Perhaps the most important element of chess are the pawns. "The pawns are the soul of chess" Philidor. The pawn structure dictate where the piece should be placed, which pieces have more power and the plan to follow for an advantage.
Before any pawn play though, we looked at a rook on the seventh rank.
For this we used one of the most famous examples J.Capablanca - S.Tartakower New York 1924. You might think that showing Grandmaster games to children is too advanced, perhaps so for modern masters, but the giants of yesterday often played games of sparkling clarity that demonstrate particular strategic devices clearly.
Of this game Irving Chernev writes "Search the annals of chess from the days of Philidor to the reign of Karpov, and you will find no ending equal to this for demonstrating the power of a Rook on the seventh rank" in his excellent Capablanca's best chess endings.
Who are we to argue with that?
Rather than play through the whole game we picked up the action after move 28.
29.Rh1 - Capablanca sizes the open h-file. Placing the rook on an open file is usually a very good move. Do you see how this fits in with the chat about pawns above? Black's rook is tied to the defence of the pawn on g6, so can not prevent 30.Rh7
29...Kf8 - Did you spot the weak pawn on c3? Why not play Rc6 then? Unfortunately for Black Bb5 would pin and win the rook. In every position tactics have to support the strategy.
Chernev obviously likes this game, as in The most instructive games of chess ever played he writes:
"Rook to the seventh - the magic move in rook and pawn endings. What is the secret in the strength of this move? It is this:
(a) The rook is in perfect position to attack any pawns that have not yet moved - those still standing on the second rank.
(b) The rook is prepared to attack any that have moved, by getting behind them without loss of time. The pawns would be under constant threat of capture, no matter how many squares they advanced on the file.
(c)The rook's domination of the seventh rank confines the opposing king to the last rank, preventing him from taking any part in the fighting."
31...Nc4 Black tries to activate his knight. 31...Rxc4 32.Bxg6 would give White two connected passed pawns and the f-pawn in particular would almost inevitably be able to queen.
32.g5 - White fixes the weak pawn on g6
32...Ne3+, 33.Kf3 Nf5
Black has managed to defend the g6 pawn by Nf5 from the White bishop, therefore Black now threatens Rxc3.
34.Bxf5 - Neil Mcdonald writes in "The Giants of Strategy" - "Capablanca trusts in the power of the seventh rank absolute to triumph over material. He will give up several pawns in order to get his king to f6, where it will introduce both mating and queening threats."
34...gxf5 35.Kg3 - See the notes to 34, Cappa isn't bothered about 'spare' pawns, or indeed the pointless check.
35...Rxc3+, 36.Kh4 Rf3 37.g6! letting another pawn fall to advance the king.
Just note how dangerous Cappa's king has now become! If for example Black continues with Rxe4 then Kf6 threatens mate next move when Black has to move his king which will allow White to queen. Therefore Black plays 38...Re4, 39.Kf6 Kg8, 40.Rg7+ forcing the king to a non blockading square before the rook gorges itself on Black's pawns. 40...Kh7
41.Rxc7 - Here comes the payback!! White is preparing to harvest Black's weak pawns in revenge for Black's earlier gluttony. If he can promote the g-pawn to a queen bonus. Note how the Black king is useless on the back rank, see Chernev's notes above. A constant liability to Black the king has to be babysat by the rook otherwise the game will end very quickly. 41...Re8 - Passive, but forced, Tartakover will have hated making this move.
42.Kxf5 - Cappa takes the pawn before regaining mate and promotion threats.
42...Re4, 43.Kf6 - Another mate threat allows White to get his king across the e-file.
43...Rf4+, 44.Ke5 Rg4, 45.g7+ Kg8 Rxg7 Rxg7 is a completely lost pawn ending as White can quickly queen the d-pawn.
46.Rxa7 Rg1, 47.Kxd5 White now has four pawns for his earlier 2 pawn investment.
Black is lost, he now has to try and stop the d-pawn's advance. Cappa finished the game quickly with
47...Rc1, 48.Kd6 Rc2, 49.d5 Rc1, 50.Rc7 Ra1 51.Kc6 Rxa4 52.d6 1-0
Explaining chess concepts in words can be difficult, but when the concepts can be seen in a game and students can play with the positions, ask questions and see how and why the strategy works then lessons are easier to understand and we think more fun.
How does this all fit in with pawns? To get a rook to the seventh rank there must be pawn moves and most probably a pawn exchange. The plan is to introduce pawn breaks next.