The Embarrassing Endgame

  • GM Gserper
  • | Dec 1, 2013

I call the endgame king+bishop+knight vs. a lonely king an 'embarrassing' endgame because I know too many cases where chess players left a chess board embarrassed. Indeed, just imagine how would you feel if you had a theoretically winning endgame, huge material advantage and yet the game was a draw! Surprisingly it happened to many strong chess players. One of the most recent high-profile cases is the game of then women world champion Anna Ushenina.

Funny, but Ushenina's opponent already had this endgame in one of her games. She was the stronger side in that case and showed an impeccable technique:

So, as you could see, Olga Girya has proved that if you know the correct technique, it is not that difficult to win this endgame. As a matter of fact, some chess players might say that they would checkmate the opponent with their eyes closed. Actually, this is exactly what happened in the next game where Judit Polgar checkmated her opponent in a blindfold game!

Judit Polgar

I anticipate your question if this endgame happens only in women's games since so far we have analyzed only games played by ladies. Of course male grandmasters had their share of embarrassment as well. GM Vladimir Epishin was Anatoly Karpov's second and one of the leading grandmasters in the world in the mid-90s. Yet, he failed to win this endgame in the next game:

As you could see, a very strong GM wasn't even close to winning this endgame and at the point when he stalemated his opponent, the game would be claimed a draw due to the 50-move rule anyway. What went wrong there?

Apparently Black didn't know the correct technique and it is very difficult to find it on your own when you are tired after a long game and probably very short on time. Meanwhile, the correct procedure is relatively easy and can be split into three parts:

  1. Push your opponent's king to the corner of the board (the easy part).
  2. If the corner is 'wrong' (that is the bishop cannot control it), force your opponent's king to the right corner. (This is the most difficult part of the whole plan)
  3. Checkmate the king (the simplest part).

Watch how a super GM does the most difficult part:

Here is another very strong GM making it look very easy:

There is one trick which you must know. When you push your opponent's king from the 'wrong' corner to the 'right' corner at some point it looks like he just escapes. But this is just an illusion. The knight and the bishop create a firm barrier, so the king is still locked. The next diagram shows this important approach:

In the next game Black resigned when his opponent was about to demonstrate this trick:

And here is one more example of this very important and useful pattern:

So, the endgame is not that difficult to master yet it is very tricky. I recommend you to play a couple of training games in this endgame with your friends to assure that if you ever encounter this endgame, you will leave the board smiling.

Good luck!



  • 3 years ago


    people dont bother learning this endgame because it is rare

  • 3 years ago


    This is a very interesting end game.

  • 3 years ago


    Thank you GM. Gserper for this is difficult endgame information. I personal online games had two of this type endgame Knight & Bishop verse the lone king and both this endgame I won, only because I study them already. You be surprise this endgame more frequent in otb games.

  • 3 years ago


    I can not beginning to imagine how terribly bad this super GM (and WGM) felt that moment...!! To have been fighting for hours, straining your brain to find the right path, then have that huge material advantage, and then... my God, that is chess again for us humans, slaping us on the face, sending us back to humility school... Great article as usual!

  • 3 years ago


    Couldn't see the screen with tears of laughter running down my face. Never, ever, ever knew chess could be quite so hilarious.

    A great tonic. Thanks a million.

  • 3 years ago


    You are welcome...........but I noticed there is still a mistake...... in your variation in the red.....
    (61... Kc262. Ke2Kb163. Bc3Ka264. Bb4Kb2

    65. Kd2Kb166. Kc3Kc167. Na4Kd168. Kd3Kc1

    69. Ba5Kd1(69... Kb170. Bb4Ka2

    71. Kc3Kb172. Kb3Kc173. Nb2Kb1

    74. Bd2Ka175. Nc4Kb176. Na3+Ka177. Bc3#)

    70. Nb2+Kc171. Kc3Kb172. Kb3Kc173. Bb6
    is a mistake....... as the black king can now escape..... after 73. Bb6 Kd2! ( and not Kb1, which leads to chekmate, which you figured correctly )....... so I think after 72....Kc1 73.Be1! and the king remains caged.
    Hope it helps. 

  • 3 years ago


    Memorize the ending?  No need for that, it is simple enough to understand how to coordinate the N-B pair to drive the opponents king into the proper corner once you see how it is done.  Once you understand the concept, it can be easily applied, should this end game ever arise.  And, as many others have already commented ... having an understanding of how to coordinate the N-B pair is useful in other situations as well.

  • 3 years ago


    I like GM Serpter, but examples like this simply show that "basic mates" and knowledge is simply neither necessary nor sufficient for becoming a IM/GM class player. If a 1700 player memorized this ending he would still be a 1700 level player and he would probably only need to use it once or twice in his career. It seems that the best skills out of knowing this ending is that of visualization and piece coordination. 

  • 3 years ago


    ponomariov-nakamura shows the mate, and also the puzzle shows the mate

  • 3 years ago


    but none of the examples actually show the mate???

  • 3 years ago


    I really like how it teaches you how to preform a K+N+B mate. And there's a lot of material in this lesson. Pretty fun!

  • 3 years ago


    this reminds me a debate in the cheating forum in which a (Aplayer) used an "instructional video" in youtube to mate his opponent (Bplayer) then others database users claimed that that was not cheating.


    Aplayer claimed that since the game was a theory win for him and his oponent (Bplayer) was reluctant to resign, then he used the "instructional video" to get the win.


    Aplayer also claimed that his opponent was a (bad word) for his bad sportmanship . Aplayer was clueless about how to checkmate with KBN but since it was a theorical win then he just decided to use an extra power. I would love him to see this article so he can understand why the game has to be played in a fair way and also why his opponent (Bplayer) was right about keep fighting for the draw

  • 3 years ago


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  • 3 years ago


    That puzzle was super hard!

  • 3 years ago


      Very instructive lesson, thanks.

  • 3 years ago


    wanna hear a joke? women rights! 

  • 3 years ago


    Very nice article. I did not know the technique and learnt it easily thanks to you!

  • 3 years ago


    Great article! Rare as it is, probably still good to practice how pieces work together.

  • 3 years ago


    c'est pas gentil de perdre à temp,quand on a gagné au moment ; de mettre l'adversaire au mat

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