The Importance of the Endgame Seven

Today, we’re going to look at an endgame position that arises from time to time. It’s a position that the skilled endgame player can easily win. However, when the beginner is faced with this same position, a draw is usually the result! Fret not, because with a little knowledge and practice, even the beginner can turn this seemingly bad position into a stunning victory! Let me start by introducing our actors playing out this endgame drama. Stepping onto the stage for white are the King, a dark squared Bishop, a light squared Bishop and a pawn. However, each of the two examples will employ only a single Bishop of one color. Black is represented by a lone King. There are some important ideas to consider in this type of position when considering your endgame plan. If you don’t have a plan, you have nothing (perhaps a painful loss).

In both our examples, we’re trying to promote a Rook pawn, a pawn working it’s way up the h file in this case. Rook pawns can be tricky for both players to deal with because their on the edge of the board. This means they’re difficult to attack and difficult to defend. Why? Because you can only access the squares on one side of the pawn in question rather than squares on either side. Remember, Rook pawns can be difficult for either side to deal with. The next potential problem we face in this type of endgame position is created by the Bishop. In example one, the Bishop’s not a problem but in example two, the Bishop creates a bit of a problem. The problem has to do with the color of the promotion square and the color of the squares the Bishop controls. If the Bishop can control the promotion square, there is no immediate problem. If the promotion square is the opposite color of the Bishop, you’ll have to work a lot harder to promote your pawn. Ideally, you want to have a Bishop that can can control the promotion square in this type of endgame position. Take a look at the first example:

Here, we have an example of a Bishop that controls the white pawn’s promotion square. This is a crucial factor in securing an easy victory. The first thing the beginner should notice is the opposition of the two Kings. In each article in this series, we’ve talked about the importance of King opposition in endgame play. Also note that the King can easily defend either his pawn or Bishop. In the majority of endgame positions you’ll encounter, the King must be active and must be close to his remaining forces in order to protect them. During the opening and middle-game, our pawns and pieces serve as bodyguards for his majesty. However, in the endgame the King often becomes a bodyguard. The King must, in most cases, protect the material you have on the board in order to deliver checkmate. Your King becomes a deadly attacker and defender during this phase of the game!

We know from previous articles that we want to think about where we don’t want the opposition King to go, in this case, away from the h8 square where mate will be delivered. We also need to know where we want the opposition King to go, in the above example, the h8 square. Pawn and piece coordination are critical. Your material must work together as a team (no “Pawn Solo” action). This being the case, we can see that the Bishop on e7 controls the f8 square, so the black King cannot use that square for escape. Therefore, our Bishop is on the right square. White’s first move is 1. h7+ which forces the black King to h8. Note that the white King is protecting the pawn!. Black plays 1…Kh8 and only now do we move the Bishop with 2. Bf6#. A very simple example to help reinforce the ideas required in this type of position. Remember, piece coordination rules the endgame!

Now, what happens if we have a Bishop whose color doesn’t match that of the pawn’s promotion square? For a start, things become a bit more complicated!However, just because our Bishop isn’t able to control the promotion square doesn’t mean all is is lost. Though it does mean we have to play very carefully! The key here is to use our King and Bishop to keep the black King from settling in on the promotion square for white’s pawn, h8. Take a look at the example below. Remember, where do you want the opposition King to go and not to go?

Again, it’s all about herding the opposition King, in this case away from the square he wants to go to, h8. If he gets there even five pounds of dynamite won’t extract him from that square! The black King wants to go to h8 to stop the white pawn from promoting. Therefore, we can stop the black King dead in his royal tracks by playing 1. Bh7. With 1…Kf6, the black King tries to slide around the white pawn and Bishop. Again we find that King opposition plays a critical role in this position. After 2. Kf4, white has effectively positioned his King so that, with the aid of the pawn and Bishop, the opposition King is kept off of the g file. In the endgame, your pawns and pieces must work together in a coordinated manner. Black’s King can’t make any headway in getting to the h8 square. After 2…Ke6, white plays 3. Kg5 which bolsters the h pawn and further shuts out the black King.

Here we’re going to see a bit of a dance between the two Kings as one tries to infiltrate the promotion square and the other tries to stop it. Black plays 3…Kf7 attempting to keep white’s King from further strengthening his position. No problem says white, it’s time to put the King’s back into opposition with 4. Kf5. Black responds with 4…Ke7 and white moves the King closer to the 8th rank with 5. Kg6. The idea to keep in mind is that white wants to use his King to shield the pawn trying to promote. Black is pushed back with 5…Kf8 and white puts his King back in opposition with 6. Kf6. Black plays 6…Ke8 and now we employ the Bishop again with 7. Bg8. When black plays 7…Kf8, the beginner might panic and quickly whisk the Bishop away to safety. However, the correct move is 8. h7, using the pawn to protect the Bishop. This was the point of moving the Bishop to g8!

With nothing better to come up with, black plays 8…Ke8 and it’s all over when white plays 9. h8=Q.

In the above example, white was able to effectively use a Bishop of the wrong color (from a promotion viewpoint) to aid in the promotion of the h pawn. In chess, as in life, when you get handed lemons (or the wrong colored Bishop), make lemonade (or promote a pawn). Always use your King and any material you have in a coordinated effort. Your King is priceless in the endgame and a bad Bishop can do good things, provided you use him wisely. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson

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About Hugh Patterson

Prior to teaching chess, Hugh Patterson was a professional guitarist for nearly three decades, playing in a number of well known San Francisco bands including KGB, The Offs, No Alternative, The Swinging Possums and The Watchmen. After recording a number of albums and CDs he retired from music to teach chess. He currently teaches ten chess classes a week through Academic Chess. He also created and runs a chess program for at-risk teenagers incarcerated in juvenile correctional facilities. In addition to writing a weekly column for The Chess Improver, Hugh also writes a weekly blog for the United States Chess League team, The Seattle Sluggers. He teaches chess privately as well, giving instruction to many well known musicians who are only now discovering the joys of chess. Hugh is an Correspondence Chess player with the ICCF (International Correspondence Chess Federation). He studied chemistry in college but has worked in fields ranging from Investment Banking and commodities trading to Plastics design and fabrication. However, Hugh prefers chess to all else (except Mrs. Patterson and his beloved dog and cat).