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Comprehensive Endgame Works: One-Volume

Nov 11, 2015, 3:17 PM 5

As announced in my previous post, where I introduced this blog series, here are some thoughts on my favourite comprehensive one-volume endgame books. I sorted them in roughly ascending order of the ideal reader's rating according to my own estimates (excepting Silman's book, which defies such ranking). The titles are linked to the publishers' sites for each book, where you can often find sample pages as PDF files.

Jeremy Silman, Silman's Complete Endgame Course: From Beginner to Master, Siles Press 2007.

Many readers of this blog will be familiar with IM Jeremy Silman's writing from his regular Chess.com articles. He uses the same chatty and engaging style in his books. For this one he thought up the very interesting idea of addressing every chapter to a different target audience, just as the subtitle implies. I feel this book is the best choice for players who want to improve but actually don't like endgames and wouldn't manage to study other endgame books. They may find that the chapter-wise digestion of this material is possible and actually fun. For the rest of us, this book may still serve as a good starting point and an enjoyable read, but most will probably feel the need to supplement it with other material even before they reach the master level. Silman himself only gives some very advanced book recommendations at the end, in a section titled "Beyond Master". 

Bernd Rosen, Chess Endgame Training, Gambit 2003.

The original German editions of this handy training manual by German FM and experienced coach Bernd Rosen are well-known and widely used by German chess teachers. This success is well-deserved, as each chapter effectively contains a ready-made training session, where the instructor needs to do little more than make a few choices to tailor the material to his audience. Rosen includes a chapter on how to do this. So this book is an excellent choice for chess teachers, especially those working with students who have little prior endgame knowledge, e.g. in scholastic settings. For students who want to work with this book on their own, there may be too little verbal explanation, depending on their level.

John Nunn, Understanding Chess Endgames, Gambit 2009.

When endgame legend GM Dr. John Nunn decides to write an introductory chapter for one of his customarily quite advanced treatises, the result may be an entire book in itself! This case in point is outwardly similar to de la Villa's 100 Endgames (see below), but less technical and broader in scope (their head-to-head encounter ends in a win for the Englishman from diagram 55d). Perhaps I'm biased because he is a fellow mathematician, but I like the Doctor's systematic and authoritative style very much. This is certainly one of his most accessible works. If you are looking for a brief introduction to the most important practical endgame situations with an emphasis on clarity and correctness in the annotations, this could be your best choice.

Karsten Müller & Frank Lamprecht, Fundamental Chess Endings, Gambit 2001.

This is still my favourite reference work to look up any specific endgame. Wonder whether you should have transposed into that knight and four pawns versus knight and three pawns ending in your last tournament game? The book's systematic structure allows you to quickly find the relevant section via the table of contents and assess your winning chances by looking at a well-chosen example that will often be quite similar to your own position. John Nunn wrote the foreword and his influence is palpable throughout the book, not only because of the strict adherence to his Nunn Convention, but also in style (German GM Dr. Karsten Müller is another mathematician). Some may find this makes the book too dry for their taste, and it would certainly be a tough task to read it cover to cover, but for its purpose as an encyclopedia I feel this mathematical approach works very well.

Jesus de la Villa, 100 Endgames You Must Know, New In Chess 2015 (4th edition).

This book had been around in Spanish for a while before it was finally translated into English in 2008. Spanish GM Jesús Maria de la Villa Garcia is an experienced chess coach, and this clearly shows throughout this work. His choice of positions to cover is excellent. The focus is on technical, practically important critical positions, i.e. those where one side can just about draw or win. This allows the careful reader to draw conclusions about many less critical positions en passant. To get the most out of this approach, I believe the reader should already be a strong tournament player. Alternatively, this book is a very useful tool for coaches to guide their endgame lessons.

Mark Dvoretsky, Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual, Russell Enterprises 2014 (4th edition).

Russian IM Mark Izrailovich Dvoretsky is a celebrated trainer and author, although some do not like his teaching style, which involves pushing students out of their comfort zones with often very difficult exercises. However, I think you do not have to be an ambitious GM-candidate to get something out of this book. For a one-volume textbook that goes beyond Nunn's above-mentioned book, this may be the best choice. If you can read German, I would recommend the older German editions (Chessgate, 4th edition 2002; they transcribe the author's name as Dvoreckij) over the English ones, because here the typesetting is extremely thoughtful, with font sizes corresponding to the importance of the content and other treats. Unfortunately, these seem to be out of print, but maybe you can still find a copy at a reasonable price.

László Polgár, Chess Endgames, Könemann 1999.

Hungarian educational psychologist László Polgár has proven through his three daughters that he is a world-class chess teacher. This volume is one from his infamous "brick" series, containing 4560 exercise diagrams with Chess Informant style (i.e. languageless) solutions. These are grouped thematically into 171 categories, e.g. fortress, shouldering, or good knight versus bad bishop. Within each category, the positions are ordered progressively, from simple to complex. Now I don't think anybody outside of the author's family has actually worked through all of this, but for diligent self-reliant students who are willing to put in some extra work, this is an interesting resource. For trainers it is simply a treasure trove that will never leave them short of examples for any given endgame theme.

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