Author Archives: Hugh Patterson

About Hugh Patterson

Prior to teaching chess, Hugh Patterson was a professional guitarist for nearly three decades, playing in a number of well known San Francisco bands including KGB, The Offs, No Alternative, The Swinging Possums and The Watchmen. After recording a number of albums and CDs he retired from music to teach chess. He currently teaches ten chess classes a week through Academic Chess. He also created and runs a chess program for at-risk teenagers incarcerated in juvenile correctional facilities. In addition to writing a weekly column for The Chess Improver, Hugh also writes a weekly blog for the United States Chess League team, The Seattle Sluggers. He teaches chess privately as well, giving instruction to many well known musicians who are only now discovering the joys of chess. Hugh is an Correspondence Chess player with the ICCF (International Correspondence Chess Federation). He studied chemistry in college but has worked in fields ranging from Investment Banking and commodities trading to Plastics design and fabrication. However, Hugh prefers chess to all else (except Mrs. Patterson and his beloved dog and cat).

Bruce Pandolfini

My last nine articles were about endgame play, specifically positional problems the novice chess player might face and, if they’re properly prepared, easily resolve. Chess is really about logical problem solving, except the problem changes with every move which is why chess is so interesting. Endgame play befuddles the beginner because they tend to have their games end well before an actual endgame starts. When they do reach a proper endgame, their lack of pawn and piece coordination combined with a limited ability to think ahead haunts them like an angry poltergeist!

There are plenty of endgame books and instructional DVDs available for the beginning or improving chess player. Unfortunately, the majority of them go far over the head of the beginner or improver. By this, I mean that they’re written for players who already have a knowledge of basic endgame principles. Since beginners have no real endgame knowledge, the information in such books is of very little use to them until they gain more theoretical (studying) and practical (playing) experience. Luckily for the beginning and improving player, we have Bruce Pandolfini. Let me tell you a little story about how learning chess used to be.

There was time a time, not so long ago (hold on to your seat kids, before the internet), when you learned how to improve at chess by either employing a chess teacher (which none of us could afford) or by getting a hold of chess books. You could try checking chess books out at your local library, but everyone else who couldn’t afford a chess teacher had that same thought, so you’d never find the chess book you were really looking for. This left you having to purchase chess books (books were once printed on actual paper). I would travel to Games of Berkeley ( a two hour bus and train ride from my house) and peruse their huge selection for hours. On a side note, I ended up working in their chess department years later. When looking through the plethora of books, I noticed that most of them were difficult to follow. However, there was one author whose words and descriptions of key ideas were crystal clear. That man’s name was (and still is) Bruce Pandolfini. Everything I learned about chess early on and most of what I teach today comes from Bruce’s books. Anyone who considers me a decent chess teacher has Bruce to thank for that!

Most instructional chess books give you a series of moves followed by a small diagram and more moves. Bruce used a larger diagram and employed a written paragraph containing the moves but with verbalized explanations in between each move which really helped solidify the key concepts being discussed. A series of moves and a diagram, with no explanation as to what’s going on with each move, leaving the beginner to figure it out, simply doesn’t work. Bruce was really the first person to clearly explain positional concepts, move by move, simply using words, something I use in my own teaching and writing! If anything in the last 170 plus articles I’ve written here has made sense to you, you have Bruce to thank for it (not me)!

In my series of endgame articles, I used positions directly from Pandolfini’s Endgame Course because it’s mandatory reading for my older students. Why is it mandatory reading for my students? Because the book clearly explains, using words, a large number of important endgame concepts. Notice, I say “using words?” This is because there’s a lack of verbiage in many chess books. It’s as if everything can be explained to the reader in a handful of moves and a diagram or two. In all fairness, advanced players can gain a great deal of knowledge from such books. However, the poor beginner gets hopelessly lost reading the same books and might just give up on the game, thinking it too complex. I teach chess full time and write this weekly column. I’m not a brilliant chess player. In fact I’m a student of the game and always will be. Thankfully, there’s a writer like Bruce out there. His decades of writing have helped me improve. Of course, there are other authors who use “words” to teach chess, but Bruce was the first to really make things clear, employing analogies from our everyday lives. I guarantee that you’ll not be scratching your head muttering “what the heck is this guy talking about” after reading any of his chess books. More likely, you’ll be crying out “hey I actually understood that!”

Let me say this about teaching chess, brilliant chess players don’t always make for brilliant teachers and brilliant educators don’t always make for brilliant chess teachers. Really good chess teachers need a rare combination of skills. You have to have a fair amount chess knowledge, know how to convey that knowledge (teach) and be a bit of an entertainer. If I had a saving grace it’s that I grew up on a stage in front of an audience. Because of this, I’m very comfortable in front of people but, more importantly, I have learned the art of entertaining an audience. I love chess to the point where I’ll put up with the most droll chess lectures. You know the type, the lectures that are akin to watching paint dry or grass grow! If you’re a teacher and you want people to get into chess, you have to get them excited about the game by being entertaining.

Bruce’s writing has a wit and charm that puts a smile on your face as you read it. He connects with you the reader on a personal level. So, not only do you learn the game by reading his books but are entertained as well. Everything I do as a chess teacher and coach is a direct result of reading his books. He truly is the Dean of American chess teaching. Here’s a little rock and roll tale from my youth:

I had a bunch of musicians over to my loft in the 1980’s for a party. We were all about to embark on tours so we decided to hang out for an evening before going our separate ways. I had a stack of Bruce’s books on my desk and a tournament chess set next to the stack. The musicians hanging out with me were hardcore touring musicians, the type you’d expect to have no interest in chess. As the night progressed into the wee hours of the following morning, I noticed three guys huddled over the chess set with one of Bruce’s books cracked open. I walked up and asked what they were doing. One of them answered that they were having an argument over an aspect of the game. They decided to settle the argument by pawing through one of Bruce’s books. They were so impressed that this man could explain the solution to their problem/argument in such a clear and simple way that they started looking other things up and became engrossed in Bruce’s explanations. While all had learned to play as children, their interest was suddenly renewed. Some thirty years later, all of them play chess while touring and in their spare time, thanks to Bruce. I still play chess with those three as well. Some thirty years ago, Bruce connected with three young men who would go on to become very well know musicians. If you can convert a hardcore rock and roller into a serious chess enthusiast, you know how to connect with your readers.

Bruce also came to my personal aid two years ago. I teach in 10-13 schools a week as well as working with at risk teens in jail by teaching them how to use chess to problem solve and make good decisions in life. Our only form of transportation, the Chessmobile, died and we were stranded. This lack of transportation left us in a dire situation that could have destroyed my chess program. Thanks to a donation from Bruce, we were able to get up and running again. HE saved my program and I am forever in his debt. Bruce is the best of chess people!

If I had to recommend any of Bruce’s books, I’d recommend them all hands down. Like a band that puts out that perfect first album (a CD for you youngsters that have no idea what an album is) in which every single song is brilliant, so is the body of Bruce’s chess writing. Not one bad or mediocre book, period. However, I’ll give you a few titles to consider, starting with Pandolfini’s Endgame Course.

This is the book that served as the inspiration for my last nine articles. It also serves as the instructional program I use for teaching endgame principles to my students. If you’re a beginner, you need to read this book (which contains actual words that make complete sense). If you’re an improving player, read this book!

Pandolfini’s Ultimate Guide to Chess is an excellent text book for the beginner wanting to learn the game from scratch. It uses the Socratic method, employing a dialogue between teacher and student, which is as close as you’ll get to sitting down with a live chess teacher, one that really knows how to teach. It’s like have Bruce at the board with you as you learn.

Chess Opening Traps and Zaps is a must for beginners interested in tricks and traps in the opening phase of the game. While I teach tricks and traps from the viewpoint of the person trying to avoid them, this is a good battlefield manual for beginners wanting to turn the tables on those chess Tricksters and Trapsters you’ll face from time to time (especially in the junior chess arena).

Chess Thinking is an excellent reference book that is really a dictionary of chess terms and concepts. It’s a must for anyone learning the game because it gives you the definition of every term and concept you’ll ever encounter in the world of chess. Again, it has great diagrams and verbal descriptions that clearly explain the ideas discussed. this was the book most heavily pawed through by the musicians mentioned above. Each owns a copy of this book and takes on tour to settle any backstage chess arguments.

Every Move Must Have a Purpose: Strategies from Chess for Business and Life is something I incorporate into my own teaching, life lessons learned on the chessboard. An excellent read, especially for those in the business world. A really fascinating approach to life, business and chess.

Like I said, all of Bruce’s books are brilliant. Read them all and your game will greatly improve. I want to thank you Bruce for all you’ve done for me. I am a chess teacher thanks to you! Here’s a game to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson

The Importance of the Endgame Nine

It’s well enough and good to know some basic endgame ideas and concepts. It’s even better to employ them in your games! Beginners often spend hours practicing positions they learn via instructional books and DVDs. They memorize the specific patterns involved in common endgame checkmates and feel confident going into the endgame. Then they get hit with a position in which things get a bit sticky. The mating pattern they’ve mastered suddenly turns into a positional nightmare. They get into a position where they have a pawn one square away from promotion, a Rook and their King against a Rook and King. Piece of cake, right? It might be unless you find yourself in one of those sticky situations!

We’re going to look at one of those sticky situations that tend to throw the beginner’s winning position into the ashcan of defeat. The first point to consider regarding bad positions is the simple idea that you have to slowly and carefully work your way out of them. The beginner tends to see positions in very black and white terms. By this, I mean that beginners look only for big attacks or big advantages. They don’t think in terms of building up small advantages, slowly and methodically. If there’s no big attack to launch they’re at a loss as to what to do. In the endgame, they tend to look for moves that check the opposition King or push his majesty towards the edge or corner of the board. It’s all about the big moves for the beginner. Of course, this occurs because the beginner only knows the most basic of endgame play in which moves are very forcing.

When the beginner finds him or herself in a position in which there are no big moves they tend to try to force big moves which more often than not, leads to the loss of the very material needed to deliver mate. The key to these sticky positions is to play slowly and carefully, trying to gain that small advantage that will turn the tide.

Another point to consider here is the idea that whose turn it is often determines who comes out with the advantage. In chess, we call this Zugzwang. What this means is simple; the player who has to move is put at a disadvantage by having move. Since you can’t pass on making a move in chess, Zugzwang can be very powerful in the endgame! Again, since beginners look for big powerful moves, they don’t understand or appreciate the power of “waiting moves,” those moves that force their opponent into Zugzwang. Let’s take a look at a position that would send the beginning player into the flames of defeat, the positional ashcan, even though they’re up by a pawn and that pawn is one square away from promotion. That’s right, just a single square away from promoting into a Queen.

In the example below, our beginner (playing white) has a pawn on the seventh rank, a Rook and a King against a Rook and a King. It sounds like an easy win but take a look at the position below.

The major problem here is the black Rook on b1. The Rook keeps the white King from moving around the white pawn on a7 and allowing it to promote. The seasoned player will look at this position know exactly what to do. However, the beginner will try all sorts of crazy maneuvers with the h8 Rook, big attack thinking, and fail at all of them. I had roughly 50 beginners play through this position as white and only three of my beginning students found the correct first move. It should be noted that those three students were the students that did extra homework (yes, my chess students do homework regardless of student and parent complaints – I run a dictatorship rather than a democracy) and paid close attention to my lessons. So what is the correct first move? Believe it or not, a “in your face” challenge!

The first move has to be 1. Rb8 which says to black “either trade Rooks, in which case I’ll promote my pawn, or move your Rook.” The key point here is that white will never get King out from behind the a7 pawn unless the Black Rook is moved off of the b1 square. From black’s viewpoint, losing his or her Rook is going to leave them in a losing position, so the Rook moves with 1…Rc1. Why move the black Rook to c1? Black knows that the white King is going to make a run for the b file so he or she wants to keep the Rook close to the action. Moving the black Rook to d1 would allow a dreadful skewer by white (R. d8+). You should always consider your opponent’s best response to your move. If you’re playing the white pieces and you see that the Black Rook has decided to remain in the game rather than trading himself for the white Rook, you have to ask yourself “if I’m going to make a run for the b file with my King, what is black’s best response?”

White plays 2. Kb7, making a break for freedom. You have to play slowly and methodically during sticky endgame positions, always considering your opponent’s best response to your move. What is blacks best response on move two? To check the white King with 2…Rb1+. It’s here that beginners often fumble, returning to the King’s starting square, a8. The correct response is 3. Kc8. While this may seem counter intuitive, we’ll see that there’s a good reason for this move. That reason is that the white King is now out of his pawn’s way and is also protecting his Rook. Black checks with 3…Rc1+. White moves his King in opposition to the black King with 4. Kd8 and black counters with 4…Rh1.

This position must be handled with care because if white plays incorrectly he or she will be the one mated! If black had a free turn, the Rook on h1 would move to h8 and it would be game over. While this might look like a precarious position for white, white has a good response in 5. Rb6+! What makes this move good is that simple fact that it forces the black King off of the sixth rank, ending black’s attempt at mate. Black will move his King to a square that attacks the white Rook with 5…Kc5. What does white do with the Rook? How about serving up a nasty sacrifice that, if black accepts the seemingly free Rook, will lead to an even nastier skewer that wins the black Rook on h1. Take a close look at the next move.

Rather than moving the Rook to a safe square on the sixth rank, white plays 6. Rc6+. The beginner playing black might think the Rook is hanging without protection, free for the taking. However, if black takes the the seemingly free Rook, white promotes the a7 pawn into a Queen on a8, checks the black King (a skewer) and after the black King moves out of check, wins the Rook on h1! This is why black plays 6…Kb5.

White plays 7. Rc8, being keenly aware that black will check with 7…Rh8, which he does. No worries after 8. Kc7 and 8…Rh7+. This check proves to be pointless because white plays 9. Kb8 and the black Rook can’t check the white King. Why? Because it would take two moves to get the Rook to b6 in order to check. It will take white one move to promote the pawn! Black can do nothing to stop white from promoting the a7 pawn except for trading itself for the a7 pawn which would be a losing move.

The key to this type of position is to play with a cool head, slowly and carefully. The winning move here was challenging the black Rook with white’s own Rook, forcing it off the b file. Endgame play is first learned from book and DVD examples. We practice these endgame positions until we know them. However, we must always remember that there will be those sticky endgame positions in which a solution may require slowly working our way through the position. Keep a cool head, play for the small positional advantages and you’ll come out a winner. While it’s necessary to study endgame principles remember this, theory works best in textbooks and doesn’t always pan out in the real world where the rubber meets the road (as my favorite chemistry professor used to say). Here’s a game to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson

The Importance Of The Endgame Eight

Do you know when we start our preparation for the endgame? It’s a question I asked my students, both beginners and advanced alike last week. I received a plethora of answers but not one student gave me the answer I was looking for. To their shock, I told them that endgame preparation starts with move one! It may sound absurd, but think about it this way: What we have left on the board going into the endgame is a direct result of our actions during the opening and middle-game.

The opening is truly the foundation for the rest of your game. We position our pawns and pieces on squares that maximize our control of the board, specifically the center. We increase the activity of our material so we can start employing tactics and sound exchanges during the middle-game. Our goal is to enter the endgame with either more material or better placed material than our opponent. Having more material means just that, having a Queen, Rook and King versus a Rook and King. Better placed material means having a well positioned pawn majority and active King versus an equal number of poorly placed pawns and an inactive King.

Beginners have a tendency to not think about the endgame early on, rather playing for fast checkmates via big all or nothing attacks. If they can’t win employing the all or nothing brute force method, they end up with randomly placed pawns and pieces scattered about the board when the endgame arrives. If they’re playing an opponent with greater experience, that opponent will be able to use coordinated material to deliver mate or promote a pawn which will lead to mate. Therefore, we should consider the endgame from the start of the opening! Often in the endgames of the improving player, it’s all about the pawn.

Pawns really are the soul of chess! In the opening they initially control the board’s center. During the middle-game they can defend against opposition attacks. Because they are worth far less than the pieces in terms of relative value, pawns are a great deterrent when it comes to the opposition moving pieces to your side of the board. However, thinking solely in these terms can leave you in a terrible position going into the endgame. You always have to think about pawn structure, which I’ve discussed in earlier articles, every time you move a pawn. More specifically, you have to think about maintaining some pawns for use in the endgame, namely pawns that can work with one another by employing a sound pawn structure. By this (in the most basic of terms), I mean pawns that have fellow pawns on adjacent files to support them. In my chess classes, we start every game with the endgame in mind.

What I have my beginners do it to keep pawn moves to a minimum during the opening. The pawns that should be moved are only those that can control central squares. A beginner might think this means he or she could move the c, d, e and f pawns since each controls a central square. However, before taking on such a position with four pawns remember this, the more pawns you have lined up on the fourth (for white) or fifth (for black) ranks, the harder they’ll be to defend. You’ll have to use pieces to defend them and that limits the piece’s activity or scope. Two pawns should be your maximum in most opening positions. Always think about the endgame with each and every move you make. I teach my students to always connect their pawns which creates pawn chains. Pawn chains help keep your pawns protected and intact for the endgame. Lastly, I have my students always compare pawn majorities on the King-side and Queen-side.

Going into the middle-game, if you have a three to two pawn majority, you having three pawns and your opponent having two, on the Queen-side for example, try to maintain this majority. This can be a huge advantage in the endgame. If you have a passed pawn, one with no opposition pawns on adjacent files, and a Rook doing nothing to contribute to the game, put that rook behind the passed pawn. Always think about a potential endgame situation!

During the middle-game, beginners look for quick tactical strikes that involve pieces. Try punching holes in the opposition’s pawn structure instead, playing with the endgame in mind. If you cripple your opponent’s pawn structure, they’ll have a harder time in the endgame due to scattered and unsupported pawns.

When we castle, we generally have a neat row of pawns in front of our King. Beginners tend not to think of these pawns as valuable targets because they’re protected by the King (in the case of King-side castling). Removing one of those pawns (especially the g and h pawns) leaves the King exposed. Look for ways to break through that wall of pawns exposing the opposition King to attack!

Speaking of the King. Get your King into the endgame and waste no time doing it! Leaving your King dormant for just a move or two during the start of the endgame while your opponent activates his King immediately can lead to disaster. The King is often the best Sheppard for herding pawns to their promotion square. During the opening and middle-game, your King needs to be guarded, but this shouldn’t stop you from looking at your pawn structure as well as your opponent’s pawn structure and envisioning where you’d want your King to be. Always think towards the endgame.

During the middle-game, I have my students look at the board and ask themselves what remaining material will work best in the endgame. If they have a Rook, two Bishops and a Knight, they’ll consider which pieces would deliver mate with the least complications. In this case, the Rook and two Bishops would be the easiest for my students to use so they need to keep those pieces safe. Of course, you always want to try to hang on to most of your material but you have to engage in exchanges when playing chess if you hope to get anywhere. Therefore, use the piece least valuable to your endgame plans for the exchange. On the flip-side, I have students look at the opposition’s material and ask, which of opposition’s material would work best for their opponents to deliver mate. Those pieces then become their targets. Remember, in chess there are always two plans, yours and those of your opponent!

I highly recommend Bruce Pandolfini’s Endgame Course as critical reading for the endgame beginner. I use it as the core of my endgame training for beginners. The examples are clear and concise and the book covers all those “problem” endgame positions that crop up. Too often, the beginner with a bit of endgame knowledge will be derailed because he or she faces one of those “problem” positions. Bruce’s excellent text will keep you from getting caught in an awkward positional situation. I’ll be covering s few seemingly complicated Rook and pawn endgame positions in my next and last series of endgame articles. Until then, here’s a game to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson

The Importance of the Endgame Seven

Today, we’re going to look at an endgame position that arises from time to time. It’s a position that the skilled endgame player can easily win. However, when the beginner is faced with this same position, a draw is usually the result! Fret not, because with a little knowledge and practice, even the beginner can turn this seemingly bad position into a stunning victory! Let me start by introducing our actors playing out this endgame drama. Stepping onto the stage for white are the King, a dark squared Bishop, a light squared Bishop and a pawn. However, each of the two examples will employ only a single Bishop of one color. Black is represented by a lone King. There are some important ideas to consider in this type of position when considering your endgame plan. If you don’t have a plan, you have nothing (perhaps a painful loss).

In both our examples, we’re trying to promote a Rook pawn, a pawn working it’s way up the h file in this case. Rook pawns can be tricky for both players to deal with because their on the edge of the board. This means they’re difficult to attack and difficult to defend. Why? Because you can only access the squares on one side of the pawn in question rather than squares on either side. Remember, Rook pawns can be difficult for either side to deal with. The next potential problem we face in this type of endgame position is created by the Bishop. In example one, the Bishop’s not a problem but in example two, the Bishop creates a bit of a problem. The problem has to do with the color of the promotion square and the color of the squares the Bishop controls. If the Bishop can control the promotion square, there is no immediate problem. If the promotion square is the opposite color of the Bishop, you’ll have to work a lot harder to promote your pawn. Ideally, you want to have a Bishop that can can control the promotion square in this type of endgame position. Take a look at the first example:

Here, we have an example of a Bishop that controls the white pawn’s promotion square. This is a crucial factor in securing an easy victory. The first thing the beginner should notice is the opposition of the two Kings. In each article in this series, we’ve talked about the importance of King opposition in endgame play. Also note that the King can easily defend either his pawn or Bishop. In the majority of endgame positions you’ll encounter, the King must be active and must be close to his remaining forces in order to protect them. During the opening and middle-game, our pawns and pieces serve as bodyguards for his majesty. However, in the endgame the King often becomes a bodyguard. The King must, in most cases, protect the material you have on the board in order to deliver checkmate. Your King becomes a deadly attacker and defender during this phase of the game!

We know from previous articles that we want to think about where we don’t want the opposition King to go, in this case, away from the h8 square where mate will be delivered. We also need to know where we want the opposition King to go, in the above example, the h8 square. Pawn and piece coordination are critical. Your material must work together as a team (no “Pawn Solo” action). This being the case, we can see that the Bishop on e7 controls the f8 square, so the black King cannot use that square for escape. Therefore, our Bishop is on the right square. White’s first move is 1. h7+ which forces the black King to h8. Note that the white King is protecting the pawn!. Black plays 1…Kh8 and only now do we move the Bishop with 2. Bf6#. A very simple example to help reinforce the ideas required in this type of position. Remember, piece coordination rules the endgame!

Now, what happens if we have a Bishop whose color doesn’t match that of the pawn’s promotion square? For a start, things become a bit more complicated!However, just because our Bishop isn’t able to control the promotion square doesn’t mean all is is lost. Though it does mean we have to play very carefully! The key here is to use our King and Bishop to keep the black King from settling in on the promotion square for white’s pawn, h8. Take a look at the example below. Remember, where do you want the opposition King to go and not to go?

Again, it’s all about herding the opposition King, in this case away from the square he wants to go to, h8. If he gets there even five pounds of dynamite won’t extract him from that square! The black King wants to go to h8 to stop the white pawn from promoting. Therefore, we can stop the black King dead in his royal tracks by playing 1. Bh7. With 1…Kf6, the black King tries to slide around the white pawn and Bishop. Again we find that King opposition plays a critical role in this position. After 2. Kf4, white has effectively positioned his King so that, with the aid of the pawn and Bishop, the opposition King is kept off of the g file. In the endgame, your pawns and pieces must work together in a coordinated manner. Black’s King can’t make any headway in getting to the h8 square. After 2…Ke6, white plays 3. Kg5 which bolsters the h pawn and further shuts out the black King.

Here we’re going to see a bit of a dance between the two Kings as one tries to infiltrate the promotion square and the other tries to stop it. Black plays 3…Kf7 attempting to keep white’s King from further strengthening his position. No problem says white, it’s time to put the King’s back into opposition with 4. Kf5. Black responds with 4…Ke7 and white moves the King closer to the 8th rank with 5. Kg6. The idea to keep in mind is that white wants to use his King to shield the pawn trying to promote. Black is pushed back with 5…Kf8 and white puts his King back in opposition with 6. Kf6. Black plays 6…Ke8 and now we employ the Bishop again with 7. Bg8. When black plays 7…Kf8, the beginner might panic and quickly whisk the Bishop away to safety. However, the correct move is 8. h7, using the pawn to protect the Bishop. This was the point of moving the Bishop to g8!

With nothing better to come up with, black plays 8…Ke8 and it’s all over when white plays 9. h8=Q.

In the above example, white was able to effectively use a Bishop of the wrong color (from a promotion viewpoint) to aid in the promotion of the h pawn. In chess, as in life, when you get handed lemons (or the wrong colored Bishop), make lemonade (or promote a pawn). Always use your King and any material you have in a coordinated effort. Your King is priceless in the endgame and a bad Bishop can do good things, provided you use him wisely. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson

The Importance of The Endgame Six

While checkmate with a King and Queen against a lone King is simple enough for the beginner to grasp, things change when there’s an opposition Queen still on the board (King and Queen versus King and Queen). Add a white pawn on the seventh rank, one move away from promotion, and things can get a bit tricky (believe it or not) for both players if they’re beginners. Of course, the experienced player will scoff at the notion of things getting a bit “tricky” with a pawn one square away from promotion. However, I’ve seen countless games in which beginners (playing white) will not only lose this pawn so close to promoting, but end up getting their Queen skewered to boot! As I’ve mentioned in previous endgame articles, you have to play very carefully during this game phase because one bad move can easily turn the tide in favor of your opponent! The less material on the board, the more important that material is and losing any material, even a pawn, can cost you the game.

The big difference with this endgame position, compared to a King and Queen versus lone King position, is that there are two Queens on the board (not to mention a white pawn that can add a third Queen into the fracas! Beginners playing the white pieces make the fatal mistake of trying to promote their pawn while maintaining their original Queen so they end up with a pair of Queens. This type of thinking, not seeing the bigger picture, leads to a plethora of problems. Remember, the person playing black also has a Queen that can deliver check, putting a halt to white’s plans. So what should the beginner do when faced with this type of endgame?

Rather than try to promote the pawn and acquire a second Queen, the beginner should try to eliminate the black Queen using a forcing move. Of course, this means making a move that forces the opposition’s hand which equates to black having to give up their Queen to stop you from promoting your pawn into a second Queen. Or as Don Corleone might say, “I’m going to make a move he can’t refuse!”

It should be noted that in this type of position, you have to be very wary of potential skewers. A skewer takes place on a rank, file or diagonal. In a skewer, a Bishop, Rook or Queen attacks an opposition piece. However, the real target of the attack is another piece positioned behind the first piece being attacked (along the rank, file or diagonal). In this type of endgame, the idea is to check the King and when the King moves, unable to defend the true target of the attack which is the Queen, that Queen is lost. Thus in a skewer, the real victim cannot be defended, so when the initial piece being attacked moves, the piece behind it is captured. In this type of endgame, the skewer will have one of the Queens checking one of the Kings and the poor piece behind the King (the true victim) will be a Queen. This would change the game’s outcome immediately. However, in our examples, there are no skewers to be had because of both King’s positions. Both Kings are on the same rank making a skewer highly unlikely. However, if one player could employ a series of checks that forced one of the Kings out towards the center of the board, a skewer could be employed! Let’s take a look at our first example!

In the above example, white plays 1. Qd4+. Beginners tend to make silly checks that amount to nothing because the checking piece’s action can be blocked, the checking piece can be captured or the King can simply move out of check. In this case, the check is solid because it lines the white Queen up with it’s target square, d8. What’s so important about d8? The white Queen can force a trade of Queens, allowing white to promote, regain a Queen and go on to win the game. After 1…Kb1, white plays 2. Qd8 forcing black’s hand! There’s nothing black can do but capture the Queen with 2…Qxd8 and white promotes with 3. exd8=Q!

The key here is to not even try to acquire a second Queen by promotion but to eliminate the opposition Queen with a threat the opposition can’t ignore. Note that in this endgame example, both Kings remain out of the action. While we always want to activate our Kings in the endgame, there are positional situations that require the actions of other pieces first. Again, in the above example, the position of both Kings thwarts a potential skewer. Now let’s take a look at another example.

In the above example, white plays 1. Qe6+ to connect the Queen with the critical square, e8. The check is really secondary but it does force the black King to move, 1…Kb2. With 2. Qe8, white again tries to force black into a trade of Queens that allows the white pawn on f7 to promote. However, black plays 2…Qb4, avoiding the exchange for the moment. While black is doomed in this position, he does give fighting back a try. After white promotes with 3. f8=Q, black delivers a check of his own with 3…Qc4+. Beginners sometimes think, “hey two Queens are better than one so I’ll move my King out of check.” The problem with moving your King is that, if you’re playing a really strong tactical player, you might eventually fall victim to a skewer. Therefore, white makes the correct move, 4. Qe2+, blocking the check with a check of his own,forcing a trade of Queens. Black takes on e2 with 4…Qxe2+ and white now brings his King into the action with 5. Kxe2. Now white can win with King and Queen against lone King. Notice that white still got his Queen trade!

In both examples, white made moves that forced black to give up his Queen. Rather than trying to maintain two Queens throughout the endgame, white simplified the position, making it easier to win. If you’re new to endgame play, you’ll want to keep it simple. Even with two Queens facing off against one opposition Queen, you can get into trouble. It’s better to have one Queen and no opposition Queen to deal with than two Queens and an opposition Queen. Remember, it’s about forcing the opposition to give up their Queen and that requires making forcing moves, giving the opposition no other options or options that poor at best. Also note that Queens in the hands of a beginner can lead to stalemate. I’ve seen countless games in which a beginner with a King and Queen versus lone opposition King has ended up with a stalemate position. A beginner with two Queens can be a danger, not to the opposition, but to themselves. Play smart in the endgame by simplifying things. Give up having two Queens against one Queen in favor of one Queen for yourself and no Queen for the opposition. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson

The Importance Of The Endgame Five

In this week’s article, we’re going to look at the most difficult checkmate for the beginner to master, mate involving Knight, Bishop and King versus lone King. This mate proves to be difficult even for “improvers” because it requires forcing the opposition King to a specific corner square using two minor pieces that move in very different ways. In last week’s article, we learned how to use a pair of Bishops with our King supporting them to deliver checkmate. Because each Bishop can only control one color square (either light or dark), as opposed to Rooks who can control both colored squares simultaneously, they have to work in closer coordination with one another and their King. On the plus side, the two Bishops move identically (diagonally) so pushing the opposition King towards the mating square is easier than in the case of the Knight and Bishop.

With the Knight and Bishop duo, it’s all about herding the opposition King to a corner square that the Bishop can control. Yes, I said herding! I’ve watch a large number of videos and read through numerous books that explain this idea of forcing the King being mated to the mating square using a triangulation system. As a chess instructor and coach, I’m well versed in this checkmate and even I was left a bit confused trying to determine just how the triangulation system worked. In reality, it makes perfect sense to more experienced players but the beginner might get confused so I decided to simplify the idea.

Think of the opposition King as a sheep. Your Knight, Bishop and King are the sheep herders. Their goal is to herd the stray sheep back into it’s pen, in this case the mating square. Your job is to herd the stray sheep, I mean King, back to the pen with as little fuss and muss as possible. Take a look at the example below:

This is a simplified position compared to example two but I present it first because it helps to clarify the key points you need to understand in order to checkmate in this way.

The first point to consider is that the opposition King must be driven into a corner because the checkmate can only occur if the King is literally cornered! Since there are four corners on a chessboard you have to determine which one is the correct corner. The good news is that you have a choice of two. Which two? It depends on the color of the squares your Bishop controls. In the above example, we have a Bishop that controls the dark squares. Therefore, the King has to be driven onto a dark colored corner square. Since you have two, the a1 and h8 squares, how do you decide? The answer is simple if the opposition King is closer to one of the two. You drive the King to the color square controlled by the Bishop that is closest to your Knight and Bishop duo. If equidistant, the choice is yours!

In our first example, the King has been driven towards the h8 square so that’s our target mating square. We start with 1. Nf5. Of course, the black King would like to run in the opposite direction of the h8 square but can’t because of the Bishop on b4, which controls the f8 square, so black is forced to play 1…Kh8. This kind of endgame position requires precise coordination between the Knight, Bishop and King. Failure to do so will allow the enemy King to escape and you’ll have to herd the King back to its pen all over again. You’ll see how hard herding is in our longer example.

White plays 2. Be7 which maintains control of the f8 square while lining it up with the f6 square. Black responds with his only legal move, 2…Kg8. White’s pieces are slowly moving in and surrounding the black King. White checks with 3. Nh6+ which forces the black King back to h8 with 3…Kh8. You should always examine potential escape squares for black before making a move in this type of position because giving the opposition King a chance to run away will force you to start all over again. You’ll see how horrible this can be shortly.

Looking at the position, we can see the the white King creates a barrier on g7 and h7. Our trusty Knight keeps the black King off of the g8 square. Now all we have to do is deliver the final blow with 4. Bf6# and it’s game over!

This example is the end result of a series of moves that drive the opposition King into the corner. However, as we’re about to see, the real challenge is simply getting that King into the corner. Let’s introduce a new key point, the idea of where you don’t want the enemy King to go. As a herder, you don’t want your sheep running behind you because you’ll have to turn around and start herding them back towards the pen. The same holds true in this type of position. You have to carefully and methodically herd the King to the target square.

In the above example, we have a dark squared Bishop which means we have to get the opposition King into a dark corner square, either a1 or h8. This means herding the King into the correct corner. Again, you can think of the black King as a sheep and the three white pieces as the sheep herders. As the commander of the white army, your job is to carefully control key squares the black King can use for his escape. You have to think in terms of where you don’t want the opposition King to go!

The Bishop on e3 controls the a7 square and the white King controls the b7 square so we start with 1. Nc7+. Note that the Knight on c7 is protected by the white King. You have to make sure that your pieces are protected at all times since losing one of your two minor pieces will lead to a draw! Black is forced to play 1…Kb8. The dark squared Bishop must maintain control of the a7 square, so as the black King doesn’t make a run towards freedom via that square, which is why white plays 2. Bb6, tightening white’s control of important territory. Black plays 2…Kc8, being pushed towards the mating square, h8. With 3. Ba7, white keeps the black King from going to b8, so the black King moves to d8 (3…Kd8). With 4. Nd5, white controls the e7 square and black moves the King to e8 with 4…Ke8. Now, white’s King enters the battle with 5. Kd6. This is where things get a bit difficult because the black King makes a run for freedom with 5…Kf7. In this type of checkmate, white will have to deal with the opposition King heading away from the corner towards the center where it will be difficult to corral him back towards the mating square. Therefore, you have to carefully consider your minor piece placement!

To the beginner, the move 6. Ne7 may seem to give the opposition King more freedom to escape. However, the Knight covers the squares f5 and g6 which could be used as flight squares by black. The black King moves to f6 with 6…Kf6 and rather than check the King with 7. Bd4, white instead plays 7. Be3, again looking to cut off the black King rather than make a useless check. From e3, the Bishop covers the g5 square and black is pushed back with 7…Kf7. White now brings his Bishop to g5 with 8. Bg5, tightening the noose around the black King. Black plays 8…Ke8. Here white must move the Knight so the Bishop has unblocked control of the d8 square, so 9. Ng6 is played. Now black must move towards the mating square with 9…Kf7. While it seems that white’s Knight is now under attack, the simple 10. Ne5+ puts an end to that.

Of course, black is going to do everything humanly possible to avoid h8 so he plays 10…Ke8. Again, the white King steps in with 11. Kc7, keeping the black King off of the d8 square. It’s important to use the King’s ability to control key squares at the right time and this is the right time!

With 11…Kf8, white uses his King to once more push the black King towards it’s sticky end with 12. Kd7. Use of the King is critical in endgame play! Black makes another feeble attempt to break free with 12…Kg7 and white meets this with 13. Ke7. The King is a powerful weapon in the endgame! The black King moves to g8 with 13…Kg8 and white moves his Bishop, 14. Bh6. This last move helps control squares the black King wants use as an escape route. With 14…Kh7, black tries to attack the Bishop but the Bishop moves to f8, 15. Bf8, and maintains control of two key squares, g7 and h6. After 15…Kg8, the white Knight makes a move most beginners don’t understand because the Knight appears to be moving away from the action, 16. Ng4. Unlike the Bishop, the Knight often has to make extra moves in order to get to a key square, as we will see in a few moves.

Black plays 16…Kh7, again trying to escape. On move 17, rather than deliver check with the Knight (Nf6 which would allow the black King to move to g6), white moves his King to f7 with 17. Kf7, using the power of King opposition. Black plays 17…Kh8 and white follows with 18. Bg7+. This is a well thought out move because the black King is forced to play 18…Kh7. Now we see why the white Knight moved to g4, so it could eventually move to f6 which delivers mate with 19. Nf6#!

The key ideas to keep in mind with this type of checkmate are pushing the opposition King to a corner square that your Bishop can control, moving your pieces in a coordinated fashion that keeps the opposition King off of specific squares and using your King actively. I have my students play through this mate until they can do it without too much effort. This means they may play through the position twenty plus times. I highly suggest you play through this position every chance you get until you know it. It may not come up much in your games but when it does and you’re not prepared, you’ll lose the game. Even though it doesn’t come up a great deal, it will teach you volumes about piece coordination. Break out a chess board and get cracking. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson

The Importance Of The Endgame Four

One of the first checkmate beginners learn is the Rook Roller, in which a pair of Rooks systematically push the opposition King to the edge of the board and deliver checkmate. This is followed by Queen and King versus lone King and King and Rook versus lone King mates. While these checkmates are easy to master, the beginner becomes very dependent on the pieces used to deliver mate and falls short in the victory department when they lose one of these key pieces before they can deliver checkmate. We’re going to look at using a pair of Bishops to deliver checkmate in today’s article. However, before we start, lets take a look the Rook Roller. I want to go over this simple mating attack because it will serve as a comparison point when discussing checkmate with a pair of Bishops.

It should first be noted that while the Rook and Bishop are both long distance pieces, there’s a huge difference between them when it comes to spacial control. Rooks can control both light and dark squares simultaneously while Bishops can only control squares of one color due to their diagonal movement. In the above example, white plays 1. Ra4 which sets up a barrier across the the 4th rank that the black King cannot cross. After 1…Kc5, white creates a second barrier with 2. Rh5+ forcing the black King back a rank with 2…Kb6. Both white Rooks work together to easily push the black King to the board’s edge. Of course, black tries to slow white down by covering the the a6 square so the the Rook on a4 can’t safe check. Beginners often lose this Rook with a hasty check ,but in our example, the a4 Rook simply glides across the board and prepares for mate with 3. Rg4. Black tries in vain to stay in the game, but after 3…Kc6, white checks again with 4. Rg6+. Note that the Rooks always maintain a pair of walls in front of the black King. With 4…Kd7, white checks again with 5. Rh7+ and mate occurs with white’s next move no matter what black does.

Notice that the white King didn’t have to involve himself in this endgame fracas. However, when we use a pair of Bishops to deliver mate, the white King will have to roll up his sleeves and fight for the mate along with the Bishops! Look at the example below:

I’ve taken the liberty of placing the white King on the square he needs to be on to assist in this checkmate. It’s important to move your King to a square that allows him to control squares the opposition King needs to use for escape. This means you have to get your King close to the opposition King rather than chasing that King around with your Bishops which gets you nowhere. Keeping the opposition King off of escape squares is a key concept in minor piece checkmates. Unlike the Rook who can control entire ranks and files, minor pieces have a limited ability to control space around the enemy King.

In our example, the dark squared Bishop on b4 keeps the black King from occupying a5. The white King controls b6 and b7. Our goal is to drive the black King to the a8 square. With 1. Bc4+ we force the black King to a7 (1…Ka7). Note the opposition of the two Kings. With the light squared Bishop covering a6, it’s time to push the black King once more with 2. Bc5+, forcing the black King to a8 (2…Ka8). We finally deliver mate with 3. Bd5#. The idea here was to drive the black King to the mating square while covering possible escape squares with our King and one of the Bishops.

In the above example, things are a little different. Here, King opposition is crucial in delivering mate, specifically the control of the a7 square. Less work chasing the opposition King around the board helps to avoid costly mistakes. When white plays 1. Kb6, creating King opposition, he keeps the black King from using the a7 square to avoid the mating attack. The black King is forced into the corner with 1…Ka8. It’s at this juncture that beginners playing the white pieces often end up with a stalemate because they play 2. Be5, which leads to stalemate, instead of the correct move, 2. Be7. This (2. Be7) is one of those great quiet moves that gives the black King a square to move to while still keeping an eye on the position. Black plays 2…Kb8 and now we can play for mate with 3. Bd6+. The Bishop on e6 covers the c8 square so the black King is forced back to the corner with 3…Ka8 and white mates with 4. Bd5#. Always be weary of stalemate when you have these types of positions. Before even considering the delivery of the first check, note which escape squares your King and Bishops cover and make sure the opposition King has a square to move to in order to avoid stalemate. As you can see, it’s all about piece coordination with minor piece mates!

Our last example is a slight variation of the previous example. I cannot stress enough the importance of practicing Bishop and King endgames, especially since it will teach you a great deal about how to force the opposition King to move where you want him to move.

In this example, white plays 1. Bd4 to use the Bishop rather than the King to control the a7 square. The opposition King moves to c8 (1…Kc8). With 2. Bf6, the Bishop reminds the black King that minor pieces are in charge in this position. Black makes a run for the a7 square with 2…Kb8. Now white moves his King into opposition with 3. Kb6 which cuts off the a7 square. Note that white had two options for controlling the a7 square, the King and dark squared Bishop. The black King tries to avoid the corner with 3…Kc8 and white checks with 4. Be6+. Notice that the dark squared Bishop on f6 keeps the black King from running away towards the h file. Always control potential opposition escape squares. The poor black King shuffles back over to b8 (4…Kb8) and gets hit with 5. Be5+ and the end is near! The black King if forced to a8 (5…Ka8) and white mates with 6. Bd5#.

With the Bishop pair you have to use your own King to help cut off the opposition King. Your Bishops will then corral the enemy King to the mating square but you need to be very careful when doing so because stalemate can be just a move away if you’re not observant. I recommend that you practice this type of mate, placing your King and two Bishops on their starting ranks and the opposition King towards the middle of the board. In the above examples, the pieces were placed in positions that allowed for a quick demonstration of the checkmate. In over the board play (real life), you won’t be as fortunate. Play through them because next week, we’re studying the Knight, Bishop and King against lone King. That’s a tough one. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson

The Importance Of The Endgame Three

Let’s take a look at a final pawn and King endgame in which both players have two pawns each. The problem is that the pawns are locked in place, the Kings oppose one another and the pawns next to each King belong to the opposition. I could spend the next thirty articles writing about pawn and King endgames and still not cover everything. However, if you wish to improve your basic endgame skills, I highly recommend Bruce Pandolfini’s Endgame Course to aid you in your quest. His examples are excellent and he explains ideas in terms a beginner can easily understand. His book is mandatory reading for my older students! In fact, one copy travels around the globe with a well known musician I teach chess to.

As mentioned in the last two articles, King Opposition is a critical factor regarding pawn promotion. Using your King to keep the opposition’s King off of key squares (such as the promotion square and squares your pawn must travel through) is the only way to ensure the promotion of a pawn. However, there is an exception. If the opposition King is too away from the pawn trying to promote itself, his majesty will lose the race to capture the runaway pawn. How do you know if the opposition King is within striking range? Take a look at the example below:

In this example, we have a white pawn on a2 and the black King is on h8. Can white get the pawn to the a8 promotion square before the black King can catch it? You could simply play through the moves in your head, but that can take time which isn’t good if your chess clock is winding down. The easiest way to determine whether or not the pawn can make it to a8 is to create an imaginary box on the chess board whose perimeter runs from a3 to a8, then from a8 to f8, then from f8 to f3 and back over to a3. If the opposition King is outside of the box, white promotes. In this example, the opposition King is well outside the box so even if it were black’s turn, it wouldn’t matter. However, if it was black’s turn and the King was on the f8 square, the pawn would be a goner! The box method will save you time and energy but always remember, whose turn it is can change things around I the endgame.

Now on to our featured example. This is a tough one for the beginning player because, not only are the pawns locked up but both Kings seem to be behind the wrong pawns. After all, shouldn’t the King’s be guarding their own pawns? When I show this position to new students, they don’t understand what’s going on! Their first thought is usually that I’ve accidentally set up the position incorrectly because I’m an old geezer! When I tell them it is set up correctly they start trying to figure out a way to get one pawn to its promotion square (as white) before black does likewise. With my newer students, the answer seems impossible to find even when it is so obvious! Beginners think chess is extremely complicated, which it is to a certain extent. However, that doesn’t mean a simple solution can’t solve a complex problem. Beginners often think that this type of position requires some complicated endgame play. The correct first move in this position brings up a point I’ve been trying to make regarding endgame positions: Whose turn it is will often determine who will win the game, provided they make the correct move.

In the above example, it’s white to move. Had it been black to move, black would have the advantage. The two Kings are facing one another. Had they been in direct opposition, with a single empty square between them, this would have been a different endgame. Kings cannot occupy immediately adjacent squares so our invisible barrier would force white to find another path to victory. However, in this position, there are two squares between the Kings. This means that white can directly oppose the black King with 1. Kb5. Now white has closed the gap so the black King cannot advance up the b file. If it was black to move first, he would have done the same (1…Kb4).

The point to 1. Kb5 is that the White King now attacks both of black’s pawns and the black King can’t do anything about it. Black plays 1…Ka3 hoping to grab white’s a4 pawn if the opportunity arises but this move does no good. Black could have move to c3 but the result would be the same. White plays 2. Kxa5 and now white has a two to one pawn majority. Pawn majorities, having a greater number of pawns than your opponent, is a huge advantage in the endgame. With 2…Kb3, black’s King sits between the two white pawns hoping to at least capture one of them but it will not work because white plays 3. Kb5 putting the Kings in direct opposition once again. Now you can see why King opposition is so important and powerful.

Black is utterly lost in the position because white will be able to send one of the two pawns up the board to its promotion square. Black plays 3…Kc3 with the idea of trying to get to his own pawn and capturing the white c4 pawn. It is at this point that beginners can get into a spot of trouble, even playing white in this position. Believe it or not, I’ve seen beginners turn this into a drawn game!

The beginner playing white will think “hey, my opponent is going to try to get to his pawn as well as taking my pawn on c4. I should use my King to do something about that!” Wrong thinking. This idea has been considered by some of my endgame beginners because, after all, the King has been very active in the endgame examples they’ve studied. They think about moving the King which wouldn’t bode well for them. The white King is absolutely perfect where he is. He guards both the white pawn on c4 and the black pawn on c5. The black King cannot make any headway trying to either capture the white pawn or chase the white King away. Besides, the black King has bigger problems after white plays 4. a5! Black cannot catch the runaway pawn because of White’s King. The White King covers a4 and b4 so that side of the board is closed to the black King. The key point here is to remember that the King can defend as well as attack and in this case, the white King has a great defensive position that shuts out the black King. At this point, it’s all about promoting the pawn and then mating the opposition King. Since the pawn is free to move up the open a file, there’s no point in moving your king, especially since he’s on the perfect square!

In closing, when you see a position like the one above, the first thing you’ll want to look at is how many squares there are between the two Kings. That was the key factor. Use your King to defend squares that make it impossible for your opponent’s King to catch up to one of your pawns heading towards the its promotion square. Consider simple solutions before entertaining complex ones. Lastly, use the box method to determine whether or not your pawn can safely reach its promotion square. Next week, we’ll throw some minor pieces into the mix, starting with those sneaky and dangerous Bishops. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson

The Importance Of The Endgame Two

Last week, we looked at how to promote a pawn in an endgame where King and pawn were up against a lone opposition King. With a little practice, the beginner will easily master this concept and win by carefully coordinating their King and pawn. However, in the real world, our opponent may also have a pawn on the board. They’re planning on promoting as well so things get a bit more complicated. Remember, there are always two plans involved in a game of chess, your plan and your opponent’s plan. Both plans will clash with one another which is what makes chess so fascinating. Only considering your plan will lead to disaster! Always consider your opponent’s plan when creating your own!

With an opposition pawn trying to reach its promotion square, you have to work twice as hard in the endgame. Why? Because you have to get your pawn to the other side of the board safely while preventing your opponent from promoting their own pawn. It’s a delicate balancing act that beginners have great trouble with. How do you protect your own pawn and stop the opposition pawn? King activity and King opposition are the watch words of the day! It’s the King that must do the crucial work!

To quickly review two key points from last week’s article, you must activate your King to protect your pawn and use King opposition to keep the enemy King away from key squares. Activating your King means getting him into the game. When you’re down to pawns and Kings, the King must become both defender and attacker or you lose the game! Too often, beginners leave their Kings on their starting rank during the endgame because they want a safe King. However, once there’s been a large reduction of material, the King can join the battle. As soon as the board is void of the majority of pawns and pieces, bring the King out! Of course, anytime you bring your King into the game, you have to be aware of the opposition’s nearby material. To win the endgame, your King must be an active participant.

King opposition means just that, having the King’s facing one another. Of course, they cannot be on immediately adjacent squares, but they can hold each other at bay as long as there’s a full square between them. The point to King opposition is simple: Since King’s cannot occupy squares immediately next to one another other, an invisible barrier is created that neither King cannot cross. This barrier can be used to stop the opposition King from controlling a square your pawn needs to occupy in order to promote. Set up a board and practice King opposition with just the two Kings. You’ll start to see how powerful a tool opposition can be in the endgame!

There are many positions that occur but one in particular tends to cause the beginner problems, pawns that are stuck facing one another (locked) with only their Kings to clear the way.

It goes without saying that this is an example of whoever has the first move has the advantage and the game! In endgame play, whose turn it is becomes a decisive factor. In the above example, it’s white to move. You’ll often see endgame positions in which the only two pawns in the game are locked up and it’s up to one of the Kings to free up the position. Unfortunately, beginners tend to move the two Kings in an endless circle around the locked pawns until one player blunders the position (as opposed to a carefully calculated move). King opposition is the key here! Both Kings are one square away from their own pawn and the opposition pawn they want to capture. Now you can see why whose move it is really matters. However, having it be your move can also work against you, as we’ll discuss shortly.

On move one, 1. Kd7, white moves right next to the pawn he’s got to eliminate. Of course, black isn’t going to sit back and let this happens and plays 1…Kf5. Both players have their target within their sights. This is where beginners start their endless King circling of the two pawns because they don’t fully understand basic endgame principles. However, white plays 2. Kd6, which still maintains an attack on the black e6 pawn while protecting his own pawn in e5. This is an example of the King as an attacker and a defender. Black will now lose his pawn no matter where he goes. Beginners must always consider the squares the pawn they’re trying to promote is attacking when determining where to move their King because that pawn can greatly aid its King.

A term you should become familiar with is Zugzwang. Zugzwang occurs when one player is forced to make a move when they’d rather pass on making that move. Because you have to move when it’s your turn, this concept can be extremely powerful, especially in the endgame. In our example, black is forced to move because it’s his turn. To make matters worse, black’s choices all force him to lose his pawn, allowing white to win the game. Black plays 2…Kg6 and white grabs the black pawn with 3. Kxe6. Had black been able to pass on his turn, leaving the King where it is, things would be different. However, rules are rules and the funeral bells are ringing for black! Note that white’s capture of the black pawn allows white to gain the opposition against the black King.

It should be duly noted that a beginner fortunate enough to be in this position as white can still throw the game away. Why? Because all they see is the promotion square and a new Queen! Tunnel vision sets in which always lead to positional misery! The person playing black in the position is going to try and get his King to the promotion square which is why black plays 3…Kg7, heading for e8. It’s at this point, that you must slow down and think very carefully about your response. Of course, the experienced player knows exactly what to do but the beginner sees only his pawn on the promotion square. The key here is to remember that invisible barrier that keeps the Kings from occupying immediately adjacent squares.

This is why white plays 4. Kd7. This allows white to control the e8 square and keep the King close enough to its pawn in case black makes a run at that pawn. Now, there is nothing black can do to stop the pawn promotion. Again, this last move by white is the key, controlling the promotion square with the King. Set up this position and play it through a few times.

Of course, it comes down to whose move it is in these types of positions so had it been black to move, things might have turned out differently (I say “might” because you never know with beginners). Keep the concept of Zugzwang in mind when considering a move. When playing an endgame position, having less material on the board might make you think it’s easier to win. However, less material makes losing what you do have that more devastating. This means you have to calculate carefully and take your time. Always look at the position from your opponent’s point of view. What would you do if you were on the other side of the board? Next week we’ll look at one last pawn and King example before moving on to the introduction of minor pieces to endgame play. Until then, here’s a game to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson

The Importance of the Endgame One

Most novice games conclude well before the endgame. Teaching chess in the schools, I’m faced with the difficult task of teaching the rules of the game, basic tactics as well as simple opening, middle and endgame principles in an eight month period. Anyone who has studied this fantastic game knows all too well that it can take many years just to become proficient in only one of these areas. In a perfect chess teaching world, I’d start my students off with endgame instruction after they’ve learned the rules. However, both the parents and the schools I teach in want results and results means seeing the students I teach playing chess immediately. Because of this and the fact that many of my students are learning the game for the first time, endgame skills are not as large a part of the curriculum as I’d like. Because my beginning students don’t usually reach a proper endgame, they don’t realize just how important the endgame is, even with the limited training I give them. Thus the reason for this and upcoming articles.

The endgame is reached when most of the material has been exchanged off of the board and both players are left with a few pawns, a minor piece or two, sometimes a major piece, and their Kings. While it might seem that, with less material on the board, that this phase of the game is easier to deal with, the opposite is true. In the endgame, real positional calculation is required and the loss of the smallest amount of material can be the difference between winning and losing. Patience and deep thinking is required, something young minds often lack since both require a certain level of maturity that is garnered with time (growing up). Therefore, I’m presenting, in a series of articles, some endgame ideas that all beginners should learn, starting with pawn promotion.

In previous articles, I’ve mentioned that beginners tend to think of pawns as expendable. The novice player gives them away during the opening and middle-game because he or she has eight of them and they’re the least valued material in their army. However, pawns have two unique qualities that make them vital throughout the game (not to be given away so freely). First off, because they’re on the lowest end of the relative value scale, they can push back material of greater value. More importantly and critical to winning in the endgame, they can promote into a Queen, Rook, Bishop or Knight. That means that every pawn that reaches its promotion square can transform itself into a dangerous piece! All it takes is a single pawn reaching it’s promotion square and the game will be won, if you know how to do it!

To promote a pawn, you need to get that pawn safely across the board. This means that a white pawn starting on the second rank must reach the eighth rank to promote and a black pawn starting on the seventh rank must get to the first rank to promote. A pawn doesn’t even have to reach its promotion square to pose a threat to your opponent. If you’re playing white and manage to get a pawn to the seventh rank, keeping in mind that you must have a pawn or piece protecting that pawn on the seventh rank, your opponent will be forced to use a piece to stop that pawn from promoting. The piece stopping the promotion by blocking the promotion square, for example, is no longer able to participate in the game. That piece is stuck as a baby sitter for your pawn. In an endgame, since both players have less material on the board, this can be devastating. We’ll look at this later on in this series of articles because first, the beginner needs to learn the simplest of pawn promotions, pawn and King against lone King.

I show this example to my beginning students and ask one simple question: “It’s white to move. Who moves first, the pawn or the King?” Beginners are taught King safety from day one of their chess careers, so they tend to think that Kings must always be protected which leads them to believe that the King doesn’t participate in the game. They also know that the pawn is worth less than the King in terms of relative value. Therefore, they more often than not say, “move the pawn.” They recoil in horror, well not really, but I like the image of 25 students gasping and recoiling in horror when I sternly say “WRONG!” It’s the white King who must make the first move if white is to win. When you’ve reduced a position to pawns and Kings only, the King now has the opportunity to become a very powerful attacker and defender.

This is where the extremely powerful idea of King opposition comes into play. Simply put, King opposition is a position in which two Kings face one another with a square between them (remember my friends who are new to the game, King’s can never be on squares immediately next to one another). King opposition is crucial to white promoting its pawn. Why? Well, since King’s cannot be on adjacent squares, an imaginary line is created that cannot be crossed by either King when in opposition.

For white to win, in the above example, the King must get in front of the pawn. Therefore, the first move white makes is 1. Kd2, aiming for getting in front of the pawn and King opposition. Black makes a point of moving towards the white pawn with 1…Ke7. The experienced player manning the white pieces will easily win. However, the beginner, employing the idea that material of lesser value should go out on the board first and King’s should always stay out of danger, will move the pawn out first and end up with a draw rather than victory. In this type of endgame position, the King moves first.

Move two, 2. Ke3, puts our King in front of the pawn which is just where we want his majesty. The black King is going to do everything in his power to stop the pawn from promoting, so he tries to stand in it’s path with 2…Ke6. When do we move our pawn? Not yet because we need to have both Kings in opposition which white does with 3. Ke4. Now black stands at a crossroad. Since neither King can occupy an immediately adjacent square, black has to yield to the white King by 3…Kd6. This is the first of two important moves. Remember the key to this problem is keeping the black King off of the white pawn’s promotion square. Next, white plays 4. Kf5. Black plays 4…Kd5. Many beginners will think, “ah, Black is going after the white pawn.” However, since pawns can move one or two squares forward on their first move (and the e2 pawn hasn’t moved yet), white can now make the first pawn move, 5. e4+, driving the black King back. Black plays 5…Kd6 with the idea of trying to get to white’s promotion square first. Move six, 6. Kf6 sees the two Kings in opposition once again, a crucial concept in this type of position. Black plays 6…Kd7 and it looks as if black can occupy the promotion square, thwarting white’s plans.

With move seven 7. e5, white pushes the pawn up while still allowing room for his King to stand in front of that pawn. Black wins the race to white’s promotion square after 7…Ke8 but things are not always as they seem! Remember, white needs to have his King if front of the pawn which he does with 8. Ke6. This is the second crucial move because now, black’s King will have to yield to the white King. Black plays 8…Kf8 and white can use his King to control the promotion square with 9. Kd7 which shuts out the black King’s control over e8. Black plays 9…Kf7 and gets hit with 10. e6+ and no way to stop the pawn from promoting.

The key factors here are getting your King in front of the pawn and using King opposition to control your opponent’s King. The white King was able to force the black King away from squares the white pawn needed to occupy. The King is a valuable attacker in the endgame and should be used. A point well worth mentioning is patience. Beginners tend to think that they can simply steamroll their pawn up the board quickly and win the game with a fast promotion. However, if you don’t carefully and slowly consider your moves you might end up with a stalemate or worse yet, losing your only pawn. I’ve seen this countless times in the games of beginners. Take your time and think things through.

Lastly, things greatly change in endgame positions depending on whose move it is. Had it been black’s move at the start of this example, things would turn out differently. I’ll reflect on this later in this series of articles. Until next week’s second part of this series, here’s a game to enjoy by a couple of fellows who know a thing or two about endgame play!

Hugh Patterson