endgame[ edit ]

In chess, the endgame (or end game or ending) refers to the stage of the game when there are few pieces left on the board. It is the stage of the game that beginners are taught first.

The line between middlegame and endgame is often not clear, and may occur gradually or with the quick exchange of a few pairs of pieces. The endgame, however, tends to have quite different characteristics from the middlegame, and the players have quite different strategical concerns. In particular, pawns become more important; endgames often revolve around attempting to promote a pawn by advancing it to the eighth rank. The king, which has to be protected in the middlegame owing to the threat of checkmate, becomes a strong piece in the endgame. It can be brought to the centre of the board and be a useful attacking piece.

Many people have composed endgame studies, endgame positions which are solved by finding a win for white when there is no obvious way of winning, or a draw when it seems white must lose.

Endgames can be classified according to the type of pieces that remain. Some common types of endgames are discussed below.

Common types of endgames

Basic checkmates

These are positions in which one side has only a king and the other side has one or two pieces and can checkmate the opposing king, with the pieces working together with their king. A queen or a rook can easily checkmate a lone king. Two bishops can easily checkmate a lone king (provided the bishops move on opposite colour squares). A bishop and knight can also checkmate a lone king, although the checkmate procedure is long (up to 33 moves with correct play) and is difficult for a player who does not know the correct technique.

Two knights cannot force checkmate against a lone king, but if the weaker side also has a pawn, checkmate is sometimes possible, because positions which would be stalemate without the pawn are not stalemate with the additional pawn. If the pawn is blocked by a knight behind the Troitzky line, the knights have a long theoretical win. There are some other positions when the pawn is past the Troitzky line in which the knights can force checkmate, but the procedure is long and difficult. In either case, in competition the fifty move rule will usually result in the game being drawn first. (See Troitzky line)

King and pawn

King and pawn endgames involve only kings and pawns on one or both sides. Cecil Purdy said "Pawn endings are to chess as putting is to golf."

Getting a passed pawn is crucial (a passed pawn is one which does not have an opposing pawn on its file or on adjacent files on its way to promotion). Nimzovich once said that a passed pawn has a "lust to expand". An [[chess terminology|outside passed pawn]] is particularly deadly. [[chess terminology|Opposition]] is an important technique that is used to gain an advantage. When two kings are in opposition, they are on the same file (or rank) with an empty square separating them. The player having the move loses the opposition. He must move his king and allow the opponent´s king to advance.

Knight and pawn

Knight and pawn endgames feature clever maneuvering by the knights to capture opponent pawns. While a knight is poor at chasing a passed pawn, it is the ideal piece to block a passed pawn. Knights can´t lose a tempo, so knight and pawn endgames have much in common with king and pawn endgames.

Bishop and pawn

In Bishop and pawn endgames, come in two distinctly different variants. If the opposing bishops go on the same color of square, the mobility of the bishops is a crucial factor. A [[chess terminology|bad bishop]] is one that is hemmed in by pawns of its own color, and has the burden of defending them.

Endings with bishops of opposite color, meaning that one bishop works on the light squares, the other one working on dark squares, are notorious for their drawish character. Many players in a poor position have saved themselves from a loss by trading down to such an endgame. They are often drawn even when one side has a two pawn advantage since the weaker side can create a blockade on the squares which his bishop operates on. Interestingly the weaker side should often try to make his bishop bad by placing his pawns on the same color of his bishop in order to defend his remaining pawns, thereby creating an impregnable fortress.

The diagram on the right, from Molnar-Nagy, Hungary 1966, illustrates the concepts of good bishop vs. bad bishop, opposition, zugzwang, and outside passed pawn. White wins with 1. e6! Bxe6 2. Bc2 Bf7 3. Be4 Be8 4. Ke5 Bd7 5. Bxg6! (See algebraic chess notation.)

Rook and pawn

Rook and pawn endgames are often drawn in spite of one side having an extra pawn. (In some cases, two extra pawns are not enough to win.) An extra pawn is harder to convert to a win in a rook and pawn endgame than any other type of endgame except a bishop endgame with bishops on opposite colors. The great master Tarrasch once jocularly said "All rook and pawn endings are drawn". (This quote is attributed to Tartakower by Korchnoi in his book Practical Rook Endings.) Rook endings are probably the deepest and most well studied endgames. They are the second most common type of endgame in practice, behind rook and minor piece versus rook and minor piece (with pawns).

Two rules of thumb regarding rooks are worth noting:
  • A rook on the seventh rank can wreak mayhem among the opponent´s pawns. The power of a rook on the seventh rank is not confined to the endgame.
  • Rooks should almost always be placed behind passed pawns, whether one´s own or the opponent´s (the Tarrasch rule).

An important winning position in the endgame of a rook and pawn versus a rook is the so-called Lucena position. If the side with the pawn can reach the Lucena position, he wins. However, there are several important drawing techniques such as the Philidor position, the back rank defence (rook on the first rank, for rook pawns and knight pawns only), the frontal defence, and the short side defence. A general rule is that if the weaker side´s king can get to the queening square of the pawn, the game is a draw and otherwise it is a win, but there are many exceptions.

Queen and pawn

In Queen and pawn endings, the dominant theme is for the player with more pawns to avoid perpetual check and advance one of his pawns to get a second queen. These endings are frequently extremely long affairs. For an example of a Queen and pawn endgame see Kasparov versus The World.

Endings with asymmetric piece possession are less common. A rook is worth roughly two pawns plus a bishop or a knight. A bishop and knight are worth roughly a rook and a pawn, and a queen is worth a rook, a [[chess terminology|minor piece]] (bishop or knight) and a pawn. Three pawns are often enough to win against a minor piece, but two pawns rarely are. A bishop is usually worth more than a knight.

Endings with no pawns

Besides the basic checkmates, there are other endings with no pawns. Some of these are: A queen wins against a rook, but the third rank defense by the rook is difficult for a person to crack, unless he knows how. A queen normally wins against a bishop and knight, but there is one drawing fortress position. A queen generally has a theoretical win against two bishops, but many ordinary positions require up to 71 moves (which is a draw under the rules of competition, see fifty move rule); and there is one drawing fortress position for the two bishops. Two knights can generally draw against a queen by setting up a fortress. A rook versus a [[chess terminology|minor piece]] (bishop or knight) is generally a draw. A rook plus a minor piece versus a rook is usually a draw; as is a queen and a minor piece versus a queen. A queen versus a rook and a minor piece is generally a draw. Of course, there are positions that are exceptions to these general rules.

In his landmark book Basic Chess Endings, Reuben Fine inaccurately stated that in endgames without pawns, at least the advantage of a rook (or equivalent material) is required to win, with two exceptions in which less of an advantage is sufficient. The advantage of a rook corresponds to a five-point material advantage using the traditional relative value of the pieces (pawn=1, knight=3, bishop=3, rook=5, queen=9). It turns out that there are several exceptions, but they are endgames that rarely occur in actual games.

A four-point material advantage is often enough to win in some endings without pawns. For example, a queen wins versus a rook (as mentioned above, but 31 moves may be required); as well as when there is matching additional material on both sides, i.e.: a queen and any minor piece versus a rook and any minor piece; a queen and a rook versus two rooks; and two queens versus a queen and a rook. Another type of win with a four-point material advantage is the double exchange - two rooks versus any two minor pieces. There are some other endgames with four-point material differences that are generally long theoretical wins, but the fifty move rule comes into play in competition because in general more than 50 moves are required: two bishops and a knight versus a rook (68 moves); and two rooks and a minor piece versus a queen (82 moves for the bishop, 101 moves for the knight).

A three-point material advantage can also result in a forced win. For instance, some of the cases of a queen versus two minor piece are such positions (as metioned above). In addition, the four minor pieces win against a queen. Finally there are some long general theoretical wins with only a two- or three-point material advantage but the fifty move rule usually comes into play because of the number of moves required: two bishops versus a knight (66 moves); a queen and bishop versus two rooks (two-point material advantage, can require 84 moves); a rook and bishop versus a bishop on the opposite color and a knight (a two-point material advantage, requires up to 98 moves); and a rook and bishop versus two knights (two-point material advantage, but it requires up to 222 moves!). The number of moves given are the number of moves to convert the endgame to a simplier endgame (or checkmate), and are from Fundamental Chess Endings, by Müller and Lamprecht; and Secrets of Pawnless Endings, by John Nunn.

Other than the basic checkmates with a queen and with a rook, the endgames without pawns occur rarely in actual games. The only one of them that occurs with any frequency is the queen versus a rook. Therefore a person studying endgames should concentrate more on endings with pawns (after learning the basic checkmates with a queen and with a rook).


In general, the player with a material advantage tries to exchange pieces and reach the endgame. In the endgame, it is better for the player with more pawns to exchange pieces but not pawns because king and pawn endings are the most easily won. Also, endings with pawns on both sides of the board are much easier to win.

With the recent growth of computer chess, an interesting development has been the creation of endgame databases which are tables of stored positions calculated by retrograde analysis (such a database is called a tablebase). A program which incorporates knowledge from such a database is able to play perfect chess on reaching any position in the database.

Books on endgames

Here are some books on chess endgames:

Small, general one-volume books:

  • Chess Endings: Essential Knowledge, by Yuri Averbakh, Everyman Chess (probably out of print in book form but available on CD) Mostly elementary - a good place to start but not comprehensive enough.

  • Essential Chess Endings: the Tournament Player´s Guide, by James Howell, Batsford. A very good small, comprehensive book.

  • Practical Chess Endings, by Paul Keres, R.H.M. Press (out of print). Great but out of print.

  • A Pocket Guide to Chess Endings, by David Hooper, Bell & Hyman. Pretty good and interesting.

  • A Guide to Chess Endings, by Dr. Max Euwe and David Hooper, Dover. Not as instructive as the others in this section.

  • Practical Chess Endings, by Irving Chernev, Dover. Looks at individual endgames, so isn´t as instructive as the others.

Large, more comprehensive one-volume books:

  • Basic Chess Endings, by Reuben Fine and Pal Benko, McKay. The mother of all modern endgame books. An old classic by Fine - recently revised by Benko.

  • Dvoretsky´s Endgame Manual, by Mark Dvoretsky, Russel Enterprises. A very good modern teaching book.

  • Silman´s Complete Endgame Course: From Beginner To Master, Jeremy Silman, Siles Press (to be released October 2005)

  • Batsford Chess Endings, by Jon Speelman, Jon Tisdall, and Bob Wade, Batsford (probably out of print). More of a catalog of actual positions than a general book, so not as useful or instructive as the others in this section.

Multi-volume works:

  • Comprehensive Chess Endings, by Yuri Averbakh, et. al., five volumes. A pretty detailed and comprehensive look at various endings. Probably out of print in book form, but available on computer CD-ROM.

  • Encyclopedia of Chess Endings, Šahovski informator (Chess Informant). For experts and masters only.

Some books on specific endings:

  • The Survival Guide to Rook Endings, John Emms, Everyman Chess. A good book for rook and pawn endgames.

  • Practical Rook Endings, by Victor Korchnoi, Olms. An introductory chapter on fundamental positions followed by detailed analysis of fourteen of rook endgames from his actual games.

  • Secrets of Rook Endings, by John Nunn, Gambit Publications. A very detailed look at K+R+P vs. K+R endings using a computer tablebase. Not recomended for the general reader.

  • Secrets of Pawnless Endings, by John Nunn, Gambit Publications. A detailed look at critical endings without pawns. Not recomended for the general reader.

  • Secrets of Minor Piece Endings, by John Nunn, Gambit Publications. A detailed look at minor piece and pawn versus minor piece endgames. Not recomended for the general reader.

  • Starting Out: Pawn Endings, by Glenn Flear, Everyman Chess. Looks elementry/introductory.

  • Starting Out: Rook Endings, by Chris Ward, Everyman Chess. Looks elementry/introductory.

  • Starting Out: Minor Piece Endings, by John Emms, Everyman Chess. Looks elementry/introductory.

Endgames by specific players:

  • Vasily Smyslov: Endgame Virtuoso, by Vasily Smyslov, Everyman Chess. Endings plus some complete games that illustrate endgames.

Miscellaneous endgame books:

  • Winning Chess Endings, by Yasser Seirawan, Everyman Chess. Looks elementry/introductory.

  • Pandolfini´s Endgame Course, by Bruce Pandolfini, Fireside. Looks elementry/introductory.

  • Grandmaster Secrets: Endings, by Andrew Soltis, Thinker´s Press. Looks elementry/introductory.

  • Just the Facts!: Winning Endgame Knowledge in One Volume, Lev Alburt and Nikolai Krogius, Newmarket Press. Looks elementry/introductory.

  • Six Hundred Endings, by Lajos Portisch and Balázs Sárközy, Pergammon. Examines specific endgames from actual games and studies, categorized by the basic type of ending.

  • Endgame Secrets: How to plan in the endgame in chess, by Christopher Lutz, Batsford. Examines 45 endgames from actual play.

  • Analysing the Endgame, by Jonathan Speelman, Arco Chess Library. Analysis of some basic endgames and some more complex ones. Can be difficult going.

  • Endgame Preperation, by John Speelman, Batsford. Covers some endgame topics. Can be difficult going.

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article No 590 / last change on 2005-06-29, 03:56pm

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