Tag Archives: endgames

“What Say You?” The 1 Minute Challenge

“A wise man can learn more from a foolish question than a fool can learn from a wise answer”
Bruce Lee

I have been talking a lot in my previous articles about gut instinct in chess. It relies heavily on personal knowledge and experience, reason why we all need to continuously work on both. I have been thinking for a while now about how to help you get better at it and the best idea I could come up with is to get closer to a game situation. How does this work? Well, time has become an important factor in the game; long gone are the days of 40 moves in 2 hours, one or two adjournments and an adjudication by a selected panel consisting of the best players in the tournament. These days we need to make our decisions much faster. Here is how I propose you do it:

  • Have a look at the position for 1 minute (watch the clock)
  • Think about the choices in front of you and pick the one you feel it is right
  • Verify it in your mind the best you can
  • Compare it with the solution

Are you ready? Let’s start with the position below:

OK, hope you have timed yourself. You can compare now your thoughts with mine gathered in the same fashion:

  • My first thought was this position resembled the famous Reti study (W: Kh8, c6 B: Ka6, h5); however the g-pawn is more advanced and Reti’s solution cannot help
  • Since the g-pawn is 3 moves away from promoting and cannot be stopped, we must push a pawn forward; this immediately eliminates any king move (line A)
  • I have 2 pawns to choose from, but the a-pawn gets blocked after 1 move
  • Moving the h-pawn first (line B) allows me to push it all the way to h7 and when Black promotes g1=Q, Kh8 is trapped in the corner; my a5-pawn still has a move to give but after pushing it, I think Black cannot win anymore
  • This looks very good so far and becomes my choice
  • There is a bit of time left and I am thinking what would happen if 1. h5 Ka6 the only other possibility for Black? One thing easy to see is I will have to move Kh8-g7 and Black will promote g1=Q with check; hmm that gives Black tempi to bring his queen all the way to g6, move his king aside Ka6-b5 to avoid stalemate and that will force the a5-pawn to move (3 moves to promotion). White would need just 2 moves Qg6-f7-f8#
  • Line B is now busted and the solution is now obvious

Did you get it all that in 1 minute? If you did, congratulations! The queen versus pawn endgame (lesson 17, level 2 of our chess app) can occur quite often at club level play, especially when the players are closely matched. The most likely pawn to give trouble is the side pawn (either a- or h-) and knowing how to deal with it can save you invaluable half points. Do not forget to review it whenever you get the chance like in this study. Hope you liked it!

Valer Eugen Demian

One Good Blunder Deservers Another One

This chess game is from the first round of a chess tournament that is being played on Wednesday nights in Colorado Springs, Colorado. There is one round each Wednesday night and I have completed two rounds so far. I have lost both rounds, and there are only eight players in this section! I should have an easy time with Black in the third round.

This event is being played in a restaurant that is called Smashburger. The food is OK, but the playing conditions are poor. The lighting there is not good and I have to wear a hat to keep the overhead lights out of my eyes. The noise level is too high for me to play good chess. Some of the players are wearing headphones and drowning out the noise with music. However, I have yet to try that. With my hearing problems the music may become just as distracting as the ambient noise there. I doubt that I will play there again after I complete this event.

My opponent in this chess game is older than I am and owns his own computer business that he works with his son. Paul misplayed the opening and I ended up two passed pawns on the queenside. However, I blundered on move number 51 and the game was lost for me after that.

Mike Serovey

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

Studying the Endgame

I wrote a few weeks ago about spending more time on endgame study. This week, GM Davies responded to a reader on his Facebook wall that instead of buying a book on the 2. b3 Sicilian, he should study the endgame. That struck a sympathetic vibration. I believe that we chess improvers should spend more time mastering tactics, strategy, and technique and less time obsessing over openings.

I spend my time on tactics, master games, endgames, and openings. In that order. Maybe 10% on openings.

Endgame study covers a broad watershed. One of our local experts – who will tell anyone in the coffee shop he is a USCF rated expert, whether they’re interested or not – tells novices they need to learn the Philidor and Lucena positions. There are good reasons to learn these endgame maneuvers at the appropriate time. I think there are much more important endgame lessons that a novice needs to learn before they memorize the Philidor and Lucena positions. To my mind, that’s rather like telling a novice they need to master the Sämisch Variation of the King’s Indian. No, they don’t.

Novices need to master the basic checkmates. They need to know them cold. I run into many intermediate players who still struggle with basic mates and walk into stalemates that are easily avoided or waste moves when a simple path to mate is available.

I’ll suggest that a novice or intermediate player does not need to memorize the technique for lone king versus bishop and knight. When I mentioned this to my former coach yesterday at the coffee shop, he told me in his fifty years of chess, he’d seen it only three times. There is so much to learn that is vital and practical, the lone king versus bishop and knight mate can wait, in my opinion.

So, where should an intermediate player look to study the endgame. Well, I’d advise against starting with something like Dvoretsky’s Endgame Manual. It’s a monumental work, but it’s best saved for experts and masters.

Let’s consider briefly what’s practical for the chess improver to study. Stated differently, what endgame knowledge will be immediately useful to us in our games?

Rook endings are the most common, but the most fundamental are king and pawn endings. The critical lessons we need to master are opposition, triangulation, reserved tempi, and shouldering. Identifying critical squares is also important. With a sole king against one pawn, it’s an easy concept to grasp. Put multiple pawns for both sides on the board and it quickly becomes complicated. Mastering the idea is where we learn how to breakthrough with the king and prevent breakthroughs.

According to both Glenn Flear in Practical Endgame Play and Fundamental Chess Endings by Mueller and Lamprecht, the most common endgames are rook and minor piece for each side. Working on those endgames will pay big dividends. Especially R+B v R+N. Next in frequency is pure rook endgames. They’re tricky. Bishop v. knight endings are common, too.

My suggestion is to spend considerable time on pawn ending fundamentals, rook endings, minor piece endings, and queen endings in pretty much that order.

I have a couple of suggestions on resources for endgame study.

Some players learn best from videos. The endgame series by Karsten Mueller is comprehensive. It pretty much follows his book with Lamprecht. I’d recommend that for stronger improvers. For intermediate players, I’d suggest instead the endgame DVDs in GM Daniel King’s PowerPlay series for ChessBase. GM King targets his videos at improvers and his instruction is always practical in focus. He doesn’t cover the entire breadth of endgames, but you will learn a lot from his DVDs on practical pawn endgames and practical rook endgames. Watch them, and your endgame should improve a lot.

For books, I’ll suggest that John Nunn’s recent book, Understanding Chess Endgames, is a great place to start. The book covers 100 endgame themes, all of them critical knowledge for the improving chess player who wants to advance to expert. I’d suggest complementing Nunn’s book with Mastering Endgame Strategy by Johan Hellsten. It’s also good to focus on the endgame play of some othe very best, such as Capablanca, Smyslov, and Fischer. You might also add Steve Giddins’ The Greatest Ever Chess Endgames for that perspective.

If you want a little more detail, John Nunn’s two volume Nunn’s Chess Endings is also practical in its endgame coverage. It would be an excellent follow-up after mastering Understanding Chess Endgames.

It’s nice to have a comprehensive endgame manual, such as Mueller and Lamprecht’s Fundamental Chess Endings or Reuben Fine’s Basic Chess Endings. Just realize, these are reference works, not introductory textbooks.

If you master the books I’ve recommended or sat through the 60 or 70 hours of endgame videos and worked diligently through all the material, then you’ll be ready for more advanced endgame instruction, such as that found in Dvoretsky’s Endgame Manual.

Endgame study doesn’t end. Not even for GMs. The topics just get more advanced.

I wish everyone a happy holiday season!

Glenn Mitchell

Chess Blindness Part Two

In the diagramed position below I have reproduced from memory a position in a game that I watched between an 11 year old boy who had a 1700 rating and a twenty-something year old life master. The master had Black. These two players had faced each other before. White spent about ten minutes looking at this and missed what I found in about 30 seconds! White lost this game. When I realized that White did not know how to play this kind of endgame and messed it up I told his coach to teach this kid how to play these kind of endgames. I cannot state that this coach actually did what I suggested. Again, two years experience playing chess lost to about 12. There is no substitute for experience.

The key idea here is to play the White King to d3 so as to keep the Black King out of White’s pawn structure. After that, White needs to avoid exchanging pawns and to move his Bishop back and forth between c1 and d2. It should be an easy draw. Instead, White moved his King do f2 which let the Black King into his pawns and lost.

Mike Serovey, MA, MISM
Author of Better Thinking for Better Chess


Here’s a good example of a totally innocuous opening which leads to a drawish looking endgame. Then suddenly White wins for reasons that openings books never explain…