ETHS chess team at the National High School Championships in Washington. Henry Zaslow and Adam Elgat are second and third from the left, along with (from left) Elijah Platnick, Jonah Chen, Chris von Hoff and Nathan Melnikov. Credit: Keith Holzmueller

As American grandmaster Edmar Mednis once said, “The amount of points that can be gained (and saved) by correct endgame play is enormous, yet often underestimated by youngsters and amateurs.” This year’s ETHS chess team was fortunate to have players who took endgames seriously and won, or saved, games by outplaying their opponents in the final phase of the game.

Two recent cases in point were seen at the last round of last month’s National High School Championships, where Adam Elgat saved a potentially lost endgame and Henry Zaslow turned an endgame that should have been drawn into a win. These two extra half-points were the difference between an 11th-place finish and the team’s actual finish in sixth place in this national competition.

National High School Championship, Round 7

White: Chen-Chen Ye
Black: Adam Elgat, ETHS

Facing a higher-rated opponent, Elgat kept the game even until a mistake late in the middlegame landed him in a pawn-down endgame.

White to move

35a3 a5 36Ne5! Kf6! 37Nc6 a4

White to move

38Nd4? Nd3 White wins black’s b-pawn but will lose his own b-pawn. He should have played 38Nb4! to maintain winning possibilities on both sides of the board. With the knight on b4, black can’t move his knight to d3 without allowing a knight trade and a king and pawn endgame that would be easily won for white.

39Nxb5 Nxb2 40Ke2 Ke5 Any knight move by white lets black play Nc4, winning white’s remaining queenside pawn. White’s king is too far away to help protect the a-pawn.

41h4 Nc4 White can’t activate his king and knight without letting black liquidate the remaining queenside pawns.

42Nc3 Nxa3 43Nxa4 Nc4

White to move

With all the pawns on one side of the board, black can draw by trading off pawns and eventually trading his knight for white’s remaining pawn(s). White played on for many moves until his remaining pawns, and winning chances, were off the board.

National High School Championship, Round 7

White: Henry Zaslow, ETHS
Black: Christian Karlseng

Zaslow had a winning advantage at one point in the middlegame, but after some complications the game simplified into an endgame with opposite colored bishops and even pawns. Games with this material situation are normally drawn, but Zaslow’s advanced pawns, and potentially active king, allow him to try for an advantage in this game.

Black to move

31…Kf8? Black needs to act quickly to keep his position from deteriorating. A better plan is 31…d4! 32 Kd2 f6! 33exf6 Kf7. Black will capture white’s pawn on f6, while his pawn on d4 and bishop on a6 keep white’s king from advancing. A draw would be very likely.

32Kd2?! Advancing the king is logical, but it’s better to play 32Bc3! to keep black from playing d4 and f6.

32…Kg7?! Black misses his last chance to play d4. White now has a chance to make progress.

33Bc3! Kg6 34Bd4?! b5? White will now gain control of the kingside. Black should have played 34…f4! 35gxf4 Kf5 36Ke3 b5. Getting his king to the f5 square is more important than the sacrificed f-pawn.  

35Ke3 Bb7 36Kf4 Ba6 37h3 h5 38f3 Bb7 39g4?! This move produces a passed pawn, but there is an even better plan for white. After 39h4! Bc6 40Ke3 Kh7 41Kd3, white has locked down the kingside and is ready to advance his king into black’s queenside.

39…fxg4 40fxg4 hxg4 41Kxg4 White intends to advance and sacrifice his passed h-pawn so that his king can advance and capture black’s pawn on f7. This looks like a winning plan, but black has a hard-to-see defensive resource.

Black to move

41…Ba6? Black can stay in the game by playing 41…Ba8! 42h4 Bc6! With his bishop on c6, black can respond to 43h5+ Kh6 44Kf5 Kxh5 45Kxf7 by playing 45…Kf5 46Ke7 Ke4, when black threatens white’s bishop and plans to advance his passed d-pawn.

42h4 b4 After 42…Bb7 white reaches a winning position after 43h5+ Kh6 44Kf5 Kxh5 45Kf6 Kg4 46Kxf7, when black can’t stop white’s threat to play e6, followed by d7.

43h5+! Kh7 44axb4 Be2+ 45Kg5

Black to move

White is easily winning, thanks to his two passed pawns and dominant king. Black ran out of time at move 49.

Keith Holzmueller has been the head coach of the Evanston Township High School Chess Club and Team since 2017. He became a serious chess player during his high school years. As an adult player, he obtained...

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