….or lack thereof.
The opening went well. I offered a draw after 25…Rd5, and then he traded queens as anticipated, and I thought I had the draw. Unexpectedly, mental fatigue kicked in on move 34.Kf6. I had planned 34.h5, which is nearly equal, but then it seemed impossible to calculate whether he could round up my e-pawn or not with rook and king.
After the game, he tried about forty moves of permutations, but could not do it. However, there are some tricky traps that Stockfish showed me such as don’t let your king get cut off on h-file, or bewary of king on f-file, since he can check on f-file and then f2 pawn is protected. He could later even pin the rook along the fourth rank and make the f-pawn a passer, but that also is a draw, and the e-pawn can’t be won without dropping the f2 pawn.
This all seemed ironic to me as he was willing to concede a draw in the post-mortem without trying to play out the “drawn ending” of rook and pawn vs. rook. He kicked my king so far back, in the post-mortem that I was never drawing that “drawn” ending, even though I had seen the technique before on more than one occasion. He was always mating me or promoting, even though I sent my king to the short-side and tried to get rook behind pawn and check him once his pawn was on the 7th rank.
When I played this ending against the computer, that extra pawn was immediately totally drawn. It made me realize that “theoretical endings” are sort of like endgame studies, that is they work for that exact position they are showing you, if you can get it in, but in most other circumstances, if you don’t have initiative (just like during the rest of the game), then you can get easily pushed into the wall and lose.
One thing Aagard points to in his book “Excel at Chess” is that you need to practice endings against a buddy (computers were weak back in 2001). You really need experience, practice at endings. You can’t just read an endgame book, slap it shut and it’s forever solved; chess just isn’t like that. Well, I got some good rook-endgame experience during, post-mortem, and with Stockfish that I will carry with me to the next game. People are just rated Expert because they have flash and panache early on. They are often Expert because they have much endgame experience against other high-rated players. It’s difficult to get this experience against Class players who are still dropping pieces in the opening.
37…Rg1+?? I figured this was likely losing, but I was mentally tired still and didn’t even want to care to calculate it. I sensed that keeping my rook on the fourth rank was the only try – and it is still a draw if you an avoid the myriad of traps that exist in this endgame configuration – but I also sensed that it was going to be difficult to play it right on the increment without making a tired mistake. Certainly, if this were the Fall Classic, I would never have given up on the calculation there. I sort of saw how it was going to go down the way it did back when I was considering whether to play …Kf6 or …h5.
Paul half-joked after the game to Pete and Earl that when I offered the draw is when he knew he was going to win. That’s sort of the point. Paul A. has probably won so many lost endgames that he was positively thrilled to be done with the opening and middlegame to have reached an equal ending where he could start to go to work. In the post-mortem he played the endgame very creatively, energetically, always having another idea quick at hand, much in the same way that combinative players naturally continue to find the continuation-sacs after that first combo.
Psychologically, or physiologically, I would say that playing some equal positions can be just as forcing as checkmate; that is something helpful to understand going into them, to be mentally prepared for it. I regretted playing …Kf6 just as soon as I played it, with time-dwindling down, but I also wasn’t prepared to make such a tough decision at that late point in the game, even though I too felt it should be a draw in that position. I was going back and forth on that move, and mostly I was going to play ….h5. What I understood right after making the move was that f2 would be weaker in this …h5 line, while he tries to attack e4, versus in the line I played where he could trade g pawn for e-pawn and trade rooks at same time. I saw his Kh3 idea before he played it, but at this point, I was just shaking my head already. When you are confused, the thing you have to get right is the logic of the position, and then the variations are secondary. I’ve been learning this, but it was an even a stronger realization after making that move.