Up a Piece in the Endgame

  • WIM energia
  • | Apr 13, 2012

Last week we explored strategies for winning with an extra rook. Today we will explore the situation when one side has an extra knight or bishop for a pawn, two pawns or for no compensation. There is a famous joke my coach likes to use that can be applied here: how does Capablanca convert an extra pawn? - He waits until the opponent blunders the second pawn. While we can wait for the second piece to be sacrificed/blundered by the opponent, having an extra piece is enough for a win in most situations. There are several typical plans that work in almost all endgames with an extra piece. These ideas for the attacking side include:

  • trading pieces,
  • activating the king,
  • blocking the opponent's passed pawns,
  • having patience,
  • attacking and picking off the opponent's pawns,
  • and promoting our own pawns.

 Most of the ideas mentioned here we will explore with the following examples.

In the first position white is up a piece and black has no apparent compensation. There is still work to be done to win this winning endgame. Observe white's masterful plan of the piece conversion where he started off by exchanging bishops as it would weaken black's defensive potential. Secondly, he tied the black king to the b-pawn and positioned the knight ideally on the central d4-square. And lastly, he activated the king while slowly pushing the kingside pawns and eventually winning black pawns there because black's king was stuck on the queenside.

In the next example the rooks are still present on the board but this time it is black who is up a knight. Black starts off with a strategy of occupying the open file and exchanging rooks. White cannot really avoid the rook exchange because else the black rook gets to the 2nd-rank, where it would be monstrous. Despite the rook exchange white managed to preserve the bishop, which is helpful in defense. Black placed the bishop and the knight in a way so they defend the pawn minority on the kingside. Then she brought her king to the queenside and with the help of the king managed to exchange the bishops. White could have put up a better defense by getting the king to the center but instead white put the king on h2 trying to break through with h4.

While the first two examples were more or less straight-forward, the following example is particularly interesting when exploring the defensive possibilities that white has. After all white has two pawns for the bishop with all the pawns on the same side, how hard can it be to draw. Black correctly decided to exchange the knights, which white should have declined. After the knight exchange white could have defended with staying solid and trying to keep the position together. Instead, white committed a big mistake by letting the opponent fix his pawns on the same color as the opponent's bishop. This made the pawns weaknesses and eventually the d4-e3-f4 complex fell. Observe how black got to the e4-square with the help of zugzwang ideas.

The main feature of the last example is the idea of counterplay. Black is up a piece but the bishop on b8 is passive and white has more space. The only real weakness in white's camp is the f3-pawn. Black correctly builds his plan around exploiting this weakness. However, for a moment he forgets to keep an eye on white's b-pawn, which could have ended up in a loss instead of win. After white passes by this golden opportunity, black exchanges the bishop for the knight and queens the f-pawn.

Winning with an extra piece can be challenging especially under time trouble, this is why it is important to have sharp technique in order to convert the material advantage into a point. The strategies of piece exchanges, king activity, blockade of the opponent's passed pawns and attention to counterplay can simplify the realization process and lead to overall better endgame technique. Next week's article will explore more ideas and strategies in the situations when one side has extra material in the endgame.


  • 5 years ago


    This should continue into some more challenging articles like the B+N vs. R+P or 2R vs. Q positions!

  • 5 years ago


    very helpful, hopefully i can get a win from my present game

  • 5 years ago


    I like your very straightforward writing style. Thanks for a good lesson.

  • 5 years ago


    great article!!

  • 5 years ago


    the endgame is everything

  • 5 years ago


    great article i laearned a lot

  • 5 years ago


    i like that Ms. Energia used games from lower rated players!  TY!  Nice article....always something helpful!  Thanks for your time!

  • 5 years ago


    I feel that such articles do help people to fine-tune their endgame technique. Many time learners try to win by force with heavy material and do not like endgames. Therefore when they do reach endgames in OTB, they struggle to find the technique to finish the opponent.

  • 5 years ago


    You have a straightforward and helpful way of explaining these positions. I am a long time fan of your endgame articles but this is my first time commenting. As I get ready for my first international tournament, the back catalogue of your writing will be an invaluable training resource. So, thank you!

    In the second example (Hafner vs Stemmler), in the 29.Kd4 variation, you said Black needs to regroup and find another way to break through. I wondered how this could be done and decided to work the line out.

    My thinking is Black should play 29…c5+ to push the White king back to e3 (30.Kc3? Ke5). Other lines like 29…b6 or 29…Bb1 aren't as strong but still decisive. There is nothing useful for White to do after 29…c5+ 30.Ke3 Ke5 31.Be2 (moves like 31.a3 or 31.a4 eventually come to the same thing). Now Black has targets on the Queenside and will win after 31…a5 or 31…Bb1.

    In the third example (Bloemker vs Becker), in the 49.Ng3 line after 52.Nf1, you said that Black cannot avoid drawing. I was curious to see how this would play out.

    Lines trying attack the d4 pawn like 52…Nb5 53.Kd3 Ba3 54.g3 hxg3 55.hxg3 Bb2 go nowhere, since Black must eventually jettison pieces after White plays 56.d5+ and his pawns begin rolling down the board. Indeed, this is a drawn position but I'm glad I tried to work it out.

    Looking forward to your next article!

  • 5 years ago


    could you write an article   about converting slight positional advantage into a won game.plz i really look forward to it.cause iam very weak  in such situations in the middle game.were i could move with purpose upto almost 15 to 20 moves and then gone then i dont know what to do.total confusion and then blunder.+ iam stuck in 1300-1500 range from the past year with no improvement.although i reached the 1300 range from 800 in  a year.i just started playing chess seriously in chess.com for like just over 2 years.any solution for this lack of improvement?plz share.thank you , like your article very much.God bless you 

  • 5 years ago


    Very helpful. Can you make a series on how to win up a queen? Also it would be great if you could explain how to win being up two and three pieces. Especially when the opponent has a knight, I find it very hard to win being up several pieces because with all those extra pieces the opponent can easily play some forks. Thanks again for your instructive articles.

  • 5 years ago

    IM dpruess

    unfortunately what was not obvious to you, AlexinWinnipeg, is that there are chess players of all different levels, and what is easy for someone is hard for another; therefore some articles are written for you, some are too hard for you, and some are too easy. this one was too easy. i don't want to be mean to you, but i don't want other people feeling bad after thinking it was a very helpful article for them and reading that "in that first example i was like really???" don't worry everyone else, there's nothing wrong with having trouble winning endgames up a piece. i hope you find this article helpful in getting better at that task!

  • 5 years ago


    nice! that's really helpful! keep it up!

  • 5 years ago


    Nice! I really like reading from you, helpful

  • 5 years ago


    it seems like it is pretty obvious how to win with an extra piece, not trying to be arrogant, but in that first example i was like really???

  • 5 years ago


    Gr8 article...keep posting ty

  • 5 years ago



  • 5 years ago


    Nice articles! Very instructive examples, thanks!

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