Endgame Principles - A Beginner's Guide

Endgame Principles - A Beginner's Guide


Hi folks!

There are lots of books on the opening, and middlegame strategy is replicated through thematically recurring patterns, but as an intermediate player, the endgame is an area that I have quite neglected.

Although there are fewer pieces on the board, the calculations you have to perform are extortionate. In this stage of the game, we can however approach the game in a much more mechanical way. The principles that people rely on in the endgame, such as placing your pawns on the opposite colour square to your own bishop, are the summation of all the relevant variations, which demonstrate the reasons why these strategical ideas are best. 

First of all, I will show you the reason why I decided to create this post - A loss from a tournament game:

Here are the most important endgame principles, which I have selected:

  1. Time - This abstract concept is less well understood at lower level chess, than is material. For a pawn v. pawn ending - If it takes me 5 moves to get a queen, and for you 6, then provided that it is my move, and your king is not in the square, then I will win. 
  2. Zugzwang - Normally it is an advantage to have the move. However, when you are in zugzwang the opposite is true. Wherever you move to your opponent will be able to gain an advantage. Often the king is defending a pawn, but must move, and the pawn is lost.
  3. Passed Pawns - In endgames, it does not matter so much about how many pawns you have, so much as their ability to promote. After all, a queen is much more powerful than a bunch of pawns.
  4. Weaknesses - One weakness is normally quite defensible, but if you provoke a second, then they are in trouble. It is difficult to defend 2 weak points, especially if they are on opposite sides of the board.

In this next example, Magnus' attention lapsed for one move, and with it half a point of the draw he should have got. The key theme in this one is the passed pawn, and the idea of 2 weaknesses. The defending king cannot stop both passed pawns. 

In this next endgame, Jonathan Speelman demonstrates excellent technique with a positional pawn sacrifice that allows his king access into the position. 

Why is the final position won? 

It is very simple to calculate variations, where there are so few pieces on the board, just 4. Remember to bear in mind the idea of zugzwang.

The next one is an endgame of Capablanca. Well it wouldn't be complete without a game of the endgame genius...

In the same congress, where I had my loss against Jim Burnett, I noticed an important endgame concept demonstrated by GM Mark Hebden against Martyn Goodger: Passed Pawns - It is not so much how many pawns you have, so much as their ability to promote quickly. Try to solve the position yourself first:

Thanks for reading!

Also. for really clear and instructive elementary pawn v king endgames, check out @Zeitnot17 blog here.