Opposite-Coloured Bishop Endings

I was reading through John Watson’s magnificent book “Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy”” and one of his remarks on opposite-colored bishops tackled my curiosity: “(Mikhail) Tal had a few classic victories in opposite-colored bishop endings which raised eyebrows”…If John mentions it, then there should be more than one or two examples in Tal’s practice. I wanted to take a look at them and eventually found one in an old magazine.

Tal – Radulov, Skopje Olympiad 1972

The diagram shows white to make his 55th move. This game is not included in the book “The Life and Games of Mihail Tal”, but Viktor Korchnoi mentions in his “Chess Is My Life – Autobiography and Games” that Soviet team expected a draw after analyzing the adjournment (around 40th move) – Tal probably improved the position upon resumption.

At the first sight, the ending appears to be drawish. Bc5 is protecting queenside pawns and black king is close to defend weak h6. But looking deeper, we can see that black is horribly weak over the light squares. White’s better mobility and space advantage will allow him to push black king into the corner. And then, since black bishop is limited by its own pawns, zugzwang decides the outcome. A natural start is…

  1. Bc4+ Kf6

The king goes to defend h6 pawn. Different tactics will fail because f8-h6 is a diagonal too short for bishop – 55…Ke7 56. Kf5 Ke8 57. Kg6 Bf8 58. Kf6 Be7+ 59. Kg7 Bf8+ 60. Kg8! with next Bb5+ (or Bf7+) and finally Kg7.

  1. Kd5 Kf7 57. Ke5+ Kg7 58. Bd5 Kh7

White king remains in contact with pawn d4 in order to tie the black bishop and force a king move.

  1. Kf6 Bf8

Pawn d4 is free at the moment and bishop rushes to cover h6. Still, the diagonal is too short and now white forces black king to h8.

  1. Be4+ Kg8 61. Kg6 Bg7 62. Bd5+ Kh8 63. Be6 Bf8 64. Bc4 Bg7 65. Kf7 Kh7 66. Bd3+ Kh8 67. Be4!

Finally a zugzwang! Now black has to move the bishop to the only available square and white will win tempi by attacking this piece to reach for deserted queenside pawns.

67…Be5 68. Ke6 Bg7

68…Bf4 also loses a pawn, 69. Kd5! Be3 70. Bd3! and 71. Kc6.

  1. Kd5! Bf6 70. Kc6 Bd8 71. Kd7 Bf6 72. Kc7! Be7 73. Kxb6 Bb4 and black resigned at the same time, because 74. Kb5 Kg7 75. Kc4 Bc3 76. b4! Bxb4 (76…axb4 77. Kb3! and 78. a5 is unstoppable) 77. Kxd4 Kf6 78. c3 is hopeless.

Trully wonderful technique!

.Anyway, while browsing different magazines, I ran into another cute ending which featured nowadays already famous motif.

Minogina – Grosh, 1979

47…Kd6 48. Bd8 Ke6?

Black believes that he can make a draw by playing on autopilot, but his carelessness will cost him dearly. 48…Bf7 first and then Kd6-c6 was the right way to go.

  1. Be7

Now black is forced to push c-pawn and leave bishop out of play. The problem is that 49…Kd5 covers the diagonal and white has 50. f7.


The king is alone and tied for f6 pawn. White will march his own king to the queenside.

  1. Ke4 Ba4 51. Bb4 Bd1 52. Kd4 Bb3 53. Kc5 Ba4 54. Bc3 Kf7

And now the marvelous…

  1. b3!!

The point is that black cannot take 55…Bxb3 because of 56. Kxb5 gives white another passed pawn and this is already too much to handle. Concurrently, 55…cxb3 completely locks black bishop…

55…cxb3 56. Bb2! Ke6 57. g4

Now we have a “pawn ending” where white simply clear black king away thanks to the passed f-pawn. Or black can try…

57…b4 58. axb4 Be8 59. b5 where white gets a second passed pawn and this is why black gave up.

.The reference book “Fundamental Chess Endings” of Karsten Muller and Frank Lamprecht (2001) contains John Nunn’s composition based on his game from a 1977 simultaneous exhibition. All notes by Muller and Lamprecht.

  1. Kf6 Bh4 2. Kf5 Kd6 3. g3!! fxg3

3…Bxg3 4. Kxg5 Be1 5. h4 Ba5 6. h5 Ke7 7. Kg6 Kf8 8. Bd5 (…Kg8 must, of course, be prevented) 8…f3 9. h6 f2 10. h7 f1Q 11. h8Q+ Ke7 12. Qe5+ Kf8 13. Qg7+ Ke8 14. Bf7+ Kd8 15. c7+ Bxc7 (15…Kxc7 16. Bc4+ +-) 16. Qf8+ Kd7 17. Be8+ +-

  1. Bg2 g4

4…Kc7 5. Ke5

  1. hxg4
  2. Kxg4? Bd8 6. h4 Ke6 7. h5 Kf6 8. Kxg3 Kg7 leads to a draw due to wrong rook’s pawn.

5…Bd8 6. g5 Ba5 7. Kf6 +-

.Earlier I wrote “famous” because the same motif might have been used in recent heavyweight battle Carlsen – Pelletier in Biel. Norwegian prodigy, however, used a different plan and scored a full point. I commented this game live on Chessdom.com, so I will just copy the notes and you can explore it further on your own board.

Carlsen – Pelletier, Biel 2008


53.b4!? cxb4 54.Bb3 is a very interesting attempt to create zugzwang, but black can probably hold with timely b6-b5 (when white king is on e5 or similar) and then Bf2-Bxg3-Bxf4 because bishop is controlling promotional square b8.

(Addition: The main difference compared to the previous examples is that white still doesn’t have a passed pawn on another flank and his pawns are also blocked on the dark squares.)

53…Ke7 54.Kc6 Kf6 55.Bd3 Kf7?!

55…Ke6 looks safer because the king is still with the f5-pawn. If 56. g4, black should be able to use the passed g-pawn as decoy and contain white pawns.

56.h5! gxh5 57.Bxf5

Now white has excellent winning chances because h5 is very weak.

57…Kf6 58.Be4!

The king will be tied for h5-pawn.

58…Kg7 59.Bf3 Kh6 60.Kb5! Kg6 61.Bd1 Kh6 62.Be2 Kg6 63.Bf3 Kh6 64.Bc6!

Final finesse! Now black will be brought into zugzwang after Be8-f7 and lose the h5-pawn. With the bishop unfortunately locked on a5, the resulting endgame is winning for white – Pelletier realized this and threw the towel. It will be interesting to analyze the position after 53. b4!?, maybe this was winning as well.

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