Many important aspects of the chess game have been wiped away by today’s craze for learning chess opening theory. If two grandmasters speak about chess you can make a bet that they speak about an opening. You win with 99% probability, try it out!
This, actually, is a disaster because the newly established equality “chess = opening theory” conquers the chess world with the speed of light. There is no doubt, openings are very important, but it is much more important to be trained to find good moves in every situation – then you can solve opening problems among others, too. Chess is a game of solving problems and creating new approaches and ideas how to solve problems. There are rules and principles that need to be understood in the first place. About one of such principles I want to speak here.
Do you remember how many games of yours ended after 15 moves? What about 20? And now try to recall how many of them went beyond move number 40. Most of the games, if they are played out and not agreed on a quick draw, end in the ENDGAME, not in the OPENING. Hence, to know how to play endgame is crucial for success. Moreover, since most of the games end in the endgame, it is way more important to know how to play endgame than to be able to replicate 25-30 moves of theory to end up in “theoretically better position” and then to lose it in 10 moves because the opponent plays better the final part of the game.
So, understanding the endgame, studying examples from the games of strong players, learning endgame rules and principles is one of the most important parts of education of every chess player. Among all the variety of endgame rules, there is one principle that deserves particular attention and that makes out a strong player – in the endgame the KING belongs in the CENTER! The strength of king increases dramatically with every exchange, and in the endgame it is the king who decides the game. Another, much older equality than the one mentioned above, has held for centuries and will remain in power as long as chess is alive:
ENDGAME = ACTIVATE YOUR KING
Next, I will show you some examples how this principle works in practice, but what you can do also is to have a look at your recent games in which you played an endgame. Look at them and see whether you could get more points out of your positions if you followed the rule above. I bet you will be surprised!
And here a small collections of examples follows:
The position seem to be equal, but white has some better chances because of space advantage. However, black has only one weekness - pawn b7, and it is safely protected by the queen. So, does white has a chance to play for win?
Yes, he does! The important point is to realize, that white can activate his king! In this particular case, the king is already in the center, but there is no action in the center. So, to activate the king, white played following sequence of moves:
1.a4 Bf8.2.Qb8 Qe7.3.Kd2!
Where does the king go? He goes to support his queen and pawns on the queen side! 3....Qf7.4.Kc3 Kh7.5.b5! axb5.6.axb5 Bg7.7.Kb4! Qd7.8.Qh2+ Kg8.9.Qd6 Qe8.10.Ka5! and white wins. So simple can it go once you find the right idea! Here we have seen that it is important to understand that under the term "Center" we mean the "Center of action", not necessarily the center of chess board. In this example the center of action was on the queen side. In the next example the center of action will coincide with the actual center.
Look at the black king. It does not look too safe, does it? In the middle game the king should not stay in the center, but should hide dimself behind his pawns. The question is, how is this position to classify, as an endgame or a middlegame? The point is, that, besides kings, there are only three pieces on board, hence, we are somewhere inbetween end/middle game. So why not try to follow our principle?
1....Ke7! From here, the king protects the pawn d6, the only weakness of black. White decided to use the seemingly weak position of black king and played 2.Qa8 with idea Qh8. What followed was a big surprise:
King goes forward! Is it possible that it works well?
4.g4 e4.5.Qf8 Ke5!!.6.Re1 Rc2.7.Qe7 Kf4.8.Rf1 Rc7.9.Qf8 Kf3!! and black got a winning position! That's truly an interesting example of how strong the king can be when there are not too many pieces on board.
Next example is very important because it really incorporates the importance of the king in late endgames.
It seems like the position of black is won in any case - he is two pawns up. But it turns out that there is only one move that leads to the full point, and this move is 1....Kg6!! You can easily convince yourself that after 1....b4.2.Rxa6 b3.3.Rb6 with idea c7 the position is draw, and also after 1....Ra3.2.Rb8 black has nothing better than to go back to c3, 2....Rc3.3.Rb6 and we are back to the original position. After the 1....Kg6, though, black wins: 2.Rxa6 Kh5.3.Rb6 (3.Ra7 Rxb6.4.Rxg7 Rg6+ and black wins the pawn endgame) 3....Kh4.4.Rxb5 Rc2+.5.Kg1 Kxh3.6.Rb7 g5.7.c7 g4.8.Rb6 h5 and white resigned.
All of these examples illustrate the importance of the active king in the endgame and, hopefully, will help you to remember to use your king in endgames more often! Good luck!