Category Archives: Endgames

Developing Precision in Chess

I am not a bomber. I’m more about precision and being target-oriented. I have to rely on all parts of my game firing if I’m going to win.

Luke Donald, Professional Golfer

Small Differences

In chess and golf, small differences in position and in movement can mean either winning or losing. There are many positions where it is hard to determine the objective difference between several very good moves. Choosing these moves may often be a matter of preference or temperament.

However, there are many positions where the 2nd best move is not nearly as good as the best move. This can occur in very sharp middlegame positions as well as in many endgame positions.

Here is a position from a recent game I played that inspired this article. Although I won the game, I only played the 2nd best move in this position. Study my analysis, and notice how lucky I was that my opponent also played the 2nd best move on his turn.

I hope you enjoyed that position. It was rewarding for me to analyze and annotate for you. Also, it is also my hope that it helped you appreciate the need for precision in chess.

Pattern Recognition

One way to improve your precision is to have a working command of many patterns – especially in the endgame. Why? Knowing various chess patterns frees your mind from having to “figure it all out” at the board – allowing you to use your mental resources to do deeper calculations.

What kind of patterns should you know? Here is just a few examples:

  • Pawn structures that occur in your opening repertoire (and what you should be doing in those positions).
  • Basic endgame concepts such as zugzwang and opposition.
  • Specific theoretical endgames such as the Lucena position.
  • Tactical motifs such a pins, forks, etc.
  • Basic checkmating patterns (such as smothered mate) and methods (such as rook and king vs. king).

Depending on how long you have played and studied chess,  you may pick these patterns up through various sources, such as books as well as analyzing your own games. However, you can also systematically seek out this knowledge. A good book in this regard is Jeremy Silman’s Complete Endgame Course for endgame knowledge. If you enjoy learning online I can recommend our own GM Nigel Davies’ Tiger Chess program for a complete curriculum of strategy and endgames to build your chess pattern recognition.

Thought Process

Another way to improve your precision is to develop your thought process. This topic is beyond the scope of this article but there are two questions you need to ask yourself for each move you make:

Question #1: What is my opponent’s best responses to my move?

This question will help you to avoid overlooking your opponent’s replies. You should examine your opponent’s potential checks, captures, and threats as responses to your candidate move. In addition, you may want to ask yourself, “What would my opponent do if it were his turn to move?” 

In my endgame position above, had I done this I might have noticed my opponent’s potential move and looked for another option – I don’t know if I would have found the best move but I would have at least looked.

Question #2: Do I have a better move in this position?

As Lasker said, “When you see a good move, look for a better one.” If you ask yourself this question during your games, you will look for alternatives. Sometimes, this will just confirm your first choice, but sometimes you will find something even better!

Things to look for include:

  • Different move orders (especially in tactical combinations)
  • Checking moves that you think are forced (both for your candidate and your opponent’s reply)
  • Alternative moves that accomplish the strategic objectives of your current candidate

Including these two questions in your thought process will improve the precision of your move selection.

Calculation Skill

As I discuss in another article about learning tactics, there are two parts to improving tactics – pattern recognition and calculation ability. We covered pattern recognition above, so let’s talk about improving calculation skill.

There are a few elements to calculation, including visualizing positions, organizing the variations, and assessing the resulting positions – just to name a few. I recommend checking out Kotov’s Think LIke a Grandmaster if you really want to dig deep into this topic, but here are a few methods for improving your calculation.

  • Checkmate problems: This is a good method to start with and I’ve used it off and on for years with great success. You can start with 2-movers, then move progress to 3-movers and 4-movers. The beauty of this method is that it really isolates the visualization and organization aspects of calculation as you don’t have to evaluate positions – it is either a checkmate or not.
  • Chess Tempo Standard problems: These are tactical problems that usually requires 3+ moves of calculation to solve – particularly with the higher rated problems. There may be other online chess servers that achieve the same purpose, but I think Chess Tempo’s higher rated problems are particularly good for developing your calculating muscles. There is only one solution to each problem, this specifically improves your precision.
  • Endgame Studies: This is probably the most difficult of the methods I will mention here as they often require some endgame theoretical knowledge to give you a clue of where to start – otherwise you are often just taking shots in the dark (which may improve your calculation ability if it doesn’t drive you crazy). However, this could also provide much pleasure as there are many beautiful endgame studies. For a more practical slant, you can check out Chess Tempo’s endgame training mode – which provide positions from actual games.

Conclusion

Improving your precision can be a great investment of your chess training time. The obvious methods including solving tactical problems and practicing calculation will definitely help. In addition, I also propose increasing your chess knowledge as well as improving your thought process as ways that will both improve your precision as well as every other aspect of your chess.

As always, I wish you good luck in your chess endeavours and better chess!

Bryan Castro

Which Check?

Last Monday’s problem reminds us that lazy analysis can cost points.

If White carelessly plays 1.b7 , Black draws with 1…c5 2. Kb5 Kb7 3. Kxc5 Kc7 4. Kd5 f4! and after 5. gxf4 Kd7 Black has the opposition and draws.

Instead, White wins with 1. Kb5! Kb7 2. bxc7 Kxc7 3. Kc5 Kd7 4. Kd5 Ke7 5. Ke5 f4 6. gxf4! and wins.

In this week’s position, White has to play and win. He has plenty of discovered checks but don’t be lazy. Work out which discovered check wins.

Steven Carr

King Up For The Ending

Like all chess teachers, I explain to all my pupils that the first rule of endings is to use your king actively. In the very early days of Richmond Junior Club, Mike Fox would use the acronym KUFTE (King Up For The Ending).

Here’s an example. I have the white pieces and am a pawn behind but as long as I remember the Philidor position I should draw with a bit of care. What could be more natural than moving my king up the board to g4? Let’s just shake hands and grab a swift pint in the bar before closing time. But I’m soon awakened from my reverie. The black pawn moves to h5. My opponent offers his hand, but not because he’s happy to share the point.

King Up For The Ending wasn’t such a good idea in that position, then. Perhaps I’ll do better next time.

I’m white again, and have a pawn on the seventh rank. I reach out for a queen, eager to promote my pawn and force resignation. “Check”, my opponent says. “Oh no, I missed that one. Never mind, I can move out of check and then promote. I must remember to bring my king up for the ending, and attacking an enemy pawn seems like a good idea, so I play Kf3. Now if Rg3+ I’m playing Kxf4, if Rg8 I can probably play Rd7 followed by Rd8, and if the rook moves horizontally I promote at once with mate. What could go wrong?

But instead, my opponent plays Rf2. “Checkmate”, he announces, apologetically, and stops the clock.

Perhaps it will be third time lucky.

This time my opponent has a knight rather than a rook, so I shouldn’t have to worry about checkmate. I must remember to watch out for knight forks: Kc4, for example, wouldn’t be too clever. So I’ll move my king forward again, both advancing and centralising: surely it must be safe this time. My opponent moves his knight to b6. From out of the blue it’s another checkmate.

It’s very easy, isn’t it, to make this sort of mistake. Many games are decided by opening tactics. At the start of the game we wear our Opening Hat. We think about quick development, central control and king safety, but if we forget our Tactics Hat we could easily overlook a fork, for example. While we wear our Tactics Hat in the middle game it’s all to easy to forget it when we have our Ending Hat on. We’re thinking about winning pawns, creating passed pawns, promoting them and mating our opponent with the resulting queens. We learn at an early age that in the ending the king is a fighting piece. We’re not likely to get mated with many pieces on the board so we can advance him fearlessly into enemy territory.

But as you’ve seen it doesn’t always work out like that. The Magic Question always has to take precedence. Just in case you didn’t know, the Magic Question is “If I play that move, what could my opponent do next? What checks, captures and threats will be at my opponent’s disposal?” With not many pieces on the board, it’s fatally easy to be lulled into a false sense of security. The clock is ticking away: perhaps you’re playing on increment. I guess we’ve all been there.

Here’s another example:

Of course you can guess what happened next: White played Kd4, advancing and centralising, but allowing Rd3#.

This one’s a bit different:

White is up by the exchange for a pawn. The king is already centralised so it’s time to think of another endgame precept: Passed Pawns Must Be Pushed. Another sad story: d6 was met by Bc6#.

So how did I find these examples? I’m currently in the final stages of research for Checkmates for Heroes, part of the Chess for Heroes project (about which much more later) and looking for examples of interesting black checkmates to be used as test positions. I also came across positions such as these which were interesting for other reasons.

One final, and rather different, tragedy, this time not an ending.

Anything reasonable will win for White. Nf3 is, according to the engines, mate in 9, while Qxg7+ is obvious and strong. Instead, White, not noticing there was a big difference, captured on g7 with the rook. As Tartakower said, the mistakes are all there waiting to be made. We’ll all do well to remember Tartakower, as well as the Magic Question, next time we play chess.

Richard James

Creativity In Endgames

A general assumption about the endgame is that it is boring and merely technique. But this is far from the truth. The reason behind the belief is that people tend not to find any action while studying endgames. It might be similar to mathematics where one plus one is two but not 100%. Similarly to the middle game you must be creative and imaginative in order to play better in the endgame.

Here are two beautiful and creative endgames which are having instructive values too:

Emanuel Lasker Vs. Edward Lasker in 1924: White to Move

This one is a very famous endgame played between the two Laskers where Emanuel Lasker managed to save the game despite being an exchange and a pawn down. In order to save a day you must have to win the b3 pawn even at the cost of White’s two pawns, but it is really difficult as Black can hold the b3 pawn. So Lasker came up with a really creative idea of creating a fortress with knight and king against king, pawn and rook. He played:

1.g7 Ke6 2.g8=Q Rxg8 3.Kc4 Rg3

3…Rb8 doesn’t change the outcome, for example 4.f5 Kxf5 5.Kc3 Ke4 6.Nc Kd5 7.Nd2 b2 8.Nb1 Ke4 9.Kc2 Kd4 and 10.Nd2 after which Black’s king can’t penetrate and the rook can’t leave the b file. Therefore the game would be a draw.

4.Na4 Kf5 5.Kb4 Kxf4 6. Nb2

Again a fortress! The rook can’t leave the third rank as Black’s king can’t support the pawn. White tried to win for some more moves but was soon force to agree to a draw.

Kasparov Vs. Timman in 2000: Black to Move

Black last move was c4, mainly relying on Rxc4 Rxb5 when fight is on. Instead this happened:

1.Kxc4!!

A surprise; Black had thought that Kxc4 is not possible because of d3, winning.

1…d3 2.Kxd5!! d2 3.g4+!

The point. Black resigned in view of 3…Kxg4 4. Rc4+ followed by Rd4.

Ashvin Chauhan

King and Pawn Endings – or Lazy Analysis

The solution to last Monday’s problem is that White plays 1. Qf4!. This wins after 1…Kh8 2. Qh6 Rg8 3.Rf3 Qf8 4. Qxh7+! and mates.

King and Pawn endings are good at showing the perils of lazy analysis. Lazy analysis costs points.

If White lazily plays 1. b7 in the diagram position, he will only draw. How does Black save the game after 1.b7 and what should White play instead to ensure he wins the game?

Steven Carr

The Opening to the Middle Game Again

The solution to last Monday’s problem is that White should play 1.Nd3.

His plan is to launch a minority attack by playing b4 to b5. To help this plan, the Knight should be on d3 rather than f3. So it would not help White’s plan if he played 1.Nf3 as the Knight is not covering b4 and c5 in the way it is after White plays 1. Nd3.

This week’s problem is taken from a game by the English Grandmaster, Plaskett. He is a former British Champion. He is probably equally famous for having won a great deal of money on ‘Who wants to be a millionaire?’

White is to play. He has an isolated Queen’s Pawn. Should he settle down to a long defence of this pawn? What is the best way for White to approach this position?

Steven Carr

Wrong Exchanges

It has been a common observation at amateur level that they tend to exchange almost equal value pieces whilst playing against stronger opponent, with a draw in mind. Sometimes, they just move mechanically based on general rules. This in fact, gives masters an opportunity to demonstrate their technique. Here is an instructive example:

In the given position, Black exchanged his knight against White’s bishop and went for a bishop vs. knight endgame. At first this looks quite innocent and even a good idea because we have been told that a bishop is usually better than a knight in the endgame against knight. Secondly the position is not so closed, so Black might be able to open the position & can change the pawn structure. Lastly, Black could emerge with a passed pawn on either c- or d-file.

But taking the bishop on d3 is actually a mistake because it has nothing to attack. And White’s knight would become very active on c3, d4 or f4.

Interesting Exercise: Change the position of the bishop from e8 to d8 and analyse the position! This kind of imagination is helpful in learning chess.

Question: How would you recapture on d3?
Answer: Recapturing with king is dubious due to 1…c5!. For example 1…c5! 2. Nc1 Bb5+ 3.Kd2 Bc4 from where the bishop can be exchanged against the knight almost by force, while pawns on c5 and d5 guarantees Black a better game.

In the game Alekhine played cxd3! and now c5 is rather dubious idea (compare it with the previous line 1. Kxd3)

1.cxd3 c5?! 2.d4! c4

2…cxd4 is even worse because of 3. Kxd4 Kc6 and 4. Kc5 is winning.

3.f5!

The pawn can’t be taken because of Nf4

3…gxf5 4.h4!

Fixing a weakness, which is quite common in masters’ game!

Black tried to fight for next 20 moves but failed to change the outcome of the game.

Interesting Exercise: From here try to win the position against your friend or even an engine.

Ashvin Chauhan

Automatic Moves

The solution to last Monday’s problem is that White can punish Black’s greed by playing 1. Qc1 and the Black Queen is trapped. 1.. Qa5 is met by 2. Bb5+.

This week’s problem shows the pitfalls of making automatic replies.

White sees that his Queen is attacked and that the Black Pawn on b6 is en prise, and so automatically plays 1. Qxb6 after a few seconds thought. Black castled and White did not have a big edge.

What had White missed? How can he get a big advantage by keeping the Black King in the centre of the board where it can be attacked?

Steven Carr

The Passed Pawn – Underpromotion

Last week, we looked at the passed pawn in general. Promoting a passed pawn usually ends the game in favour of the promoter as it creates huge material imbalance if the pawn becomes a queen. But this is not always the case!

Sometimes underpromotion is necessary in order to checkmate the opponent king and to meet opponent’s resources such as counter promotion, checkmate threats, the threat of capturing the promoted piece and drawing tricks. Here are some enlightening examples:


1) Robert Fontaine against Maxime Vachier Lagrave in 2007:

Underpromotion to meet perpetual checks and checkmating the opponent king

Q: How would you proceed with Black pieces?
A: Black can checkmate the opponent king with series of forcing moves using underpromotion.

1… f1=N+!!

This is the only way to pocket the point, promoting the pawn into a queen leads only to a draw after Qxc7.

2.Kf4 Rh4+ 3.Kg5 Be3+!

Sacrificing the rook.

4.Kxh4 g5+
5.Kh5 Ng3+

White resigned in view of 6. Kg6 g4#.

2) Aron G Reshko against Oleg Kaminsky in 1972:
Underpromotion to avoid stalemate tricks


Q: What would you promote to on a8?
A: Promoting to a queen or rook fails to Qf7+!! due to stalemate tricks. In the game White promoted the pawn into a bishop and went on win after couple of moves.

3) Nakamura against Kramnik in 2012:
Underpromotion leaves Black without any counter chances.

Q: How would you proceed with the White pieces?
A: In the game White played 1.c8=N+, the only move to win the game because promoting pawn into queen can be met by exd1=Q+ whilst 1.Kxe2 can be met by f3+ followed by Bxc7. Black tried hard for next 18 moves but failed to save the day. Here are rest of the moves in case you’re interested.

62…Kf6 63.Kxe2 Ke5 64.Nb6 Kd4 65.Bg2 Be1 66.Nd5 Ke5 67.Nb4 Bh4 68.Nd3+ Kf5 69.Kxd2 Kg4 70.Ke2 Bf6 71.N1f2+ Kg3 72.Bf3 Bd8 73.Ne4+ Kh4 74.Ne5 Bc7 75.Ng6+ Kh3 76.Ne7 Bd8 77.Nf5 Bb6 78.Kf1 Kh2 79.Bg4 f3 80.Nh4 1–0

Ashvin Chauhan

Being Too Greedy In The Opening

The solution to last Monday’s problem is that White can draw with 1. Kb7! Kc4 2. Kc7 d5 3 Kc6.

But 1. Ka7 loses to 1…Kc4 and 1. Kb8 loses to 1…Kc6.

The problem shows that care is needed even in simple positions.

This week’s problem illustrates the dangers of taking pawns with your queen in the opening.

The game went 1. d4 Nf6 2. Bg5 Ne4 3. Bf4 c5 4. d5 Qb6 5. Nd2 Nxd2 6. Bxd2 Qxb2 7. e4 d6 8. Rb1 Qxa2.

How does White get an advantage?

Steven Carr