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The Saavedra position is one of the best known chess endgame studies. It is named after the Spanish priest Rev. Fernando Saavedra (1849–1922), who, while living in Glasgow in the late 19th century, spotted a win in a position previously thought to have been a draw. The solution is a famous example of a necessary underpromotion (a promotion of a pawn to a piece other than a queen).
|This article uses algebraic notation to describe chess moves.|
The position as it is usually given today, with White to move and win, is shown in the diagram to the right. The solution is:
- 1. c7 Rd6+
- 2. Kb5 (2. Kc5? Rd1 and 3...Rc1! If 2. Kb7? Rd7 pins the pawn)
- 3. Kb4 Rd4+
- 4. Kb3 Rd3+
- 5. Kc2! Rd4!
- 6. c8=R! (threatening 7.Ra8+; instead 6.c8Q? Rc4+! 7.Qxc4 is stalemate)
Black must either lose the rook (allowing White to easily checkmate) or be checkmated by 8. Rc1 (Emms 2008:10–11). This is one of the most famous examples of underpromotion in chess and a rare example of a player being famous for a single move (Sunnucks 1970).
The study has a long history. It has its origins in a game played between Richard Fenton and William Potter in 1875. From the position shown to the left, the game continued 1.Rxh3 Kxh3 2.Kc6 Rxa5 3.b7 Ra6+ and the players agreed a draw. However, as Johann Zukertort pointed out in the City of London Chess Magazine, 1875, White could have won with 4.Kc5 (not 4.Kb5 Ra1 when White cannot promote the pawn because of 5...Rb1+) 4...Ra5+ 5. Kc4 Ra4+ 6. Kc3 (or 6. Kb3 Ra1 7. Kb2) 6...Ra3+ 7. Kb2, and White will promote the pawn when the queen versus rook endgame is a theoretical win (this winning method had earlier been demonstrated in a study by Josef Kling and Bernhard Horwitz published in The Chess Player, September 1853).
Upon Potter's death in March 1895, G.E. Barbier published a position in his Glasgow Weekly Citizen chess column of April 27, 1895, which he claimed to have occurred in Fenton-Potter. In fact, he had misremembered the game, and the position he published (shown to the right) had never arisen. It was published as a study with Black to play and White to win; the technique is just that demonstrated by Zukertort and by Kling and Horwitz before him: 1...Rd6+ 2. Kb5 Rd5+ 3. Kb4 Rd4+ 4. Kb3 Rd3+ 5. Kc2.
When Barbier published this solution on May 4, he claimed that by moving the black king from h6 to a1 the position could be transformed into a Black to move and draw study. On May 11 he gave the solution 1...Rd6+ 2. Kb5 Rd5+ 3. Kb4 Rd4+ 4. Kb3 Rd3+ 5. Kc2 Rd4! 6. c8Q Rc4+ 7. Qxc4 stalemate. However, as Saavedra pointed out, 6. c8R instead wins, a solution published by Barbier on May 18. The modern form of the position was obtained by Emanuel Lasker (in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June 1, 1902, p. 53) by moving the c7 pawn back to c6 and changing the stipulation to the standard "White to play and win".
As computer-generated endgame tablebases confirm, Black can offer longer resistance by 3 ... Kb2, for which White has only one winning reply, 4. c8Q, promoting to a queen instead of the underpromotion to a rook. Then White can force checkmate on the twenty-sixth move. However, per the anthropocentric conventions of endgame studies, moves that result in positions known to human masters to be theoretically lost are considered sidelines.
The study has been widely reproduced, and in Test Tube Chess John Roycroft calls it "unquestionably the most famous of all endgame studies". It has inspired many other composers: the many promotions and underpromotions in the studies of Harold Lommer, for example, were inspired by the Saavedra position. Mark Liburkin was also inspired (Hooper & Whyld 1992).
A number of composers have produced work which elaborates on the basic Saavedra idea. The study shown to the left is the most famous of these; it is by Mark Liburkin (second prize, Shakhmaty v SSSR, 1931) and is White to play and win. After the first move 1.Nc1, Black has two main defences; the first of these shows the Saavedra theme: 1.Nc1 Rxb5 (1...Kb2 2.Nd3+ wins) 2.c7 Rd5+ 3.Nd3! Rxd3+ 4.Kc2 Rd4 and we have a position already seen in the Saavedra position itself; White wins with 5.c8R Ra4 6.Kb3.
The other Black defence features two new stalemate defences, and a second underpromotion, this time to bishop; this is why this study is well-known while many other elaborations on the Saavedra position are forgotten: 1.Nc1 Rd5+ 2.Kc2 (2.Nd3? Rxd3+ 3.Kc2 Rd5! 4.Kc3 Rxb5 draws; 2.Ke2? Rxb5 3.c7 Re5+ draws) 2...Rc5+ 3.Kd3! [3.Kd2? Rxb5 4.c7 (4.Nb3+ Rxb3 5.c7 Rb2+! – see below) Rb2+! 5.Kd1 Rc2! 6.Kxc2 stalemate] 3...Rxb5 (3...Rxc1 4.Kd4, intending 5.Kd5 and 6.b6, wins) 4.c7 Rb8! and now both 5.cxb8Q and 5.cxb8R are stalemate, 5.cxb8N leaves a drawn ending, and 5.Nb3+ Rxb3+ 6.Kc2 Rb2+! 7.Kc1 (7.Kc3?? Kb1! and Black wins) only draws after 7...Rb1+ or 7...Rb4 8.c8Q (8.c8R Ra4 is safe now) Rc4+. White can only win by 5.cxb8B!
- Emms, John (2008), The Survival Guide to Rook Endings, Gambit Publications, ISBN 978-1-904600-94-7
- Hooper, David; Whyld, Kenneth (1992), The Oxford Companion to Chess (2nd ed.), Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-280049-3
- Sunnucks, Anne (1970), The Encyclopaedia of Chess, St. Martins Press, ISBN 978-0-7091-4697-1
- John Roycroft, Test Tube Chess (Faber and Faber, 1972) — positions 112 to 115 tell the story of the position
- Tim Krabbé's page on the position, including the original five Weekly Citizen columns
- Video explaining the Saavedra Position