Here it is - the rook endgame. An extra pawn does not give Black a victory.
41...Rb2+. The following variation was obvious also during the game: 41...f5 42.exf5 Rxf5+ 43.Ke3 Ke7 44.g4! Rb5 45.Kd4 Kd7 46.Kc4 Re5 47.Kd4 Rb5 48.Kc4 - the eternal pursuit of Black's rook forces further exchanges: 48...Rb4+ 49.Kc3 Ra4 50.Kb3 Rxg4 (50...Ra1 51.Rg6) 51.Rxa5 Ke6 52.Kc3 Kf6 53.Kd3 Rf4 54.Ke3 Kg6 55.Ra1 Kh5 56.Rh1+ Rh4 57.Rg1 Rh2 (57...Rh3+ 58.Kf2 Kh4 59.Rc1) 58.Kf3 Kh4 59.Rg4+! and White achieves what she wants - a draw.
42.Kf3 Ra2 43.Kg3! Absolutely right! The counterattack 43.e5? fxe5 (43...f5? 44.Rf6+) 44.Ke4 is tempting, However, White lacks exactly one tempo in all the variations: 44...Rxg2 45.Kf5 (45.Kxe5? loses too: 45...Rf2!; and 45.Rxa5 Rf2!) 45...Kg7! 46.Rxa5 Kh6! 47.Ra8 (47.Rxe5 Kh5) 47...Rf2+ 48.Kxe5 g4! and so on.
43...a4 44.Kf3 a3 45.Kg3 (it is enough to stay and wait) 45...Ra1 46.Kh2.
46...a2 What else? With a pawn on a3 Black's king can't leave its position: 46...Ke7 47.Kg3 Kd7 48.Rxf6! Re1 49.Ra6 and the draw is obvious.
47.Kg3 Ke7 48.Kh2 Kd7. Now White's rook is stuck to a-file. Black's king goes to the pawn on e4 and captures it! However, this success doesn't guarantee the victory.
49.Kg3 Kc7 50.Kh2 Kb7 51.Ra3 Kb6 52.Ra8 Kb5 53.Rb8+ Kc4 54.Ra8 Kd4 (54...Kb3 55.Rb8+!) 55.Ra4+ Kd3! (on 55...Ke3 White replies with 56.Kg3!) 56.Kg3 Ke3 57.Kh2 Kf4. 57...Kf2 brings nothing - 58.Ra6!
White is in zugzwang. However, not in despair!
58.e5+! The only move which saves the game. 58.g3+? is a step to a disaster: 58...Kf3 59.g4 Re1! 60.Ra3+ Re3 61.Rxa2 Re2+, and Black wins the pawn ending.
58...Kxe5 59.g4! That's it. An unbreakable fortress is on the board. Black did not have time to play f6-f5, and it tells us that there is no chance to create another passed pawn on the f-file.
59...Kd5 60.Kg2 Kc5 61.Ra8 Kb4 62.Ra6 Kc4 63.Ra3 Kd4 64.Ra6 Ke5 (on 64...Ke3 the easiest is 65.Re6+! Kf4 66.Rxf6+ Kxg4 67.Ra6 with a theoretical draw) 65.Ra4 Ke6 66.Ra8 Ke5 67.Ra4.
67...Re1 (Sasha fights until the end, but there is already no chance for success)
68.Rxa2 Kf4 69.Rf2+ Kxg4 70.Rxf6 Re2+ 71.Kg1 Kg3 72.Rf1. Draw.