Tag Archives: Instructive Endgame

“What Say You?” The 1 Minute Challenge (4)

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

A quick reminder about how to 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? Below is this week’s position asking you to choose the next move for White. What is the most likely result based on your choices?

Here are my thoughts:

  • Material is equal
  • Each side has a passed pawn and both kings are within reach (see rule of the square in our app level 3, lesson 26) with a plus for the Black king being closer
  • Pushing the pawn forward 1. c5 … gives Black time to activate its king (1… Ke6 for example). White will have to capture the a-pawn, while Black will do the same with the c-pawn; after those pawns come off the board, Black’s king will be closer to capture the g4-pawn and promote its remaining f6-pawn (see basic pawn endgames in our app level 2, lesson 19). Black could win in this case
  • Based on the above idea 1. Kd4 … does not look like a good idea either because it also allows 1… Ke6. The difference in this case might be the fact the White king stays close to its c4-passer, it could capture Black’s a-pawn and come back in time to defend the passer; hmm, this is an interesting thought after all
  • Continuing along this line of thought 1. Kd5 … looks the best since it is keeping Kf7 away. The problem here is that after 1… a4 there is no other response but the forced 2. Kd4 … or the a-pawn promotes. We are now back to the previous line with the a-pawn farther down the board. This will draw the White king away and allow the Black one to activate; after the simple moves 2… Ke6 3. Kc3 Ke5 4. Kb4 Kd4 there is nothing better for each side than pushing pawns down toward promotion and a draw
  • Going back to 1. Kd4 Ke6 and using the information gathered in the 1. Kd5 … line, this must be the move to play. The a5-pawn has not moved yet and black must choose between moving it or bringing its King closer; in both cases this is good news for white

Conclusion: 1. Kd4 … gives white the best practical chances and should be played. You might be out of time by now to be able to determine if white can win this or not. The endgame has one more nice wrinkle white must consider in order to win and you can see it looking at the solution below:

What can we conclude out of it? Sometimes we might have to go ahead and play the most promising line even if we don’t see the final result for various reasons. We must keep our focus and apply our thought process along the way to uncover opportunities and achieve the best possible result. Start with the simple stuff first and build on it based on your knowledge; wherever your knowledge stops, mark it down and make sure you focus on expanding it during your home preparation. Good luck!

Valer Eugen Demian

“What Say You?” The 1 Minute Challenge (3)

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

This article marks the 1 year anniversary since I joined Nigel and friends on this site. I am very grateful for the opportunity and would like to say:
“Thank you Nigel for bringing me on-board!”
In life we are presented with a finite number of opportunities. The twist each time is not knowing if they are the right ones, if it is the right time or simply if we are ready for it. In a way it is similar with what we face on the chessboard at every move and of course each one of us reacts differently. My approach is to take it if it feels right. Young people have a tendency of letting them pass, searching for that elusive once in a lifetime opportunity to certain success. One goes by, there will be several others coming our way, isn’t it? I was more or less the same, don’t think for a second I was not. John Snow’s words are true, don’t you think?
Theon Greyjoy “… Remember we were all young and stupid, you always knew. Every step you take is always the right step.
John Snow “It’s not. It may seem that way from the outside but I promise you it’s not true. I’ve done plenty of things that I regret…
We simply don’t know which opportunity leads to certain success and this, I argue, is the whole point of life: choose what you feel is right for you at any given moment.

I had and still have no idea where this opportunity is going to take me. I tried my writing several times in the past with more or less success and realized I liked doing it. That was helpful in deciding to take it. The weekly format forced me to adjust on the fly and look for subjects of interest on a regular basis. I had no idea this was going to happen when I made my decision. Life has a lot of twists and turns. The decisions we make lead us in different directions. The final destination might be there waiting for us no matter which way we choose and of course it is still possible we might not reach it in the end. The best we can do is give it our best shot each time.

Right now I feel this 1 minute challenge idea has value for many. In a World full of opportunities and an overwhelming amount of information at our fingertips, thinking for ourselves and making the best possible decisions is increasingly important. No engine or similar tool will help you do that. They are just tools. Yes, an engine will “show” you in a split second the possible result of a move/ decision; however it will never be able to “explain” it to you. That is what really matters and why we should continue practicing it. A quick reminder about how to 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? Below is this week’s position asking you to choose the winning move from the 4 options presented (in no particular order):

Here are my thoughts:

  • It is another endgame with White having considerable material advantage
  • The White king is too far away so 1. Kg2 … or similar does not help. The rook and pawn must find a way to get it done
  • Sacrificing the rook in exchange for promoting the pawn 1. axb5 Kxa1 gives us a basic queen versus side pawn endgame (lesson 17, level 2 of our chess app); with the White king so far away, this position is a draw
  • Moving the rook decision brings a new twist: where should we move it?
  • Moving it to the king side (as far away from the king as possible) 1. Rg1 bxa4 loses the pawn and reaches a rook versus pawn endgame (lesson 18, level 2 of our chess app); with the White king so far away, this position is also a draw
  • The remaining choice 1. Ra3 Kxa3 2. axb5 … is kind of out of the box thinking, don’t you think? The main idea is to force the king in front of the a5-pawn and away from the a1 promotion square. This would allow us to promote with check and win sufficient tempi to capture the remaining pawn and win the game
  • One last detail is to go with your gut feeling in the line 1. Ra3 b4 It is possible you might be out of time by now. All you would need to calculate is if you have enough time to capture the a5-pawn and stop the b-pawn from promoting

Here is the solution:

I found the position interesting and educative. The answer was not obvious and reaching it required solid knowledge of basic endgames, plus a well thought plan. If some might think this puzzle is too easy, do not dismiss it. You can use this one or similar to warm up during home preparation; do not start with the tough ones first. Practice makes it perfect. Hope you found it useful.

Valer Eugen Demian

The Mongolian Tactic

“I will not return alive if I do not defeat the Jin army!”
General Muqali

I had the chance to watch live online the game between Anand and Carlsen, Sinquefield Cup, 04-Aug-2017 (full game HERE). At the end of it GM Yasser Seirawan made an interesting comment about Anand’s choice to draw the rook and pawns ending they were playing. He said the pawn push 60. g4 … was called “the Mongolian tactic” and he knew about it from a game played or witnessed by Fischer many years ago. Apparently Fischer was the first one to name it as such (or possibly “the Mongoloid tactic”). I have never heard of it before and Yasser’s comments made me extremely curious. The truth is Anand’s choice settled the game quickly, proving its effectiveness. Here is the final part of that endgame:

It could be that time in my life when studying history and bringing back into the spotlight useful information is important; another possible reason is I first fell in love with the antiquity and the first profession I thought about pursuing was archeology. Right after the game I started doing some online research with the intention of writing this article; as you can see it took me almost a month and have still not been able to find more than what you can see here. Apparently Yasser wrote an online article for “The Kibitzer” column @ The Chess Cafe website in the early 2000 (2003 or 2004?), but I could not find it anymore. What I could find though were a couple of games where “the Mongolian tactic” has been used before. The first game between Carlsen versus Yue (full game HERE) also contains a few interesting comments by a couple of users about the history of its name. Thank you “TugasKamagong” and “Shams” for sharing your knowledge!

  • TugasKamagong: “Carlsen’s 46. g4 … is a pawn maneuver that doesn’t have a name. <Shams>, posting in the tournament kibitz page King’s Tournament (2010) a few minutes after that move was played, called it “the Mongolian tactic.” I can’t find a game where a Mongolian player made this maneuver, so I guess <Shams> was alluding to some brilliant 13th-century war tactic by Genghis Khan at say, the Battle of Badger Pass. Anyway, I propose that we use <Sham>’s term and call this the Mongolian Tactic or perhaps the Mongolian Break-through…”
  • Shams: “Yes, who can forget the carnage that day at Badger Pass. I had thought Fischer used the term “Mongolian tactic” for this? Not sure where I read that.”

Here is the final part of that game where “the Mongolian tactic” brought Carlsen a full point:

“Shams” and user “Anastasia” also made a few comments about it for a game between Polgar and Almasi (full game HERE)

  • Shams: “72… g5 allows 73. g4! … what Fischer used to call the “Mongolian Tactic” (don’t ask me why.)…”
  • Anastasia: “not to be picky but Fischer actually called it the mongoloid tactic”
  • Shams: “hmm, do you know the story? google isn’t helping. I’m curious…”

These users are additional sources confirming Yasser’s recollection of the name being linked to Fischer.
Here is the final part of that game where “the Mongolian tactic” also brought Judit the full point:

Here you have it now in one place. Could anyone shed a light on this very clever piece of tactics and help set the record straight? I think it would be nice to save it for future generations as part of other pieces of wisdom in the endgame. I would be more than happy to write more on the subject and even offer this space to anyone wishing to contribute to it; until that happens, I think we could all re-learn about it and have it ready in our daily endgames. Remember the pawn cluster g4-h4-g5-h5 whenever the kingside pawns face each other and because h2-h4 and h7-h5 are important and popular moves to play in the endgame, always ponder carefully the g3-g4 or g6-g5 pawn push in the light of “the Mongolian tactic”. It is pretty devastating!

Valer Eugen Demian

“What Say You?” The 1 Minute Challenge (2)

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

A quick reminder about how to 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? Below is this week’s position:

This week’s challenge is a king and pawns endgame with Black being up by 1 pawn. Here are my thoughts:

  • There are no passed pawns
  • At first glance the Black king seems unable to defend its isolated pawns, so my first reaction was to try line A: 1. Kg3 … and after a few seconds I realized Black wins with ease
  • The second logical try is line B: 1. Kf1 … where White has the opposition. The concept of the opposition (level 2, lessons 19 of our app) is critical in such endgames and it offers simple yet powerful guidance toward a desired result. Surprisingly here it does not work because Black uses the position of the f3-pawn and after 1… Kd2 2. Kf2 Kd3 wins the opposition back, followed by the game
  • Three of the remaining choices (1. Kg1 … 1. Kh2 … and 1. Kh3 …) do not make much sense in my opinion

If you are still with me, you know there is one move left: 1. Kh1 … It seems counter intuitive for a human player. Why on Earth would I consider moving my king in the most unpleasant square available, away from the f3-pawn and far away from those Black pawns? I looked at the solution and couldn’t believe that it was the one, a move discarded by my intuition from the first moment… Of course once this happens, the normal reaction should be to figure out the reasoning. What do you notice first after you play 1. Kh1 …? If you have noticed White has the distant opposition, it is very possible you found the solution in time. Truly after the second try (1. Kf1 …) you should be looking at 1. Kh1 … instead of discarding it. The distant opposition might not come into play as often as the opposition; however it is as important and powerful. One other interesting observation: after 1. Kh1 … the position has a nice geometric motif: if you consider the f-file as a vertical axis of symmetry, the position is symmetrical.

Do not feel bad the engines spit out the solution immediately. You can look at it and replay it but do not stop there! Do the next step of figuring out why the solution is as it is based on your knowledge. The thought process involved is going to help you in future games and really this is what matters. Play your own games/ positions and don’t let the engines take that away from you regardless how “perfect” they play. Enjoy the full solution below:

Valer Eugen Demian

Endgame play (5)

How do you feel about king and pawns endgames with equal number of pawns on the same side? Are you concerned and study them? Do you know them and believe they are simple to deal with? What do you think about the following classic endgame and how it got played out?

Do you think White is lost here anyway because of the better position of Kd5 and possible loss of the f5-pawn? Of course not being able to use the opposition to stop the opposing king from invading your position is a concern, the same is having unprotected pawns (like the f5-pawn) left behind by their adjacent friends. The key is to know all resources available in your position. Can you think about a resource Chigorin missed? White has no way to push forward, nor breakthrough to create a passed pawn. If it simply retreats (like it did in the game), it won’t even be able to think about holding a draw in a king versus king and pawn endgame for 2 reasons:

  • The Black king will be in front of its pawn(s) as it should
  • Black is going to be up minimum 2 pawns after winning the f- and h-pawns

Retreating is basically surrendering! The only chance is to look elsewhere and from the remaining options the only one making sense is stalemate. How do we force black to stalemate us? We need to find a good spot for our king and give black no options. A good spot we can reach is on the h-file, where the h5-square not only suits our idea but also blocks the h4-pawn in the same time. All you need now is care to put together the right move order:

Did you know about this stalemate idea? If you did, don’t forget it. If you did not, remember it as you never know when it can come in handy. Here are a couple of more recent examples where it paid off to know it. The first one is from a game played by well known top players:

The second one is from a recent game between 2000 to 2300 players:

I hope this article makes a good case for learning and perfecting the fine details of this endgame with pawns on the same side. It does not look like much when you go over it; however knowing it is essential and can bring you invaluable half points in your games.

Valer Eugen Demian

Endgame play (4)

Today’s position is a very good example of how important pawn endgames are; even a momentary lapse of reason (do you know Pink Floyd’s great album with the same name from 1987?) could be fatal to any player, beginners and grandmasters alike. Have a look at the position, do a quick assessment and decide what should be the result of it with black to move:

Everyone knows or should know GM Wolfgang Uhlmann (GER) a guru in French defence. That becomes obvious while looking at his annotated games (our app level 4, lessons 2 to 7 has a great selection) from the 80s. Any French defence player should study them to gain invaluable knowledge about this solid opening choice against 1. e4 …
IM Tania Sachdev (IND) is much younger and on top of her excellent chess results, you might have heard her as part of the official commentary team for the 2013 (Chennai) World Championship Match between Magnus Carlsen and Viswanathan Anand. We should agree both are top players with a high level knowledge of chess in general.

Your quick assessment should cover at least the following aspects:

  • Material is equal
  • We are in a King and pawns endgame with no passed pawns
  • In such an endgame the opposition, tempo and pawn breakthrough (all covered in level 3 of our app) should be closely monitored

Of course it is much easier to discuss it after the fact, but in reality if you have a solid endgame knowledge foundation, that will help you navigate the still waters with care and avoid judgement lapses. I am going to go out on a limb and say 1… Kf6 should be an easy choice to make here for Black. Going down the possible line (see line to get there at the end of the article), they could have reached below position A1. The position is a dead draw. Give it a try (Black to move) if you wish to practice your endgame knowledge!


Tania misjudged the position and chose to play 1… a6 using the tempo move available instead of the opposition. Going down this possible line (see line to get there at the end of the article), they would have reached below position A2. The difference is minimal: the a5/a6 pawn pair is placed one square away from the A1 position above. Does it matter? Give it a try (Black to move) and see what comes up:

Post mortem Tania was in disbelief hearing her position was lost after 1… a6 Of course in an OTB game where time could be a factor, such fine details might be easily overlooked. Here I would say 1… Kf6 is a more natural move to find and play. Holding the opposition is a safer bet. It is possible Tania thought after 1… Kf6 2. a6 … the White pawn is closer to queening and more dangerous, when on the other hand the a7-pawn is farther away from the White king which would need an extra move to reach it.

Wolfgang had the game within grasp and all he needed to play was the winning move 1… a6?? 2. e4! … Nobody knows but him why he chose a losing move instead. There is no doubt he wanted to win as much as any of us if given the chance. He simply missed the following decisive pawn breakthrough, proving once more how important pawn endgames are. Enjoy the swift pawn breakthrough Tania played with confidence and its devastating result. Hope you liked it and it will convince you to study these pawn endgames more than you’ve done so far.

Valer Eugen Demian

L-shape Pawn Formation

“Pawns are like buttons. Lose too many and the pants fall down by themselves.”
George Koltanowski

The knight moves in L-shape right? We all learn that at the very beginning and struggle at first to figure out the move. I can go one square to the right and two forward or two squares to the right and one forward? That could be very confusing. Add the other directions and permutations of square choices and you will leave any beginner numb in front of so many possibilities. Do you know of any other area of the game where the L-shape is of importance? If you do and the title of this article gave it away, you have either studied our app lesson 26, level 4 (thank you for that!) or you are a very strong player and have known this for a while now.

Here is a study by L Kubbel to test your knowledge:

It is white to move. What does your gut feeling tells you about the possible result here? Can White win? How about Black? Is it maybe a draw?

As always let’s look at this together to make sure you get it right. Analysis:

  • In king and pawns endgames we always look for passed pawns: each side has 2
  • The White pawns are on the edge and doubled; this reduces their value quite a bit
  • The Black pawns are separated by a file
  • Both kings are in the imaginary square of all opposing pawns, meaning they can stop them from promoting
  • White looks to have no more than a draw; even if it captures both Black pawns, the Black king will easily reach the a8-corner and stop the promotion
  • Black could have a chance to win since the White king must stop 2 passed pawns in the same time
  • If the Black king manages to capture both White pawns, Black will probably win

OK, this does not sound very promising for White. When I worked on the puzzle, the first thing I looked at was how to deal with the Black pawns. The b5-pawn being the closest is an obvious first target. How would Black respond to that? Well, here you need to know about the L-shape pawn formation. That formation helps 2 passed pawns separated by a file fight the opposing king and survive. If that is the case and Black can easily reach an L-shape by playing d7-d6, what can White do? Standing still does not work because Black will capture the White pawns and win. Bringing the king forward though, would result in one of the Black pawns promoting.

Let’s pause for a moment. Take a deep breath and look for options. It looks like you cannot stop both Black pawns. What can you do then? Hmm, if the b-pawn promotes and the White king is on the a-file, we might get a stalemate. That is awesome! The other option with the d-file promoting, it is a clear loss. OK, now you have a plan: capture the d-pawn and run to the a-file; be careful on the timing though (see line C)! Hope you liked it and it got you interested about this important endgame aspect. All left now is raw calculation. Here is the solution to help you out:

Valer Eugen Demian

Endgame Play (3)

“To improve at chess you should in the first instance study the endgame”
Jose Raul Capablanca

This week’s endgame is a beauty! At first glance it looks deceivingly simple. It is white to move; please have a look and guess what the result would be:

Does the position look familiar to you? Do you happen to know more about it? I found it online as is and would love to hear who is the author, plus the time and place when/ where it was published. Moving on, the first thing I noticed were the 4 passed pawns, 2 for each side and on the same side of the board. Both pawns on each side are separated by one file; this means each king has a fighting chance against them. Let’s have a look at how each king has to fight those pesky pawns.

The White king: both pawns are on the 3rd rank and the king is not in their imaginary square (the corners of it are “a1-a3-c3-c1”) to stop their promotion. This means White must use the first move to enter in that imaginary square by playing either Ka4xa3 or Ka4-b3; both moves stop both pawns from promoting. The pawns can’t really do much against any move choice. OK, that sounds reassuring and we can move our attention to the other side.

The Black king: he is in the imaginary square created by the White pawns (the corners of it are “h2-c2-c8-h8). Do you remember why we should consider the c2-c8 as corners instead of b2-b8? Think about it and make sure you find the right answer before moving on. The answer will also be available below for verification. So, should the Black king be worried about those White pawns since it sits comfortably in their imaginary square. Will it just cherry pick them with ease like the White king will do? Apparently it will. Have a look at the White pawns now; could they do anything about it? Well, one strong strategy the pawns separated by a column have in fighting the opposing king is to maintain an L-shape (knight move) formation. They sit on f3 and h2 identical with a knight move and maintaining that makes them intangible. When the Black king attacks the front one (the f3-pawn here), the backwards one (the h2-pawn) moves forward “h2-h4” in the same L-shape (knight move) formation. The Black king would not be able to capture the f3-pawn and also stop the h4-pawn from promoting, so this could pin down the Black King.

Do we have enough to solve the puzzle? Let’s see if we do and will start by taking one of the Nlack pawns (less to worry about, right?):

Hmm, that did not turn out as expected, right? What is the reason for it? Well, the Black king came all the way to the queen side and helped the c3-pawn promote. Fortunately we have the luxury of choosing which Black pawn to take, so let’s try to capture the c3-pawn first. There is no way the Black king can come to the rescue of the a3-pawn:

The answer to the question above regarding the imaginary square of the white pawns: the left hand side corners of it should be c2-c8 because the h2-pawn would move h2-h4 in one move, meaning it could promote in 5 moves instead of 6. You must be aware of this detail with passed pawns still on their original square. Hope you liked it and used this opportunity to refresh your endgame knowledge. If you have any games and/ or positions you would like me to look at, please do not hesitate to let me know. I will gladly include them in my column for everyone’s benefit. Looking forward to your messages!

Valer Eugen Demian

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.


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