The Seesaw and the Stairway Maneuver

A couple of months ago Dana Mackenzie published an instructive article about the technique required to succeed in a classic king-and-queen-vs-king-and-rook endgame. He decided to call that maneuver the Seesaw. Let me show you why he did so and then how I came to discover the Stairway maneuver.

So-Ding Liren, Tbilisi 2017 (6.5), position after 62.Rf2-a2

Pretty graphic, uh? Wesley So has just moved his rook away from the position of his king to retain some drawing chances. Otherwise, with the rook still on f2, 62.Rg2 or 62.Kg1 would lead to an easy win for Black after 62…Qe5+ 63.Kg1 Kh3 or 62…Kg3 respectively.

Studying the diagrammed position we realize that the white king cannot move to a light square because it will walk into a fork and the rook will end pinned —losing. Having this in mind Ding Liren wisely played 62…Qe5+. White hasn’t got other alternative than to go 63.Kg1 and now the black queen starts seesawing the board.

63…Qd4+ 64.Kh2 Qd6+ 65.Kg1 Qc5+ 66.Kh2 (on 66.Kf1 Qc4+ 67.Re2 Kg3 and Black will get mated after 68.Ke1 Qc1#) 66…Qc7+ 67.Kg1 (67.Kg2 transposes to the game) Qb6+ 68.Kg2 Qb7+ 69.Kh2 (if 69.Kf2 then 69…Qf7+) Qb8+ and So resigned because of 70.Kg1 Qb1+ or alternatively 70.Kg2 Qg8+ both winning the rook.

Undoubtedly, the Seesaw maneuver described by Mackenzie has the power to be easily remembered and applicable to our own endgames. Indeed, with a little twitch it allowed me to solve a beautiful and complicated chess problem published in Mark Dvoretsky’s ‘Maneuvering. The Art of Piece Play’ (Russel Enterprises, Inc.) and at the same time led me to ‘discover’ this Stairway maneuver. [spoiler: solution below the diagram]

E. Zakon, 1953. White to play and win.

At first sight nothing can be achieved by simply preventing the pawn from queening. White king just can’t make it to the other side of the board in time. Ideas like 1.Kc1 Kh1 2.Kd2 g1Q 3.Qf3+ Qg2+ 4.Qxg2+ Kxg2 5.Kd3 doesn’t achieve more than a draw. After some time I remember the Seesaw pattern and tried to apply it to this endgame. In that moment you realize that the winning move can’t be other than 1.Ka1!. Just beautiful.

The idea behind this move is that the white queen will prevent the g2-pawn from queening until she is able to capture on h7 and then exchange queens on b1 with a winning endgame. 1…Kh1 2.Qe4! we start the Stairway maneuver 2…Kh2 3.Qe5+ Kh1 4.Qd5 Kh2 5.Qd6+ Kh1 6.Qc6 Kh2 7.Qc7+ and after 7…Kh1 white goes 8.Qxh7! g1Q+ 9.Qb1! and the h-pawn is unstoppable.

There’s just a little nuisance as noted by Dvoretsky. With his king on h1 Black could play h6 at any moment instead of going h2. In that scenario White replies Kb1! and ends exchanging queens on c1 after Qxh6. An impressive path trodden by Her Majesty the Queen.

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