How to learn the theoretical endgames

NM linlaoda
Sep 10, 2015, 9:00 PM |

It has come to my attention that while most people know that we should study the endgames, most people unfortunately also do not know how to study the endgames. (So clearly just reading an endgame book is not cutting it...)

The problems facing the average learner is as follows (besides it sometimes being boring):

(1) It takes a long time to learn it.
(2) We forget it easily.

Thus I would like to propose a learning method that addresses these two issues. (Note that we are only dealing with theoretical endgames, not practical endgames. Thus this article will not help you play the endgames like Ulf Andersson or Anatoly Karpov - not that I can help you with that anyways...)

First I will explain the general approach, and immediately following I will use a practical example.

 Learn the method

Every theoretical endgame always has a method/algorithm or whatever you want to call it. For example, in King vs King + pawn endgames, oftentimes the idea is for the defending king to seize the opposition and prevent the pawn from advancing. Or in the "lucena" rook endgames, the idea is to bring the rook to the 4th rank in order to block the king from checks. (do not know what that means? Use "lucena position" as your second practical example)

Here we are only focused on learning the algorithm.
Depending on how good your teaching material is (be it a video, coach, or literary source) and your ability to learn it, this part should take around 10-15 minutes. (e.g. go through the learning material once to learn the idea, and another to understand it a bit better)

Now is the important part. Most people just stop here, and fall victim to our second problem: we forget it.

Practice, practice, practice

We now should make sure we "understand it to the point of memorizing it" (I wrote a post about this here, though reading this will not help your endgames, it explains my use of "memorization")

How do we do this?
There are several ways, and it varies by the type of theoretical endgame.

The endgame has forcing lines. These are the kind of endgames where in addition to knowing the algorithm, we must play very precisely (the answer tends to not have alternative solutions). Most King and Pawn endgames fall into this category - there is little room for error. In these cases, I recommend using flashcards: put the problem starting position on the front, and the exact forced line on the back. Drill the endgame (probably together with many other endgame positions) until you can recite/write down the exact answer.

The other type of endgame is that which does not have an exact forced line, but nonetheless is governed by an exact algorithm. These I recommend to drill with a computer.

You can use any computer, but if you are interested, I use a combination of Chess Arena and Stockfish

It takes some configuration but as it is freeware this is to be expected.

The idea is to set up the starting position to play with the computer, and play against the computer until you can confidently beat it or draw it easily. You can qualify "easily" by using short time controls.
This part usually takes about ~15 minutes or so (each run through might take about 1-5 minutes, and will progressively get shorter each time.)

A practical example:

Bishop vs Knight endgame

 Most people have not learned this, for a variety of reasons, perhaps the most relevant being that some trainers have claimed this to be a "waste of time." However as we will see, applying the method just mentioned to learning endgames will allow us to learn this complicated but important endgame in about ~30 minutes.


First, the theory. Of course you can learn it from any source, but for convenience let's use wikipedia.

Please reference this link to learn the "w maneuver":

(in this link, go to "second phase" and start there)

This particular mate should be broken down into two steps.
We should first pay attention to the critical position where the Black king is in the dark corner. (go to "second phase" in the wikipedia link) Here we learn the famous "w maneuver" to methodically mate the king. I recommend practicing this position with your computer many times until you can do it by heart. (very specifically, I recommend playing the line until you are able to reconstruct the exact line that is mentioned in the article, versus a computer).

The next step is to practice with a computer mating from any random position. I recommend placing both kings somewhere in the center and the bishop and knight randomly. There is not really a method to this part besides calculation - the idea is to get the king to the edge (once it gets to the dark corner we already know the method!) This part is not really "theoretical" but should be practiced nonetheless.


After you've practiced this, you've mastered the bishop + knight checkmate.

p.s. obviously if you're a genius your training methods will vary greatly from this, but of course I am trying to provide an effective yet simple method of training for the average joe.

Were you able to do it? Please comment below?