Category Archives: Endgames

The Danger Of A King Out Of Play In The Endgame

In a hard-fought game my student played that ended in a draw, when we were looking at it, I observed that his opponent missed a win at one single critical moment. This was a result of an accumulation of positionally questionable decisions that, although in themselves still led to defensible positions, led to a single blunder that could have been punished.

Three mistakes

Allowing an outside passed Pawn

The first unnecessary concession was made in the late middlegame when Black captured a piece on a5 allowing a recapture with a Pawn bxa5 resulting in White getting an outside passed Pawn. Granted, this being a Rook Pawn made it not as useful, but still created unnecessary danger.

King out of play

The second unnecessary concession was moving the King from g8 to h7, out of the main action. It was best to moving the King toward the center and toward the Queenside, with the goals of safeguarding the Pawn chain from c6 as well as, more critically, aiming toward White’s a-Pawn, either to capture it or at least prevent it from Queening. Granted, Black had a plan to get the King to f4, but it is slow. In fact, it ended up working in the game, but only because White did not act more quickly and decisively to try to Queen the a-Pawn.

Creating another outside Pawn for the opponent

The final concession, which in this case was a big blunder, was to accept White’s sneaky offer of a Queen trade, resulting in transforming White’s c-Pawn into an “outside” b-Pawn that could have been used as a Pawn break to lead the way for White’s King to invade the Queen side and successfully Queen the a-Pawn. A calculation shows that Black’s attempt to also Queen a passed Pawn is too late, because White’s active King can get to Black’s King side Pawns in time to ensure that after White gives up the Rook in turn, the resulting King and Pawn ending is an easy win because Black’s King ends up out of play and White can just push a passed Pawn to victory.

Lessons

The main lessons to learn are that even in a drawable position, it is wise to keep the draw simple by not giving a passed Pawn to the opponent, not giving a Pawn break to the opponent, and keeping one’s King ready to prevent Queening of a passed Pawn if it does exist.

Franklin Chen

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Another Comedy of Errors

This is a game that I played back in July of 1990. This is one of four chess games that I played against Rick Christopher back then. I won three of those games and lost one of them. This game is one of my wins.

Rick was a player that I didn’t take seriously because I was rated much higher than he was and because he never wore shoes to any chess tournaments that I can remember, not even in the winter! In this game I got a little lazy and did not see some of my opportunities to win more quickly and Rick (White) missed some opportunities to equalize. I basically waited for Rick to blunder and then won the endgame after he did blunder. This strategy does work against weaker players, but it is better for my game play overall to force errors.

Mike Serovey

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Anticipating The Endgame As Part Of Understanding The Opening

The 2014 World Chess Championship rematch between Carlsen and Anand kicked off with Carlsen playing the Grünfeld as Black, an interesting choice since he does not usually play this opening, and in fact Anand is the one who prepared the Grünfeld as Black in 2013. The game proceeded along a path in which Anand as White lost an opening initiative and got into some trouble but held an unpleasant endgame.

Since detailed commentary from many strong players is already available and will continue to be provided as the match progresses, so why should I write out it here at The Chess Improver? My goal here is to describe the big picture that players of many levels can relate to and hopefully apply to their own play.

The goal of the Grünfeld Defense opening

Black’s goal in playing the Grünfeld Defense is to try to destroy White’s center, by targeting White’s Pawn on d4. The asymmetrical Pawn structure that arises when White’s c-Pawn is exchanged with Black’s d-Pawn gives Black possible chances to contain White’s d-Pawn and counterattack with a Queen side Pawn majority.

White has a choice of goals in return, and has to make a decision. (Take note if you are following the match, because we may see the Grünfeld pop up again with players making different decisions.) The three basic choices are to:

  • Grab the big center with e4, advance with d5 eventually, possibly make a passed d-Pawn for the endgame.
  • Forget the endgame, go all out with an attack on Black’s King based on h4, h5, etc.
  • Forget the big center, protect the d4 Pawn with e3, block in Black’s Bishop on g7, and try to make headway on the Queenside.

What happened in this game

What actually happened was Anand played as though aiming for one of the first two, but was inconsistent in followup. He got the center and then played as though to attack Black’s King: Qd2, allowing his Knight on f3 to be captured by Black’s Bishop permanently messing up White’s Pawn structure (doubled f-Pawns, isolated h-Pawn), castling Queen side. But he never did attack Black’s King after all, and the Pawn on d5 didn’t get any further.

So Black’s defense, based on destroying White’s Pawn structure and surviving any attack, with the aim of reaching a superior endgame, worked out. Anand had to be careful to hold the draw in face of his isolated and weak f and h Pawns.

The main thing I want to point out is that it was not automatically bad for White to allow the weakened Pawn structure. Before the endgame, there is the middlegame. It is a valid, aggressive idea for White to decide not to try to win the endgame, but instead the middlegame. It just didn’t work out in this particular game.

Franklin Chen

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Amateur Versus Master: Game Twelve

My opponent is this game is a Senior Master and is the only 2400 rated player that I have faced in Over the Board chess. Gary has won the State of Florida Chess Championship at least once and has also run the state championship as the senior tournament director for that event at least once. The state championship several years ago was the last time that I saw Gary in person. Gary is a year or two older than I am and he also has some chronic health problems. Gary has managed to keep is USCF chess rating over 2400 points for about 40 years now.

I learned the Botvinnik System from a USCF Life Master who did not know what it was called at that time. He advised against playing this system as Black, but I often get away with it and Botvinnik himself played it as Black. In this game I missed a shot at an upset victory on move number 12. Gary most likely would have found the correct line of play, but it may have rattled him anyway.

I walked into a Knight fork on move number 13 and lost the exchange of a Rook for Knight. Things went downhill for from there.

Mike Serovey

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Playing Better Rook Endgames

You can learn technical rook endgames using any good endgame book, but what I am going to share is based on my experience and little reading. If you deploy following points while playing rook endgame it will definitely help you.

An active rook is your hero: Rooks love to attack in the endgame. Here are two simple examples which will help you to understand what I mean by that.:

With these examples I am not claiming that an active rook will always secure you a win or draw a pawn down, but it will definitely provide you better chances to win or defend in worse conditions.

In order to keep your rook active you should know the Tarrasch Rule which is to place rooks behind the passed pawn, whether it is your passed pawn or your opponent’s.

Cutting off the enemy king: This can happen a lot in practice and often decides games (a very useful tool to obtain lucena position!)

In this position Rd1!! is a forced win for White and no other move will do. Here the Black king is cut off by a file, and if you want to check how effective a rook is when it cuts off enemy king along a rank, please study the Philidor position.

Rook works well when weaknesses are fixed rather than mobile, something I have learned by studying Capablanca’s rook endgames. And in order to target those weaknesses you must have an entry point into the enemy camp. You can do that by working hard!!

Ashvin Chauhan

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The Common Problem Of Following A Pattern Without Understanding It

Last week, I wrote about the importance of learning and teaching through comparing similar but different situations. Again and again this theme pops up, and is easy to miss if one is not careful. It is easy to memorize a pattern without understanding its context and purpose, or more charitably, to have understood it once but getting it mixed up with another pattern during the heat of battle. What is the solution? Sometimes the solution is just to review concrete details. Sometimes the solution is to remember a higher-priority pattern that gives real force and justification to the pattern at hand.

Here’s an example I recently saw, involving the elementary Lucena position which is a win for the side with the Rook and Pawn versus Rook, if one understands the fundamental concept, which is “building a bridge” in order to block the opposing Rook’s checks and therefore ensure Pawn promotion.

Lucena position

The standard easy win for White is to

  1. Chase Black’s King further away from the Queening square by checking.
  2. Lift the Rook to the 4th rank in preparation to “build a bridge”.

However, White in eagerness to “remember” the key pattern, that of the Rook lift, failed to perform the first critical step, and the result was a draw by mistake! Building the bridge is pointless if it only results in Black’s King reaching the advanced Pawn and gobbling it up.

The solution to this mistake is to remember that the primary goal in this position is not to build the bridge. The real goal is to successfully Queen the Pawn, and getting Black’s King far away is the most important part of that, not the bridge building. The bridge building is not the goal, but the means to the larger goal. Without remember this, it is too easy to just vaguely remember one aspect of what the winning technique is, and use it outside of the larger context.

Franklin Chen

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San Pedro Escapes the Four Knights of the Apocalypse!

According to Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, the original meaning of apocalypse is an uncovering, translated literally from Greek as a disclosure of knowledge, i.e., a lifting of the veil or revelation, although this sense did not enter English until the 14th century. In religious contexts it is usually a disclosure of something hidden. Christians changed the meaning to ‘end of the world’ because the Apocalypse of John is about the end of the world.

In this case, what was revealed is that my opponent does not know how to play the Four Knights variation of the Sicilian Defense and is weak in middle games. However, he avoided the blunders that would have allowed me to win this game. I settled for a draw against an inexperienced player while I was up two pawns. On move number 34 I was inspired to look at an idea, but I got impatient and I rejected it before I realized that it actually wins. I was preparing to move out of my apartment over Labor Day Weekend and I wanted to end this game before I moved out and took a time out from my remaining games. If I had been more patient I would have found the winning ideas. Mr. Generoso was generous in giving me those two pawns and he may have thought that it was the end of the world while he was struggling to draw down material. ;-)

I took that lazy man’s shortcut and played the way I had played in two previous chess games. The first time that I had an endgame with my Rook on the queening square and my opponent’s Rook behind my passed pawn was at the State of Florida Chess Championship of 1986. If I remember correctly, my opponent was a 1200 rated player. He blundered by moving his King to the third rank and that allowed me to move my rook off the queening square with check and then queen the passed pawn. The second time I had this kind of endgame I played more than 60 moves before I realized that I could not force a win and that my opponent was not going to blunder. After this game I am going to endeavor to avoid having my Rook in front of a passed pawn again!

This game was my second draw and Pedro’s only draw so far. What is even more embarrassing for me is that Pedro has three losses so far in this section. At the time that I am writing this I have four draws and no wins or losses in this section. I need to win at least one of my two remaining games in order to get second place in this section.

Mike Serovey

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Learning Through Comparing Similar But Different Situations

The temptation is very great, for both a learner and a teacher, to try to go fast through a lot of material, when learning a subject such as chess, because there is so much that is known. This is not a problem specific to chess: in fact, it is a problem for students of cooking, running, law, computer science, medicine, you name it. We all feel the burden of the accumulated knowledge of all of human history. Educators everywhere face the challenge of somehow distilling more and more knowledge, wisdom, and practical technique into less and less time. Unfortunately, there is no shortcut for deep learning. Just flipping through a chess book or even working through a set of exercises is no guarantee that when you sit down across the chess board, you will remember or know how to apply what you learned.

In my attempts to improve my own lifelong learning as well as my teaching, I have found that comparing similar but different situations is a technique that can be very useful in making learning more efficient, and even more interesting. Instead of trying to focus too much on “this is how to do things”, it is better to have worked through several similar ideas that do or don’t work, and know why. It is like in martial arts where you must learn how to fall, in addition to how to strike.

Fundamental endgames are a great place to notice both patterns and differences between them. Little things can make a big difference in endgames. It is a great mental exercise to understand fundamental endgames and learn to appreciate the importance of detail, and the unexpected beauty of peculiar features of chess positions. For example, consider the following Rook and Pawn endgame position, White to move. Can White win or is it a draw?

One way to win

The answer is that it is a win for White. The key insight is that in order to Queen the a7-Pawn, White must reach a position in which

  • Black cannot check White’s King forever.
  • White has time to move the Rook with check in order to free up the a8 square for Queening without losing the a7-Pawn (if Black’s Rook is on the a-file always threatening to take it).

The tricky part of winning is finding out how to deal with all possibilities and obstacles while keeping in mind the key insight.

One way to win is to move the King all the way to the left, perpetually uncovering Black’s King and therefore threatening to check it. This forces Black’s King to move in the “shadow” of White’s King; if the King does not move but the Rook checks instead, then White can simply bring the King near the Rook eventually and stop all checks and then be in position to check Black’s King and Queen the a7-Pawn.

Once Black’s King is pushed all the way to b1, and White’s King at b3 prevents a Black Rook check, White has the tactical trick of moving the Rook to the right and simultaneously threatening Queening and checkmate on the first rank!

Changing the problem

Unfortunately, teaching this way to win, although instructive in its own right, can cause a failure to generalize. This is a special case kind of winning plan. To prove this, move the pair of Kings up one rank:

Here, if White blindly follows the plan of trying to box Black’s King down, then it becomes clear at the end of the King march that the original tactical idea no longer works: there is no back rank mate.

I believe that it is extremely instructive to allow the student to try a generalization that fails, to solidify the understanding of what is going on, rather than treat endgame knowledge as a mechanical memorization of particular move sequences. Then after trying out some possibilities, we can finally reveal a key idea: White has another tactical trick, based on reaching a position in which White can still move the Rook away and allow Black to capture the a7-Pawn, but in return, White can perform a discovered check that wins the Rook. So White’s King should, at the first opportunity, start a diagonal march straight to the a7-Pawn.

By presenting first the back rank trick, and then the discovered check trick, we allow the student the opportunity to learn a more general lesson than if the back rank trick had not been mastered first: that the goal is to be able to move the Rook with an appropriate tactic in mind, not just checkmate or a discovered check.

A variation that still obeys the pattern

It’s always useful to show how a pattern can in fact be applied to a slightly different position, without substantial change. Move the Kings up more: the discovered check still works.

A variation that does not work

And, of course, it is necessary to show a variation of the initial position in which White cannot win, otherwise the student might get the wrong idea and again fall into mechanical memorization habits.

Here, the Kings are so far forward that Black has boxed in White’s King so that it has no shelter and is far away from Black’s Rook, so Black can keep on checking White for a draw. Note that a careless student might try to mechanically apply the discovered check tactic with Rc8 only to find that after losing the Pawn on a7, there is no win of the Rook, because Black’s King is close enough to protect it! Again, allowing the student to fall into this trap is important, to prevent complacency and really nail down the nature of the discovered check tactic, which requires a nice combination of

  • White’s King being close enough to the a7-Pawn to get there in two moves, including one “free” discovered check move if necessary.
  • Black’s King being far enough away from the a7-Pawn not to be able to cover the a7 square in one move.

Conclusion

Even elementary endgames provide quite a rich amount of material for setting up ways for a student to discover the reasons for what works and what doesn’t work in a line of reasoning and a general plan.

Franklin Chen

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Evident Advantages In King And Pawns Endgame

Like mating patterns and attacking patterns, there are patterns in that endgame which can help you to formulate simple but effective strategies.

1. Material Advantage: A material advantage is an obvious winning advantage in the endgame; a person who has a material advantage can win easily, though one should always investigate the resulting positions in relation to key squares & rule of square.

2. Virtual material advantage: How one should obtain a virtual material advantage? In my view there are two ways to do it.

i) Doubling the opponent’s pawns: Here is an example.


Now following the same example, if Black has a pawn on d7 instead of e6 then the game is equal.

ii) Pawn crippling: Through pawn crippling you can prevent the march of two enemy pawns with yours, which secures you a virtual material advantage. For example:

With White to move he can move his pawn to e4, thereby stopping the advance of Black’s e- and f- file pawns. While with Black to move he should play here f5 in order to save the day.

3. A piece is out of action: If you can force the enemy king to leave the main battle area it can secure the win. For example:

This is win for White with either side to move.

4. Far advanced rook pawns on both wings with opposition: This can be possible because the one who promote the queen first can prevent the enemy pawn to promote into queen by controlling the queening square. Here is an example.

5. Passed pawns: I have noticed that in practice a distance passed pawn is more advantageous than a regular one. However, it becomes much more critical when you are fighting with two scattered pawns against protected passed pawns or connected mobile pawns. So the question arises as to which passed pawn/pawns is/are better? Here I have divided them into the following categories.

i) Usually the protected passed pawn is better than the scattered one, though you can find some exceptions too. For example here White can’t win because the Black king can manage two tasks. (1. It is in the square of white’s passed pawn and 2. It is able to protect his own pawn without any risk):

ii) Scattered passed pawns against two connected mobile pawns: This is more crucial and securing a win depends on king and pawns positions.

a) Usually two scattered distant passed pawns are stronger than the two connected mobile pawns. For example

b) Two connected mobile pawns are better if they are far advanced, along with the king. For example

Ashvin Chauhan

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Basic Endgames Teach How To Tie Together Mathematics And Logic

In the game of chess, each lowly Pawn has the potential to promote to a powerful Queen by advancing all the way to the 8th rank. Also, there’s a remarkable rule that if one side cannot make any legal moves, the game is actually a draw, rather than a loss for the paralyzed side. These two facts create the phase of a chess game called the endgame, where a player has the opportunity to out-think and out-trick the opponent.

Logic

Chess has a well-deserved reputation for being a game of logic. Indeed, fundamentally the game really is a matter of logic, in the sense that everything is about managing the fact that everything boils down to “if I do this, then she can do that, but then I can do this other thing”, and therefore a decision tree of immense breadth and depth. Nowhere is this more true than in the endgame, where being one move ahead of the other side may mean the difference between a win and a draw: and in fact, being one move ahead does not always win, but sometimes even loses (in situations called Zugzwang where getting somewhere first means the other side can make a waiting move and then pounce).

For example, a basic endgame position everyone must learn is the following King and Pawn versus Pawn position. Black to move, there is only one move that draws; the other two moves lose.

This is a perfect position to use to teach children how to think logically, even if they don’t otherwise play chess. They don’t even need to know how to checkmate with a Queen against King. You can just teach them how the King and Pawn work, and set the goal for White as being to get the Pawn to the 8th rank without its being captured. In fact, I think chess would be much more useful in teaching logic if play was arranged starting from simplified positions in endgames, skipping the much more complex phases of the opening and middlegame.

Meta-reasoning

Once a chess player begins applying logical reasoning, an observant player will observe that she is reusing certain patterns in reasoning again and again. This is where reasoning about reasoning, or meta-reasoning, comes in. The concept of “taking the opposition” in chess is one of the simplest examples. In the position above, Black draws by arranging it so that if White’s King advances, Black’s King is in position to “take the opposition” and prevent further progress. So the principle of opposition is not a part of the game of chess, but part of how we can reasoning about the game of chess. A chess player could in theory just apply the “rule” of opposition to play chess well, but without actually understanding why it works, would be missing a huge part of what chess is about: discovering patterns, proving facts about them (this is the “meta-reasoning”), and applying the patterns as building blocks.

Mathematics

This leads to the topic of mathematics in chess. I take the point of view that certain ways of effectively making decisions in chess amount to doing mathematics, going beyond just logic: arithmetic, algebra, geometry. There are many connections to be made here that, when made explicit, can greatly aid in transferring skills out of chess itself.

For today, I’ll just mention a connection with arithmetic and geometry. In the position below, White to move can win, but only by very precise play. The aim is to prevent Black from taking the opposition, and then for White to take the opposition and reduce the problem to the previously mentioned position. The concept of reducing to a previously proved fact is fundamental to logical reasoning, of course. So where does the mathematics come in?

First of all, it must be understood that there is a race between the two Kings to get to one of the critical squares in front of White’s Pawn that will determine whether White can win: White must get the King to d6, e6, or f6. So there may be some kind of counting implicit in whatever logical reasoning is used.

From a geometrical point of view, what is important to understand is that because Kings have to move either horizontally, vertically, or diagonally, “distance” on the chess board is not the same as the “bird’s eye view” visual spatial distance: chess operates on a more abstract geometrical space where, for example, all things being equal, diagonal moves can get a King somewhere much faster than just horizontal or vertical moves.

Arithmetic comes in to tie in this geometric insight with the logic-based goal-setting and reduction: the simple way to determine whether this position is a win for White is to count how many moves it takes to reach a desired square, and to count whether Black can stop this. Arithmetic is basically a meta-reasoning shortcut for otherwise engaging in low-level “if this, then that” logical reasoning. Here, we see that White can, in 3 moves, reach d5 unimpeded, because in 2 moves, Black can at most reach f6. Then we tie up the reasoning with one bit of logic/geometry: after White’s King is on d5 and Black’s King on f6, Black’s King must go to e7 to prevent White from getting to d6. But then this allows White to get to e5, taking the opposition and winning the game.

I believe that this endgame position is very instructive for showing how to apply multiple levels and styles of logical and mathematical understanding to be able to guarantee a desired result. Any student who can master (as tested by playing out as either side to the optimal result) and be able to explain the evaluation of each position in which the Pawn is on e4 and the other Kings are on any other squares on the board will have demonstrated a real understanding of logical reasoning.

Franklin Chen

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