Chess Endings for Heroes

I’m currently writing a series of books for children (or adults) who have learnt the moves and would like to reach a good enough standard to play adult competitive chess successfully.

Chess Endings for Heroes will give readers the knowledge and skills they require to reach this level.

You’ll certainly need to be quick and efficient at mating with king and queen against king, and with king and rook against king. Learning how to mate with two bishops and with bishop and knight is not yet necessary as they are much less common but will be covered in brief more for the sake of completion than anything else. At this level, many students will also find the bishop and knight checkmate difficult to grasp. If you want to get beyond this level, though, you will need to know it. The world is very different now from when I was learning chess more than half a century ago, when most league games and some tournament games would be adjudicated at move 30. These days, if you’re at all serious about playing at a high level, you need to know endings like bishop and knight against king, and rook and bishop against rook (and I write this having just been directed to a game in which a 2015 rated player spent more than 75 moves making less than no progress with bishop and knight against king, despite having started with the opposing king on the edge of the board).

Beyond this, what you need to know more than anything else at this level is pawn endings. When you start to learn chess one of the first things you learn is the value of the pieces. We teach about favourable, equal and unfavourable exchanges, so children understandably tend to think, for example, that whenever you trade rooks it’s an equal exchange – 5 points for 5 points. But of course, we, as experienced players, know that very few exchanges genuinely are equal. The point count is very much like stabilisers when you’re learning to ride a bike or water wings when you’re learning to swim: very useful for beginners but once you’re fluent it’s more of a hindrance than a help.

At this level, one of the most frequent mistakes is to convert a probable draw into a loss by trading your last piece into a lost pawn ending. As pawn endings are, by and large, the easiest to win, if you’re a pawn down you should do your best to avoid trading your other pieces. If you’re ahead on material trade pieces but not pawns, if you’re behind on material trade pawns but not pieces.

So we start with king and pawn endings. First, you’ll need to know the result of any position with king and pawn against king. You’ll then need to know the how to win simple positions with an extra pawn: create a passed pawn and, if you can’t promote it, rush your king over to capture some pawns on the other side of the board. With pawns on only one side of the board you’ll need to be a lot more subtle, and have a fairly sophisticated understanding of the opposition.

We then look at other common ideas in pawn endings: the outside passed pawn, the concept of the spare move, the sacrificial breakthrough to create a passed pawn, calculating races where both players are aiming to promote their passed pawns and so on. The lessons are reinforced by quizzes based on games from the RJCC database.

Looking at pawn races leads us onto the important ending of queen against pawn on the seventh rank, which you’ll need to know at this point. This in turn brings us to queen endings: all you need to know at this point is a few basic principles.

At higher levels rook endings are the most important type of endgame. At this level, you’ll need to know the Lucena and Philidor positions along with a few basic principles, such as keeping your pieces active and placing rooks behind passed pawns. You’ll probably also need to know a bit about rook versus pawn.

Positions where you’re a minor piece ahead in the ending can prove tricky at this level. You can’t just trade off all the pawns and mate so you have to win some enemy pawns first. One technique is to target pawns that can’t be defended by friendly pawns (backward or isolated) and attack them with both your minor piece and your king. Another technique is to play for Zugzwang and force the enemy king back so that your king can infiltrate. We’ll also look at bishops against knights, and discuss good and bad bishops. The ending of bishop and wrong rook’s pawn against king is essential knowledge.

And that, really, is all you need to know to reach say 100 ECF or 1500 Elo. Chess Endings for Heroes, coming, with any luck, sometime fairly soon.

Richard James

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About Richard James

Richard James is a professional chess teacher and writer living in Twickenham, and working mostly with younger children and beginners. He was the co-founder of Richmond Junior Chess Club in 1975 and its director until 2005. He is the webmaster of chessKIDS academy (www.chesskids.org.uk or www.chesskids.me.uk) and, most recently, the author of Chess for Kids and The Right Way to Teach Chess to Kids, both published by Right Way Books. Richard is currently the Curriculum Consultant for Chess in Schools and Communities (www.chessinschools.co.uk) as well as teaching chess in local schools and doing private tuition. He has been a member of Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club since 1966 and currently has an ECF grade of 177.