From Paris to Venice

From Paris to Venice

| 26 | Other

by GM Magesh and GM Arun

Mustafa Rashid 

In middlegames and openings I use the imbalance system to logically think through my moves which I find very helpful. I've studied a few books on the endgame but I still don't understand this phase of the game. Often I find myself a piece or three pawns up and still unable to convert the advantage! I know the basic positions and themes but have no idea what I am supposed to be doing and often blunder a win away. Is there a way for me to develop my endgame thinking process? Thank you.

Dear Mustafa,

I am not sure what you mean when you say you use the imbalance system? I suppose you create your middle game ideas based on ideas such as 'how to gain more material?' and 'how not to lose any unnecessary material'. This strategy is a very effective one for beginners, but most often you would get nowhere with this after reaching a certain point with your skill level. I have explained in some of my other articles and answered some similar questions in the topic of planning, but nevertheless this one is always worth adding more material to.

I am going to take another approach today to explain the idea of direction in a chess game. Think of playing a chess game as driving. Not the kind of driving where you car does the parallel parking for you. I am talking about driving during the good old days when you had to do it all by yourself without the Navigation systems or the mobile phones.

Given that I recently had a road trip from Paris to Venice, I am going to give that as an example to illustrate my idea. Take a look at the following map that shows the direction from Paris to Venice.



Now as a driver you obviously have several choices regarding the routes and you have several decisions to make on the way. The bigger picture here is getting to Venice from Paris. Now let us break this down into smaller zones. When I start from Paris, if I start looking for signs to Venice, I am obviously going to be lost forever! I have to indeed look for the next big city along the route and the signs to get there. In this case Dijon would be the first target as I start my journey from Paris. Of course there would be no need for me to go inside the city itself, but it just gives me a sense of direction towards my goal. As I approach closer to Dijon, I actually start looking for my next target, in this case it would be some smaller cities like Beaune and Bourg-en-Bresse. Eventually I will head towards Geneva, then to Milan and then finally to Venice.

I will also have to make some decisions like taking the shortest route or taking the highways etc. It is obvious that one would take the highway in such long journeys to make travel easier and faster. Even if you have a hunch about traveling on a smaller road towards the right direction, you know all you did was make your life harder just trying to be more efficient, when in fact you ended up being the opposite.

In today's world the task of driving has been made so easy that you would not even feel that you have accomplished something after such a trip, but imagine if you had to do everything by yourself without a map in your hand. You will have to study the map thoroughly to begin with. Get to know the location of the cities right from your starting point up until your destination. You might also want to have a better idea of the major cities in the country itself to be able to identify if you are going in the wrong way (A very useful tip by the way for drivers). This whole thing would be quite a task I would say. If you manage to succeed, in this case I did manage to complete the trip (I might not call it a success :D) to what traits of yours would you attribute your success?

  • The ability to Drive! (this is my sense of humor!)

  • The ability to read the signs towards our destination at each point

  • The ability to make the right decisions and take correct turns at appropriate moments

  • The most important trait would be the knowledge of the map itself. If you did not know Dijon was on the way in your trip, you are lost even before you began.

I, of course managed to complete the trip, not because of my skills, but thanks to the in-built GPS in my car.

What am I doing here explaining my road trip in detail when you ask me a simple question about understanding endgames? In my opinion a journey over the board is not much different from a road trip. I am breaking down something that seems complex (Endgames) and associating it with something similar (driving) yet easier to illustrate to drive my point through. I hope, this makes it easier to understand the solution. Our brain seems to have it all figured out already, we just need to apply what we already know in one aspect of our life onto another.

To make things clear I am going to explain a simple king and pawn endgame in a similar way we studied the road trip. Here is our starting point (Paris),



and checkmate (Venice) would obviously be our goal.


Obviously it does not have to be the exact checkmate, it could be anything similar.

In an endgame like this or as a matter of fact in any position, the biggest mistake chess amateurs make is look for directions to the final destination (Venice). You can look and look, but you will never find it as it is no way close to your naked eye. Start by looking for destinations on the way (We need to look for Dijon first!). To be able to know where Dijon is, remember you must have a good knowledge of the map first. So here is our equivalent chess map constructed from reverse:

To be able to checkmate, you would like an extra queen.To make a queen you need to promote your pawn.


To promote your pawn you need your king to be in front of your pawn and have the opposition.

There are other positions which can lead to a win given some conditions are satisfied, I am just showing this one as an example.

So here is your map to success. All you have to do now is drive and watch out for the signs! This position is one of the most basic king and pawn endgames. You use your extra pawn as a distraction and head towards your opponent's other pawns. Why did you do that? Because you know that your extra pawn is not going to win the game for you. Why not? Because your opponent's king is right in front of your extra pawn and hence you cannot advance your king in front of your pawn and take the opposition. Why is that important? Because that is the only way you can actually promote your pawn. And why do I need to promote my pawn? I think we know the answer to that. When we work backwards, it all makes simple sense, doesn't it? Here you can see the moves played out from the endgame we studied:

Given that you have studied this position and if you make yourself thorough in these types of extra pawn positions, you have successfully widened your knowledge of the chess map. This position will be added to the list of known destinations towards victory and next time you see any signs of this position, you know where to go!

Now that I have somehow managed to combine chess and driving together, take a deep breath as I am going to show you how a map of the middle game would look like.




There are several possible detours and most of them are not necessarily right or wrong. The complexity of the problem just shot through the roof and this is precisely why beginners are asked to study endgames first. Simple problems with simple solutions are just easier to understand. Once you understand the simpler ones, then you move on to the more difficult ones and try to understand them. In other words, if you did not know how to get to Venice from Paris, you will take an eternity to figure this one out!

Here is the basic essence of my answer to your question, “You need to have a sense of direction” in your game. This sense of direction is more easily understood in the endgame rather than complicated middle games. If you do not know where you are going at any point, there is your problem. It either says you have not studied the map correctly or you are just not able to read the signs properly. Study the endgames hard, ask yourself 'Why?' at each instance; you will understand and enjoy chess like never before!

PS - You can also read my earlier article on Planning and Strategy. I have explained the same idea using a middle game position from my game.

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