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K. Smith vs J. Weatherlake
After the rook exchange, black is clearly better as he has a protected, passed pawn on e5 which restricts the movement of the white king and may advance down the board. However, there are 2 factors in the position which favour white and turn this into a complicated struggle. Firstly, he may be able to break with g2-g4 in certain positions and thereby create an outside passed pawn. Also, white has waiting moves on the queenside such as a2-a3 whereas black has no waiting moves at all. Therefore, it will be difficult for black to zugzwang white and force a win. For ages I thought that this position was winning for black regardless of these factors as the passed pawn is very strong. Surprisingly, white can hold the balance in all lines! I must confess I had a little help from my engine with the variation where black plays 34…b5!? as I thought this won for black. Here too, however, he falls just short of a win.
A. Manson vs C. Westrap
In this position, my planned break with g7-g6 does not work and, if white plays correctly, black cannot break through on the Q-side. Since the centre is also blocked off, white can obtain a draw.
Great to see 2 such interesting endgames occurring in the early part of this year!