Knight vs Pawns

In the diagram to the left, black is clearly better because of his connected passed pawns. However, his pawn on the h-file must fall, and how to play the arising ending is not as straightforward as it may seem at first.

After 1.Be7 Nd3, it would appear that white’s best is to take the pawn immediately with 2.Bxh4. However, this capture is slightly inferior, since the pawn can be captured at will later on. A stronger defense, though admittedly still losing, is 2.Nd6, when black’s pawns a feeling some pressure.

After 2.Bxh4 Bxh4 3.Kxh4 the following position is reached.

Here, I immediately played 3…Nf4, thinking that I could sac the knight for white’s pawn, and then simply advance my pawns on the queenside. This plan works effortlessly in practice, because my opponent missed a common drawing concept in the knight v.s pawn ending that followed.

After the natural moves 4. Kg4 Nxh4 5.Kxh3 Kb2 6. Kg3 b4 7. Nc5 b3 the following position is reached. This position is really the heart of this post, and I encourage you to set it up and play against your engine with the white pieces to get a feel for how to draw.

Here, white resigned himself to 8.Nxb3, which is a losing blunder, since after 8.Kf4, the position would have been an ironclad draw.

The game continued with 8.Nxb3, Kxb3 9.Kf3 c5 10. Ke3 c4 11. Kd2 Kb2…when the black king will escort his soldier to the promised land.

Returning to the above diagrammed position, the drawing move 8.Kf4 contains an interesting knight theme which is common to knight vs. pawn endings, and is worth committing to memory. Now, if 8…Ka3 9.Ne4!

Now, best play according to my engine is b2 10. Nd2 c5 11. Ke4! Ka2 12. Kd3 b1=Q 13. Nxb1 Kxb1 draw. It’s worth noting the way in which the king works together with the knight to contain the pawns, and the “circuit” the knight enters that prevents queening.

It’s also worth looking through other variations, my personal favorite being 8….Kb2 9.Na4 c5 10. Ke4 c4 11.Kd4 which gives an ironclad draw.

The entire game can be found below. At the time, I had recently been trying to make the dutch leningrad my main answer to 1.d4, and scored some nice wins with it.