Must-know: Endgames

Must-know: Endgames

WGM Natalia_Pogonina
Aug 24, 2010, 12:00 AM |
37 | Endgames

The endgame is the final part of a chess game, characterized by a small number of pieces left on the board. Many chess players fall in love with studying the opening and middlegame and forget about the endgame, considering it to be dull. Some of them even find excuses and claim that “one can win in the opening or middlegame, so why waste time on endgames?” This is not the right way to treat chess though. The stronger the players, the higher the chance the game will be decided in the endgame. That’s why some chess legends said that a chess player is as good in chess as he is in the final stage of chess. The endgame is important not only in terms of playing it well, but for general understanding of the game. When the material is limited, it is easier to perceive the nature of each piece and feel how they interact with each other, their strong and weak sides. This experience will prove helpful in the opening and middlegame as well. Also, being an endgame master gives you a better understanding of what you are aiming for in the opening and middlegame and makes you feel confident about yourself. While players who lack technique avoid exchanging queens at all costs, experienced masters are happy to exploit a slight, but stable advantage.

"In order to improve your game, you must study the endgame before everything else, for whereas the endings can be studied and mastered by themselves, the middle game and the opening must be studied in relation to the endgame."

-- Jose Raul Capablanca, World Champion 1921-1927

Some of the recommended authors (the list is not exhaustive by far) on chess endings are Silman, Shereshevsky, Panchenko, Portisch, Averbakh and Dvoretzky. In their books you will find information on all types of endgames, from basic to sophisticated ones. There are also many online courses (like’s videos and Chess Mentor lessons), as well as great software, e.g. Chess Assistant’s products. Practice makes perfect, so a person who wishes to improve in chess should be solving problems regularly and studying the games of such endgame classics as Capablanca or Smyslov. By following this advice you will feel the essence of chess better and develop your chess imagination.

Pawn endings are the foundation of endgame play. Those are followed by bishop, knight, rook, queen and mixed endgames. Rook endgames are most popular and so complicated that even top players make blunders in them. That’s why one should pay special attention to this type of endgame.

Each type of endgames has its own principles and key positions. Planning is also an important part of the endgame. The endgame hardly ever requires deep calculations. The necessary skill is to be able to come up with the right plan and exploit all the pieces left in the optimal way.

Simply studying games and theory doesn’t work since people tend to forget abstract ideas very quickly. Practicing, e.g. solving chess studies or sparring, is the key to success. One should also have good basic technique – e.g. quickly mating with a queen, rook, two bishops or bishop and knight. This is crucial in time trouble or blitz games. I have actually seen grandmasters not being able to mate with B+N at critical moments…

Nowadays the Nalimov tablebases offer us unique opportunities for learning. They are available on the internet (free access) and can provide you with the precise evaluation (won, lost, drawn) of any 6-piece endgame or less. So, for instance, if you end up arguing with a friend about who was better in a rook + pawn vs rook + pawn endgame, you may instantly find the answer to it on the Internet!

Summing up the ideas of my three articles on opening, middlegame and endgame, the following can be said. From beginner to FIDE 2500 one should pay more attention to the middlegame and endgame (although it doesn’t mean that the opening should be neglected!). At a highly professional level the priority goes to the opening, but other stages of the game are still being studied even by world champions.

Let's look at my final game at the Mullhouse 2010 GM event from the endgame perspective:


The game could have been decided in the middlegame, but after mutual mistakes White ended up in a bad ending. Black was too anxious to win, but got only half a point. When the opponent doesn’t have any active plans, one should just patiently keep improving his/her position; no need to hurry!

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