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how to study endgames

  • #1

    Endgames are known as boring.. Why is that:

    1. For the amateur player, is more amusing to study openings with fancy names. I play the Najdorf, the Marshall defence, the Fried Liver attack… In this way, we sense paired in someway with the GMs. “My repertoire is the same than Fischers, or Kasparov”

    2. Amateurs are more focused in tactics which will boost their rating in a more effective way than endings they will hardly reach. Beside, tactics are more rewarding aesthetically than middlegame strategy or endgame technic. Even pros quote their best game as one full of tactical brilliancies.

    3. Let’s suppose that an amateur decides to study endgames as part of a whole training program. How to study that? The frequent step is to get one of the best endorsed books available. I.ex. Dvoretsky’s “Endgame Manual”, Muller’s “Fundamental Chess Endings” or Nunn’s “Chess Endings, vol.1 & 2”. The problem is that these are encyclopedic works targeted to the master level. Thou, the amateur will randomly choose some positions, go through a load of variations, understand almost nothing and leave the book back in the shelf (beside others who he hardly understands too). And the sense that endings are boredom.

    Now, the first question is:

    It’s necessary to study endgames through books?

    The answer is NO. Today, there are lots of non printed material that will make studying easier. I.ex. videos. They are loads of them in YT, Chessvideos.tv…Even paying sites like chess.com or ICC are uploading some of their videos in YT. Beside of videos the are also quite a bunch of training software. Computer workout is available in sites like chess.com, ICC; Playchess.com or Chesstempo. Chessbase and Convetka also sell specialized training software. I.ex. Convetka’s Total Chess Endings by Pandenko, has about 2500 exercises plus theory tips in a wide range of endgames (target, 1500 to 2400 ELO).

    Now. Let’s say we buy a book. Which one?

    As mentioned, “big books” are targeted to advanced-master players. The fact is that endgame study should be adapted to players strength. The amount of time delivered to endgames and the type of endgames one should now. They are some basic endgames everybody should know. Basic checkmates, single pawn endings… The intermediate player should achieve some more knowledge but NOT MUCH MORE. Two books we endorse for the U2000 player are:

    - DE LA VILLA: “100 endgames one should know”. Really, one may not learn the 100. Less than half is enough. The plus of this book is that the examples are very well explained and help to grasp THE IDEA more than memorizing positions.

    - SILMAN: “Complete endgame course”. The advantage of this one, unlikely of its pairs, is that the book is structured according to the readers chess strength. So one will find endgames for beginners, intermediate, advanced and master level. Good guidance of what one should learn and may not.

    Time to invest studying endgames?

    Again, it depends of the player strength. The beginner should just know basic checkmates and how to promote a pawn. Intermediates should focus more in tactics, which will be the most rewarding. Thus, the time spent in endgames could be about 10/20% of the whole. This may increment considerably in the advanced/master level. The reason is that their chess understanding, globally speaking, will be higher and their games will more likely reach the endgame.

    Finally, how to study the endgame?

    Watching videos and computer workout (problem solving) don’t require much effort. Reading articles online is also an easy task. We recommend an added training mode. Use an engine. Take a problem, from a book or the web, and display the position on the board. Then play it against the computer. First, the computer plays the side who has to reach the goal (win/draw). After few tries and grasping the idea read and played by the engine, switch sides and try to reach the goal yourself. Switching engines is also a plus. The reason is that each engine is programmed differently, thus, reacts to some moves with different variations (i.ex. more stubborn vs. more flexible defence). There are plenty of free engines online.


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  • #2

    Thanks for the tips. As an amateur/intermediate, I've often pondered the dilemma of when/how often to study endgames. This helped clear things up quite a bit!

  • #3

    This is very helpful.  I like your idea about using the engine and playing against it.  I just purchased Convetka's Total Endgame Program and it is working out really well.  My daughter, who is a beginner, is getting a good grasp of the concepts with this software and I'm learning a few things and brushing up on some old ideas.  I wish I had this software when I was a kid, it would have helped me a lot.

  • #4

    Wonderful article!

  • #5

    @bpavan. Interesting article. However, while there are certainly other options out there, I don't see anything wrong with studying books to learn endgames.

    For one, there are actually numerous books which are quite accessible to amateurs. You listed two (which frankly I haven't looked at before), and there are others like "Just the Facts" by Lev Alburt.

    One "big book" which you didn't mention and which is both deep enough for masters and accessible to amateurs is Reuben Fine's "Basic Chess Endings". The coverage is very thorough and systematic, and easy to follow. There are also main positions for each material balance/method, and ancillary positions for further examples.

    Regarding engine use -- this is problematic unless endgame tablebases are installed and the endgame is simple enough that the engine can reach a position in the tablebase. Otherwise, the engine may not make optimal moves. I would not recommend learning what the engine does, but rather studying the approach recommended in the book and then playing that side vs. the computer to see if you can implement the approach.

    Another idea is to look up the "key endgame positions" recommended by the book GM-RAM, by Ziatdinov.

  • #6

    Very good article, with useful information and written in a comprehensive way.

    Studying endgames is really very important, for all player strengths. It will boost your endgame skill and help you win some more games. But there is one not so evident benefit in addition - that every endgame is a simplified embodiment of a fundamental chess problem, and thinking over an endgame one thinks over the essence of chess in a particular, tangible and accessible way.

    "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 the opening must be studied in relation to the endgame" - Jose Raul Capablanca

    "Openings teach you openings. Endgames teach you chess!" - Stephan Gerzadowicz

  • #7

    I am rated 1720 USCF and found Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual to be very helpful. I suggest buying it.

  • #8

    Dvortesky's Endgame Manual has a lot of good material in it. However, his tone sometimes annoys me as it contains a whiff of condescension/arrogance.

    For me, nothing beats the classic BCE.

  • #9

    if someone is trying to buy some endgame book then 100 endgames you  must know is a vey good books for advanced and itermedia. the author is jesus de la villa if u want some more interesting forums then join your wining plan.    and if u want to be a member then don't forget to give me ur e-mail ID then only  i can send some books. (your wining plan is a group)

  • #10

     if u people want some more nice articles then join Your Winning Plan.

  • #11

    @uhohspaghettio --

    I know exactly what you are talking about re Dvoretsky. My impressions are similar -- although I would describe his style more like:

    "Here's an endgame between two GMs. Although I am only an IM, because I am so awesome, I can clearly see

    that the fool playing white should have played the OBVIOUS Kd4 walking into

    an apparently lost endgame but actually winning because of the next ten pages of analysis I worked out in in my super-de-duper training sessions I give titled players and later checked using the latest Nalimov tablebases. "

  • #12

    For beginner level to 2000 rating, I highly recommend Silman's Complete Endgame Course: From Beginner To Master


    I have been working through it with much benefit.  He structures it an easy-to-read, logical progression.

    His style is hilarious.  He is straighforward, but finds room for humour such as rooks "pouring agony down the e-file" or bishops "breathing fire down the a1-h8 diagonal".

    He goes over material based on what you must know to play at such-and-such rating level.  First, the "Overpower Mates" (K+R vs K, K+2B vs K, etc.), then pawns and the idea of Opposition, Distant Opposition, etc.  Then, Rook Endings (Lucena position, Philidor position, etc.)

     He goes into much further detail which I haven't reached yet.  He teaches the WHY of positions.  For example, in the Lucena position he explains WHY each move has to be made and why every other move is insufficient.

  • #13

    Essential Chess Endings Expained Move by Move

    by: Silman

  • #14

    I do not understand why (well, I do but...) people are so extremly focused on quick improvments, ratings and quick fix when they instead should focusing on learning more chess, whether it is going to boost your rating or not. If you lack endgame knowledge, then it is hard to study the other parts of the game. If one takes the time to truly try to study, not passive learning like watching videos or reading articles, but to buy a book, study it, do the excercises in the book etc etc then one could expect a slowly but steady raise of their rating.

    One very important thing: Study to get knowledge, not rating!!!

    So those of you that says that it is better to focus on tactics are wrong. Though it might be correct for a beginner or one like below 1000 for example. Otherwise one should focusing on endgames. This is just pure logic. How is it possible to not knowing this?

  • #15

    I'd get Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual

  • #16
    My teacher are serbian and his school is the Soviet. They always study endgame first!
  • #17

    To study end games is a waste of time learn the principles and follow them thats all you need to do


  • #18

    I had heard that the Znosko-Borovsky endgame book had valuable information in it. Is that true?

  • #19
    i stumbled on the chess.com "drills" section last night and found it quite useful

    i only tried the two drills with king + pawn vs king and found it quite useful (i even needed to check out a couple of videos to figure out the patterns)

    are the "drills" recommended by stronger players- as it seems "tactics" are the main remedy/recipe suggested on the forums
  • #20

    One major flaw in the OP's post is his number 3.


    Yes, Mueller's and Dvoretsky's endgame books are encyclopedic, but that doesn't mean all of them are!


    First endgame book I read (this will show my age) was I.A. Horowitz's "How to Win in the Chess Endings".  A book like this would be fine for a low-rated player, and is FAR MORE RECOMMENDED to a beginner than some theoretical work on the Najdorf Sicilian!


    To name a more modern work on endgames that a lower rated player should study - Silman's Complete Endgame Course!  This is the way to go - not an Encyclopedia endgame book and SURELY NOT BYPASSING ENDINGS ALL TOGETHER!

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