Coach Dante's Endgame Crash Course! -- Pawns: Key Squares
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Coach Dante's Endgame Crash Course! -- Pawns: Key Squares

Jan 1, 2018, 2:21 PM |

You've played a tough game of chess. You converted your advantages into a theoretically winning endgame. You enter the final phase of the game a pawn ahead of your opponent... but they draw you!  A dozen questions buzz through your mind as you try to rationalize your failure to win. 


Should I have simplified to the pawn endgame?

Did I evaluate incorrectly?

Is this endgame a win or a draw for me?


Every player in history has been there.  Amateurs, FIDE Masters, IMs, GMs, and even World Champions have stepped into a "winning" endgame yet failed to convert the advantage. Sometimes we even step into the pawn ending not realizing it's drawn or lost for us!


In this and following blogs my aim is to teach you about the necessary knowledge required to properly evaluate pawn endgames.  Many of the examples I provide will come directly from the quintessential book on endgames, Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual.  I hope to be able to simplify the thicket of variations provided into easily digestible ideas to be recalled for our practical games.  Without further ado, let us dive right into it!


Key Squares

 In the above position White is a pawn up, but whether or not the game is Won or Drawn depends solely on who is to move! If White can manage to get his King to either the c6, d6, or e6 squares then he can escort the pawn to the d8-square. On the other hand, if Black can prevent White from entering one of those squares then the game is drawn due to White's inability to make progress.  With Black to move White will win, but if it is White's move the game ends in a draw.



The c6, d6, and e6 squares are the Key Squares of the position. Key Squares are the squares which guarantee victory if the King can occupy one of them.  There are a few general guidelines for identifying your pawn's Key Squares:

  • Pawns on the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th rank have THREE Key Squares that are the square 2 spaces ahead of the pawn and the squares directly next to that square (EG: a White pawn on d4 has Key Squares c6, d6, and e6.).
  • Pawns on the 5th or 6th rank have SIX Key Squares that are the squares directly in front of it and the squares in front of those (EG: a White pawn on d5 has Key Squares c6, d6, e6, c7, d7, and e7.).
  • Pawns on the 7th rank have FIVE Key Squares that are the squares on the 7th and 8th ranks directly touching the pawn (EG: a White pawn on d7 has Key Squares c7, e7, c8, d8, and e8.).
  • Knight Pawns and Rook Pawns are often exceptions to these rules and will be covered in-depth in a diagram!

We saw an example of the first guideline in the above example. Now let's take a look at what happens when a pawn is on the 5th or 6th rank.

With such a strongly advanced pawn the leading player can force the promotion no matter who is to move.
So far we've taken a look at immediate access to Key Squares and whether or not the Kings are able to control those squares.  What happens when the positions are further spread out? We do the same thing of course!  In the following position the Kings and pawn are separated, but by identifying the Key Squares we can calculate whether or not our King can reach one before the opponent's King!
  1. Identify the Key Squares.  Our pawn is on the 4th rank, so the Key Squares are the square 2 spaces directly ahead of the pawn and the squares to its left and right.  That makes our Key Squares as a6, b6, and c6.
  2. Choose a Key Square to infiltrate. The most logical aim is to get our King to the square farthest away from the enemy King: The a6-square.
  3. Calculate the path our King will have to take.

I hope you now have a better understanding of Key Squares and how to recognize and utilize them to evaluate your endgames!  I will be leaving a few real-life examples solidifying my lessons at the end of each blog. Please enjoy the puzzles!


In this position the woman playing White saw she would lose her d5-pawn and resigned. Is there a way to salvage the endgame?


White has just played 1.Rf4??... How can Black win?


Playing Black against one of the top players in the world, young Bobby Fischer has simplified into this pawn ending.  Can you match the future World Chess Champion?



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 opening must be studied in relation to the end game.  ~ Jose Capablanca