While checkmate with a King and Queen against a lone King is simple enough for the beginner to grasp, things change when there’s an opposition Queen still on the board (King and Queen versus King and Queen). Add a white pawn on the seventh rank, one move away from promotion, and things can get a bit tricky (believe it or not) for both players if they’re beginners. Of course, the experienced player will scoff at the notion of things getting a bit “tricky” with a pawn one square away from promotion. However, I’ve seen countless games in which beginners (playing white) will not only lose this pawn so close to promoting, but end up getting their Queen skewered to boot! As I’ve mentioned in previous endgame articles, you have to play very carefully during this game phase because one bad move can easily turn the tide in favor of your opponent! The less material on the board, the more important that material is and losing any material, even a pawn, can cost you the game.
The big difference with this endgame position, compared to a King and Queen versus lone King position, is that there are two Queens on the board (not to mention a white pawn that can add a third Queen into the fracas! Beginners playing the white pieces make the fatal mistake of trying to promote their pawn while maintaining their original Queen so they end up with a pair of Queens. This type of thinking, not seeing the bigger picture, leads to a plethora of problems. Remember, the person playing black also has a Queen that can deliver check, putting a halt to white’s plans. So what should the beginner do when faced with this type of endgame?
Rather than try to promote the pawn and acquire a second Queen, the beginner should try to eliminate the black Queen using a forcing move. Of course, this means making a move that forces the opposition’s hand which equates to black having to give up their Queen to stop you from promoting your pawn into a second Queen. Or as Don Corleone might say, “I’m going to make a move he can’t refuse!”
It should be noted that in this type of position, you have to be very wary of potential skewers. A skewer takes place on a rank, file or diagonal. In a skewer, a Bishop, Rook or Queen attacks an opposition piece. However, the real target of the attack is another piece positioned behind the first piece being attacked (along the rank, file or diagonal). In this type of endgame, the idea is to check the King and when the King moves, unable to defend the true target of the attack which is the Queen, that Queen is lost. Thus in a skewer, the real victim cannot be defended, so when the initial piece being attacked moves, the piece behind it is captured. In this type of endgame, the skewer will have one of the Queens checking one of the Kings and the poor piece behind the King (the true victim) will be a Queen. This would change the game’s outcome immediately. However, in our examples, there are no skewers to be had because of both King’s positions. Both Kings are on the same rank making a skewer highly unlikely. However, if one player could employ a series of checks that forced one of the Kings out towards the center of the board, a skewer could be employed! Let’s take a look at our first example!
In the above example, white plays 1. Qd4+. Beginners tend to make silly checks that amount to nothing because the checking piece’s action can be blocked, the checking piece can be captured or the King can simply move out of check. In this case, the check is solid because it lines the white Queen up with it’s target square, d8. What’s so important about d8? The white Queen can force a trade of Queens, allowing white to promote, regain a Queen and go on to win the game. After 1…Kb1, white plays 2. Qd8 forcing black’s hand! There’s nothing black can do but capture the Queen with 2…Qxd8 and white promotes with 3. exd8=Q!
The key here is to not even try to acquire a second Queen by promotion but to eliminate the opposition Queen with a threat the opposition can’t ignore. Note that in this endgame example, both Kings remain out of the action. While we always want to activate our Kings in the endgame, there are positional situations that require the actions of other pieces first. Again, in the above example, the position of both Kings thwarts a potential skewer. Now let’s take a look at another example.
In the above example, white plays 1. Qe6+ to connect the Queen with the critical square, e8. The check is really secondary but it does force the black King to move, 1…Kb2. With 2. Qe8, white again tries to force black into a trade of Queens that allows the white pawn on f7 to promote. However, black plays 2…Qb4, avoiding the exchange for the moment. While black is doomed in this position, he does give fighting back a try. After white promotes with 3. f8=Q, black delivers a check of his own with 3…Qc4+. Beginners sometimes think, “hey two Queens are better than one so I’ll move my King out of check.” The problem with moving your King is that, if you’re playing a really strong tactical player, you might eventually fall victim to a skewer. Therefore, white makes the correct move, 4. Qe2+, blocking the check with a check of his own,forcing a trade of Queens. Black takes on e2 with 4…Qxe2+ and white now brings his King into the action with 5. Kxe2. Now white can win with King and Queen against lone King. Notice that white still got his Queen trade!
In both examples, white made moves that forced black to give up his Queen. Rather than trying to maintain two Queens throughout the endgame, white simplified the position, making it easier to win. If you’re new to endgame play, you’ll want to keep it simple. Even with two Queens facing off against one opposition Queen, you can get into trouble. It’s better to have one Queen and no opposition Queen to deal with than two Queens and an opposition Queen. Remember, it’s about forcing the opposition to give up their Queen and that requires making forcing moves, giving the opposition no other options or options that poor at best. Also note that Queens in the hands of a beginner can lead to stalemate. I’ve seen countless games in which a beginner with a King and Queen versus lone opposition King has ended up with a stalemate position. A beginner with two Queens can be a danger, not to the opposition, but to themselves. Play smart in the endgame by simplifying things. Give up having two Queens against one Queen in favor of one Queen for yourself and no Queen for the opposition. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week!