Defense in the Endgame, Part 1

  • GM BryanSmith
  • | Jun 5, 2014

There's no denying that, whatever your strength in chess, in some games you are going to have to cling to some floating debris just to stay over water. Anyone can fall into some opening preparation or make a blunder. Additionally, you have those games where you might enter a slightly worse ending and then hold on with precise play.

It seems to me that saving a draw in a worse ending is easier than winning a better (or technically winning) one. Somehow the goalposts for drawing are wider than the ones for winning in the endgame.

Let us now see some examples of defense in the endgame.

Even the world champion can fall into some opening preparation, and in his game against Alexander Morozevich from the 2012 Tal Memorial, this almost proved decisive. But Magnus Carlsen dug in where most players would simply give up, and despite White's visually-overwhelming position, it was tricky to completely nail Black down. Faced with tricky resistance, Morozevich made a mistake which could only have come from psychological reasons, and in the end it was Carlsen who could fight for the win.

The main problem of defense in the endgame is balancing passive and active defense - knowing when to hold the position stubbornly and when to switch to concrete variations to make a permanent escape. We see this in the above game - Black, tied up almost completely by the doubled rooks on the seventh rank, remains passive except for a few well timed jabs - 25...a5 and 29...h5. It's sort of like fighting a bear. You play dead and cover your neck until the situation gets too serious, then you jab him in the eye or in the snout.

Magnus Carlsen | Image Tal Memorial 2012 Official Site

The next game took place in a tournament in Zagreb, 2011. I was playing well in that tournament, but in this game I got in some trouble after the opening. After the game, I noticed that had it lasted any longer, the hotel restaurant would have closed and we wouldn't be able to eat dinner. I mentioned this to someone and later I heard that my opponent remarked that, had he played better, it wouldn't have been a problem. This was probably true, but there is not a clear win for White that I can see and, scrappily, I managed to escape. Again it was a combination of passive defense and switching to exact calculation.



  • 12 months ago


    I like your all the articles. It's always helpful for me as a novice. Thanks @ Mr. Smith

  • 2 years ago


    @GM Bryansmith

    Great article! very informative!

    I remember watching the World Championship match-2013 held at Chennai,India.I was watching the second last game (I think it was game 9).I was watching it on live telecast and suddenly the then world champion 'Vishy Anand' Blundered on the 28th move by playing 28.Nf1 and then resigned immedietely.It was the last move of the game so i can call it 'Endgame' right?

    At the press confrence 'Magnus Carlsen' said something like:-

    'It was not clear and Perhaps there was no checkmate at all !' 

    What i learnt from this article:-

    1.You may be on the receiving end most of the time in the game but there may not be some 'clear win' for your opponent.

    2.There is a problem of balancing passive and active defense in the endgame to make a miraculous escape,But you have to do it if you want to draw.So hold on to the position---Its never over till its over.

    3.Somehow the goalposts of drawing are wider than the goal posts of winning even in the won position.

    4.There may not be a clear win for the opponent and 'perhaps there is no checkmate at all'!

  • 2 years ago




  • 2 years ago


    I like the analogy of fighting a bear. Since you are from Alaska, I wonder if you are speaking from experience?

  • 2 years ago


    This reminds me of a tournament game I had once, in which I had been defending for what seemed an eternity. I was up one or two pawns but with tremendous pressure the whole time. I ended up drawing the game, even though it came at a time when I could have then been playing for a win. It was just that hard to switch focus from defending to winning.

  • 2 years ago


    Nice games. Watching the second one, looks almost similar to one I had finished recently, but much lower level. This was a position match game, Unr, but I still treated it as rated as any. I wanted to win. I ended with a R and pawn vs a Bishop and 3 pawns. I thought initially, I had the upper hand with the Rook. I figured out before it was too late I had to sacrifice my attempt for victory but forcing an "Agreed Upon Draw."

    Here's the game.

    Looking back, I don't know if there was anything else I could of done to change the outcome. Good game though. He even agreed. 

    Any comments? I love critisizm on my games. 

  • 2 years ago


    nice article!

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