Simple or not? You decide!

With 100s of Opening books flooding the market chess players are often get caught in the "opening frenzy" and forget about the basics. Examples below should remind you that knowing basic positions and ideas in Endgame can prove to be a crucial on any level, up to grandmaster. How devastating can this be - you are playing well for 60+ moves and 4-5 hours only to blow everything just moments before the game should reach a well-deserved outcome? The knowledge of Basic endgames is one of the 12 critical skills tested in my book on comprehensive evaluation and training - "Chess Exam and Training Guide".

Today's examples taken from the games of grandmasters from regular (not rapid!) tournaments.

First, a little warm up from Sarajevo Super-GM-Tournament:

What result do you expect? How should Black continue? Take 5-7 minutes before reading further.


First, note how you should answer the questions - the outcome is likely to depend on the move, thus you need to start with the 2d question before going back to the 1st one. In more complex static positions, the opposite is true; you best move will depend on your evaluation and the plan you select.

Back to the game. With Black to move, White has Opposition and Black Pc6 is doomed. 

We also know that White wins the following position (Example 1-a)- no matter whose move it is. 

However, the win would be much simpler win if it is Black to move - 1 Kd8(b8) 2.Kb7 (d7) and the pawn c marches through. With White to move, it is a "nail biter" - 1.Kd6 Kd8 2.c6 Kc8 3.c7 (zugzwang) Kb7 4.Kd7 etc Now add the pawns a6 and a7 (as in the starting diagram) and you see that in the second line Black K doesn't have b7, thus it is stalemate.

So, Black should be aiming at either defending the pawn or at least gaining the opposition. And White can't prevent the latter. The best line 1Kd7! 2.Kf6 Kd8! (diagonal opposition) 3.Ke6 Ke8 4.Kd6 Kd8 5.Kxc6 Kc8 6.Kd6 Kd8 7.c6 Kc8 (I hope you know how White wins if the a-pawns shifted 1 row up - a5-a6, but this is a subject for different discussion) 8.c7 =. Remarkably, in the game Black played 1Ke8 and after 2.Ke6 resigned as White gets both - the pawn and the opposition.

Our second example is a Knight endgame from Russian Women's Championship:

What result do you expect? How should Black continue? Take 5-7 minutes before reading further.


Well, Black is worse, but the result depends on her immediate strategy and, specifically, the next move. White has more active King and better-placed Knight. However, Black has an outside pass pawn and, with only 2 pawns left, needs to find a correct moment to trade his N for them. Black has two reasonable ideas leading to two moves candidates. The fist one is to activate the N and combine pressure on White Ps with a distraction of advancing pawn h. The second one is more blatant - to sacrifice the N, distract the K with pawn h and send Black King to fight for the pawn-b with the clumsy Knight.

If you missed either of the two options you have an issue to work on. If you missed 1...Ng2 - you probably were too pre-occupied with 1...Nxf5 idea and forgot that no great move except for checkmate in 1 deserves to be played as soon as you see it. There is always a chance for a better alternative. Work on you move selection process. If you missed 1Nxf5 - you missed a common tactical idea and need to work on Endgame tactics, specifically - sacrificing to trade down.

Once you identify moves candidates, next you need to combine calculation, knowledge of standard ideas and judgment. After 1Ng2 2. Kf3 (2.Nf4?? Nxf4 3.Kf4 h4 and Black is winning, thanks to the outside pass pawn) Nh4+! 3.Kf4 Ng2+ 4.Kg5 h4 White can't manage to control the pawn h, defend the pawn on f5 and make progress. Black should send his K toward the pawn f (Ke7) and sit and wait. This conclusion is based on judgment based on some knowledge of these endgames. Study this position in greater detail or better practice against computer.

Tactical idea 1Nxf5 is more definitive and thus might be more attractive to defender, however the clumsy N might be not as clumsy as it looks. 

Now, standard ideas - with his K "absent" the N has difficulty defending a pawn from the opponent's K. One of the best-known defensive setup is on the left (Example 2-a). When the N is placed behind the P, it is untouchable otherwise the K won't catch the P. 

Add black pawn on b4 (Example 2) and the strategy changes dramatically - now the best square for the N is a5! After Kd4-c5-b5, White plays Nc4. And Black can't make any progress. Thus White can find as much time as needed to get his K back into the actions. 

The next step is to calculate to see if White can indeed reach this winning setup. Black either didn't know the setup or miscalculated as she went for tactical 1Nxf5 and the game continued 2.Kxf5 Kd5 3.Nb4+! Kc5 4.Nc2! Kd5 5.Kg5 (finally K makes a little step!)  Ke4 6.Nb4 Kd4 7.Na6 (planning 8.b4) b4 8.Kxh5 Kc3 9Nc5 Kd4 10Nb7! Kc3 11.Na5 - the winning setup is reached!

Conclusions - study basic endgame ideas and positions well before you study more complex endgames.

Future readings - there are many good books on endgames and you should pick one based on your skills and also on how you like authors methods. Check endgame books by Fine, Averbach, Dvoretsky, Alburt, Muller.

In my book "Chess Exam and Training Guide", I have specific instructions on what you should study and how, based on your ratings earned in my assessment.



Copyrighted @ 2005 Igor Khmelnitsky

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