Endgames : Introduction

The endgame (or end game or ending) generally refers to that phase of the game when there are few pieces and/or pawns left on the board, although naturally an endgame may be reached with many pieces and pawns left on the board.

There is a fundamental principle a player must apply in all positions to win
endgames in the shortest number of moves (and/or pawn advances)

“Limit (or Restrict) the Opposing King’s Movement at all times”

A player who fails to adhere to and apply this fundamental principle, who has the advantage, may face three unsatisfactory possible situations in the endgame:

1.The opposing player will be able to reach a draw; or

2.The opposing player is able to force a stalemate (or worse yet, the player blunders and inadvertently drops a stalemate on the opposing King); or

3.The opposing player’s King is able to flee along a path, which will make mating him more difficult.

Stalemating is a significant concern in most simple checkmates/basic endgames. With more pieces and/or pawns on the board, the possibilities often multiple exponentially. Stalemate generally may be easily avoided if the player keeps his or her concentration, as well as knowing and applying the basic principles for forcing checkmate.

Most often, beginners are taught the endgame phase first. The reason? Simply because to reach one of the three goals in chess – checkmate, draw, or stalemate – a player needs to have a sound basic understanding of how pieces and/or pawns may work together in combination when just one or only a few of them are on the board to force one of the goals. From the basic principles of mating nets and the mating patterns for simple checkmates/basic endgames, a player may then construct complex mating patterns with the ability to understand the complexities.

A sound understanding of basic mating patterns allows a player at every stage of the game to evaluate and consider alternative lines, do move order & calculation, and to develop a game plan striving for the principal goal – checkmate against his or her opponent while trying to avoid being checkmated. At the same time, understanding of basic endgames allows the player to evaluate his or her own position and that of his or her opponent to determine when it might be appropriate to abandon the principal goal (checkmate), and seek either a draw or stalemate instead to prevent a loss (being checkmated).

By being able to “recognize” opportunities and how to achieve goals, a player is able to better spot opportunities during the game to reach all three goals in each phase of the game – opening, middlegame, and endgame.

The dividing line between opening and middlegame, and between middlegame and endgame, often is not clear and may occur gradually or with the quick exchange of a few pairs of pieces or pawns.

The endgame, however, tends to have quite different characteristics to the middlegame. The players will have quite different strategic concerns.

In particular, in many endgames pawns become very important, in battles aimed at obtaining and preventing pawn promotion.

Many endgames revolve around attempting to promote a pawn by advancing it to the opposing player’s back rank (1st rank for Black against White; and 8th rank for White against Black). This provides the basis for understanding that the opening and middlegame struggles usually are battles aimed at gaining the upper hand in pawn strength (having a pawn or two more than the opposing player) and pawn structure (positioning of pawns designed to thwart the opponent and open avenues for the player to push a pawn to pawn promotion).

Yet, that is not the be-all-to-an-end-all. There are other aspects with which a player needs to pay attention to in order to win games, or to gain a draw or stalemate if possible when a disadvantage.

Positional structure (positional inferiority v. positional superiority), material advantage, and tempo advantage or disadvantage, and having the move (or being able to gain the move) play important roles in creation of the tensions between pieces and pawns on the board during the struggles throughout a chess game.

The King should be protected in the middlegame owing to the threat of an early checkmate – the basis for the principle to castle early to protect the King. In an endgame, however, the King often becomes a central powerful piece. In fact, the King can be termed the most powerful piece on the chessboard, while the Queen can be termed the strongest piece on the chessboard.

In many endgames, a King can and must be brought either to the center of the board or into the area of the offensive and defensive struggle on the board. This is so the King can be used effectively both for attacking (offensive) and protecting (defensive). However, in some endgames, it is often better not to use the King and to keep it located away from the action (e.g. Two Rooks v. King).

Extensive endgame studies have been developed by many people to provide positions that are solved by finding a win when there is no obvious way of winning, or a draw or stalemate when it appears that player must lose. Endgames often are classified according to the type of pieces that remain. Some common types of endgames, general rules, principles, and onsiderations of endgames a player needs to keep in mind are as follows.

Positional Types of Endgames.

1. Endgames with symmetrical piece and/or pawn possession occur more frequently at higher levels of play. This positional type of endgame is where the players have the same types of pieces and/or pawns on the chessboard (e.g., but not limited to, King & pawn v. King & pawn; King & Queen v. King & Queen; and King & Rook v. King & Rook). Often games between higher-level players will be of this positional type.
2. Endgames with asymmetric piece and/or pawn possession are more common at lower levels of play (e.g., but not limited to, King & pawn v. King; King, Bishop, & Knight v. King).

Classification of Endgames.   Typically, the type of pieces, and pawn(s), on the chessboard remaining to be used as fighting units, are used to classify endgames:

King and pawn endgames

Queen and pawn endings

Rook and pawn endgames

Bishop and pawn endgames

Knight and pawn endgames

Endings without pawns

Endings without pawns – Some Common Types

Queen & King v. King (and Queen & another piece or pieces v. King)

Rook & King v. King

Two Rooks v. King

Rook, Knight, & King v. King

Rook, Knight, & Bishop v. King

Bishop Pair v. King (also called Two Bishops v. King)

Rook, Knight, & Bishop v. King

Bishop, Knight, & King v. King

Bishop & Knight v. King

Simple (Elementary/Fundamental) Checkmates/Basic Endgames – General List

King & pawn v. King (KpK)
Queen & King v. King (QKK)
Queen & Rook v. King (QRK)
Queen & Two Rooks v. King (QRRK)
Queen & Knight v. King (QNK)
Queen & Bishop v. King (QBK)
Rook & King v. King (RKK)
Two Rooks & King v. King (RRKK)

Rook, Bishop, & King v. King (RBKK)
Rook, Knight, & King v. King (RNKK)
Rook, Knight, & Bishop v. King (RNBK)
Bishop Pair & King v. King (BBKK)
Bishop & Knight v. King (BNK)
Bishop, Knight, & King v. King (BNKK)
Knight, pawn, & King v. King (NpKK)
Back Rank Mate

There are a wide variety of endgames (simple checkmates/basic endgames and complex endgames). Much material is available, on the Internet and in print, with which to study endgames. The conventions/abbreviation used above are not exhaustive.

Also, a common convention used instead of the “&” sign, the “+” sign is inserted, e.g. Q+K v. K or Q + K v. K, or Queen + King v. King, and so on. Many times you will see the King used as the lead off piece, e.g. King + Queen v. King, King + Rook v. King, and so on. I use both conventions in my tutorials.

Generally, consensus exists in the chess world on what are simple elementary/ fundamental) checkmates/basic endgames vs. complex endgames. Yet, you may sometimes see one call a particular endgame a basic endgame, while someone else might consider it a complex endgame. There is no definitive absolute bright-line rule of division. For example, in my tutorials, you will see that I include material for RBKK, RNKK and RNBK (Part 4 of the Simple Rook Checkmates). It is doubtful that you will see much if any attention given to these endgames elsewhere. Why? Many players will “simplify” the endgame to RKK, either not using the other piece or by sacrificing it. However, I include material on these basic endgames primarily in support of my philosophy for learning chess, more than a desire to depart from the generally prevailing consensus for the dividing line between simple (elementary/fundamental) checkmates/basic endgames vs. complex endgames.

A player, especially higher level players, may not actually play many games to the finish for games basic endgames, because the opposing player realizes the futility and resigns. Yet, many beginners force the game to the finish, trying their darndest to figure a way to get a draw or stalemate. Also, some players have a mindset that they will not resign even in the face of certain impending doom. They, like many beginners, want to play it out perhaps hoping for the attacking player to make a mistake or blunder.

Material Count Considerations

1. For endgame play, many players consider a Bishop more than a Knight (while the basic piece value is considered to be 3 points each, most players value a Bishop at 1/2 and a Knight at 2 1/2 for endgame play).
2. A Bishop and Knight are worth roughly a Rook and two pawns.
3. A Queen is worth a Rook, a minor piece (Bishop or Knight), and two pawns.
4. Three pawns are often enough to win against a minor piece (Bishop or Knight), but two pawns rarely are successful when players are of equal or near equal playing levels.

Endgames with no pawns.

1. Queen & King v. King, Queen & Rook v. King, Rook & King v. King, and Two Rooks v. King are the four easiest checkmates.
2. Queen & King can win against Rook & King, although it is not always easy to convert this type of win.
3. Two Bishops can mate a King, providing the Bishops move on opposite color squares. This type of endgame uses what I call “The Principle of Retreat” (reviewed in Checking & Checkmating Studies II tutorials, along with “The Principle of Intermediate Move” and “The Principle of Short Positioning”). The basic premise of using a retreating move, an intermediate move, or a short positioning move, more commonly may be seen called “marking time.”
4. Bishop & Knight can mate a King, though this mate is very difficult for a player who does not know the correct technique.
5. Two Knights & King v. King cannot force checkmate. However, the player with only the King can move wrong allowing a checkmate to occur. If the weaker player also has a pawn, then checkmate is sometimes possible because positions that would be stalemate (barring mistake or blunder) without the pawn are not because of the pawn. This depends on where the pawn is located (i.e., whether the pawn is blocked by a Knight behind the Troitzky line; the phrase derives from the famous Knight, Knight, & King v. King & pawn endgame study by the great Russian analyst A.A. Troitzky). The Troitzky line and the “second Troitzky Line” are examined in separate lessons.
6. Bishop & King v. King: cannot checkmate the King.
7. Knight & King v. King: cannot checkmate the King.

Material Advantage: In general, the player with a material advantage and with at least a pawn advantage should exchange or trade pieces to try to reach a King & pawn v. King endgame. In an endgame, it is better for the player with a pawn or more pawns to exchange pieces but not pawns because King-pawn endgames usually are easily won. Endgames where a player has pawns on both sides of the board (a-file and h-file) also are much easier to win.

Endgames where a player has connected pawns & King (e.g., pawn chain, pawn island) v. an isolated pawn & King are more easily won by the player with the connected pawns. An outside passed pawn is a passed pawn on one of the sides of the board (the wings of the board; a-file or h-file file). Sometimes you may see a wing file called a “Rook file.” An isolated outside passed pawn is one that is by itself separated from the Kings. A remote isolated outside passed pawn is a pawn in a file on the opposite side of the board from where the Kings are located. Isolated outside passed pawns can be particularly deadly, because of the threat they pose for pawn promotion.

A King & pawn endgame involves only the Kings and a pawn for one of the players, or slightly more competitive – a pawn for both players. Getting a passed pawn often is crucial. A passed pawn is one that does not have an opposing pawn on its file or on adjacent files that may block or thwart its way to pawn promotion). Nimzovich once said that a passed pawn has a “lust to expand.” He was referring to its capacity to advance toward pawn promotion, and if not able to be stopped, to promote to a Queen (called “Queening”).

King Opposition (or simply “the opposition”) is the concept used to determine whether a player or the opposing player may gain an advantage (positional superiority and/or temporal advantage) toward checkmating, to force pawn promotion, or some other goal. The concept of opposition is based upon the basic rule that the Kings may not move onto adjacent squares. The principle is especially important in many of the basic endgames, and especially in King & pawn v. King endgames. When two Kings are in Direct King Opposition (you may also see the phrases “actual opposition” or “close opposition”), they have one empty square separating them – horizontally, vertically, or diagonally. There could be more squares separating them, for which the position is called “distant opposition.”

I generally include the word “King” when referring to opposition, but many times, you may see concept without the word “King” included.

When the Kings are aligned parallel horizontally in a rank, this also is called “lateral opposition,” which may be either direct (actual or close), or distant. When the Kings are aligned parallel vertically in a file, this is also called “frontal opposition,” which also may be either direct (actual or close), or distant. When the Kings are aligned diagonally, this is also called “diagonal opposition,” which also can be either direct (actual or close), or distant. Kings may also be in Misaligned King Opposition. This is when they are on adjacent files or ranks separated by at least the one square, but not in parallel alignment. For distant misalignment, there is more than one row or rank between the Kings and they are not aligned parallel to each other horizontally or vertically.

Therefore, opposition can be classified in different ways depending on the terminology used. However, in playing chess, each aspect of the principle is based on the same basic conceptual foundation. If a player having the move must give way allowing the opposing King to advance and make headway into the moving player’s position, maintaining control of the “opposition squares” (review discussion and diagram is provided a little further down in this lesson), then the moving player does not have the opposition. To complete the concept for conceptualization purposes, when a player has the opposition then from a positional standpoint the game flows into the opposing player having the move, but with an odd number of squares between the Kings. For distant opposition, determination of which player has the opposition depends whether the number of squares between the Kings are an even number of squares, or an odd number of squares.

When the Kings are aligned on the same line (horizontally, vertically, or diagonally) in distant opposition and the number of squares between them is even, then the player who has the move has the opposition.

Usually the concept of opposition is stated in chess analysis as either “White has the opposition” or “Black has the opposition.” Let’s look at diagonal opposition along the a1-h8 long diagonal, to review the concept (source: The Complete Book of Chess Strategy, Grandmaster Techniques from A-Z, IM Jeremy Silman (at pp. 310-311; Stiles Press 1998).

With the two Kings on the corner squares (a1 and h8), there is an even number of squares between the Kings along the diagonal line (a total of 6). Therefore, whichever player has the move will have the opposition. E.g., if White has the move, then White moves 1.Kb2 thereby keeping direct opposition, but creating an odd number of squares between the Kings (now a total of 5). With Black to now move, Black does not have the opposition because there are an odd number of squares between the Kings.

King Opposition therefore may be viewed as a special – Zugzwang – because the premise underlying the power of the principle is that the opposing King under pressure and having to move will weaken the opposing player’s position.

Now let’s examine a position where the Kings are not connected with each other on the board, and are distant from each other. Does King Opposition still play a role? Yes, but the foundational construct of the opposition is based on a square or a rectangle that has all four corners being the same color (source: The Complete Book of Chess Strategy, Grandmaster Techniques from A-Z, IM Jeremy Silman (at pp. 311-312; Stiles Press 1998).

(“White to move and grab the OPPOSITION”)”White plays 1.Kb2. The connecting points b2, b8, f8, and f2 are all dark squares and form a rectangle. After 1.Kb2 White has the opposition.” Let’s look at the board position diagrammed to show application of this aspect of the opposition concept.1…Ke8 2…Ke7 3.Ka3 or 2…Kg8 3.Ka2 both give us direct connections.” [distant diagonal opposition along the a3-f8 diagonal or a2-g8 diagonal] “2.Kc2 Kf8 3.Kd2 Kg8 4.Ke2 Kh8 5.Kf2 Kh7 6.Kf3 Kh8 7.Kf4 and Black can no longer avoid a direct connection (7…Kh7 8.Kf8; 7…Kg7 8K.g4). Note that each time someone moves, a new series of connection points are formed.” E.g., White’s move 2.Kc2 forms a rectangle with the four corner squares being the same color – White: c2, c8, e8 and e2.King opposition situations may either be latent (able to be forced on the opposing player) or be the present situation on the board. That is to say, the Kings are situated on the board such that one or the other either controls or can gain control of the “opposition squares.” That is to say, the square directly between the Kings and the squares to either side if the Kings are aligned vertically in files, or the squares above and below the square between the Kings if they are aligned horizontally in a rank, or the three squares surrounding the opposing King when it is located on a corner square.Below is a diagram showing the opposition squares when Kings are directly aligned horizontally in ranks, vertically in files, and diagonally when the opposing King is located on a corner square. The diagram also shows an example of “Misaligned King Opposition” (fourth position from left), and the utilization of “misaligned opposition” is important in a number of ways. An important example is involved in the mating pattern/mating net employed in the simple (elementary) checkmate of Two Bishops & King v. King.The final two positions shown are for distant opposition, both direct and misaligned. For the misaligned opposition and distant opposition positions, I include an increased number of opposition squares to signify how new sets of opposition squares may be created when the Kings are moved if in opposition. The same positional consideration applies for direct opposition. The squares on which the Kings are located can become opposition squares. These are potential opposition squares depending on how the Kings move. The diagonal and distant opposition examples show that the player with the move also has the opposition because he or she can dictate which squares can become the opposition squares.King opposition is tied in combination with the “Rule of the Square” (or “square rule”) – a geometric method of counting the squares to determine whether a player may successfully do pawn promotion. The square rule is used to determine if the opposing King is able to move in time sufficiently to prevent pawn promotion. The essential question is: May the opposing King either reach the promotion square before the pawn thereby blocking the pawn’s advance, or be able to move in front or to the side of the advancing pawn, to enable the opposing King to capture the pawn?Rook & pawn endgames are often most often drawn even in one side having an extra pawn. The great master Tarrasch once jocularly said, “All rook and pawn endings are drawn.” While not necessarily so, it is true of players of equal or near equal levels of playing ability barring a blunder or mistake. Rook endings are probably the deepest and most well studied endgames. Two so-called thumb rules regarding Rooks are worth noting:An important position in Rook endgames also is the so-called Lucena position. This famous endgame position is examined in a separate tutorial (pdf format only).Endgames with a Bishop & pawn: the mobility of the Bishop and whether the Bishop is on a diagonal of the same color as the square upon which the pawn would promote are crucial factors. If there are other pawns on the board, a Bad Bishop is one that is hemmed in by pawns of its own color, and often has the burden of defending them. A Good Bishop is one that has mobility and is not hemmed in by pawns of its own color. In addition, the Wrong Colored (Coloured) Bishop principle. Sometimes this is called the “wrong Rook pawn.” The principle, however expressed, refers to when the Bishop is not on a diagonal line with squares of the same color as the promotion square. These principles are covered in The Bishop tutorial and should be reviewed.Endgames with Bishops of Opposite Color, are notorious for their drawish character. They are often drawn even when one side has a two-pawn advantage. The reason for this is that each player at some point will need to advance a pawn onto a square of the same color as the opposing Bishop, and the player’s Bishop will not be able to defend that pawn. While the positioning of Kings on the board and their respective ability to get into the action to defend a pawn or attack an opposing pawn usually dictates whether a player can pawn promote, trying to reach pawn promotion is often very, very difficult.Endgames with Bishops of Same Color are often the opposite. In this type of endgame, the positioning of the Kings and their respective abilities to get into the action to defend a pawn or attack an opposing pawn often is a critical game-deciding factor. The primary area of concentration for both players in this endgame often is the struggle to gain positional superiority by blocking out the other King. King Opposition plays a big role in the players’ calculations of the movements for their Bishops, Kings, and pawn(s). Gaining King Opposition most often results in placing the opposing player into Zugzwang – the opposing player must move and weaken his or her position.

White wins with 1.e6! Bxe6 2.Bc2 Bf7 3.Be4 (forking Black’s pawns at c6 and g6) 3…Be8 (defends the c6 pawn and keeps the doubled defense for Black’s g6 pawn) 4.Ke5! (King opposition forcing Zugzwang on Black, who must move the King or Bishop and moving either one will devastatingly weaken Black’s position.) 4…Bd7 (Black elects to defend c6 pawn and abandon the double defense of the g6 pawn) 5.Bxg6! (White captures a Black pawn, breaks the defensive structure of Black’s Kingside pawns, and attacks Black’s pawn at h7. This will yield opening an unobstructed path for White’s pawn at h6 to safely advance to pawn promotion by becoming an outside isolated passed pawn, which Black cannot stop.) If 5…hxg6 then simply 6.h7 and then 7.h8=Q.Knight, pawn, & King v. King endgames usually feature positional struggles, both offensive and defensive. A Knight is not suited for chasing a passed pawn, however it is the ideal piece to block a passed pawn.Endgames with Queen & pawns are centralized on a dominant theme: the player with more pawns must maneuver so as to avoid Perpetual Check while seeking to advance one of his or her pawns to pawn promotion and gain a second Queen or another piece that will enable the player to checkmate as quickly as possible. If the players have equal pawns, then the application of “triangulation” may need to be utilized for one of the player’s to win. This is covered in other tutorials.Development of basic endgames study continues in Basic Endgames-Introduction to Positional Themes, which provides review of considerations for pawn promotion in King & pawn v. King endgames, and application of King Opposition in King & Rook v. King endgames.The Checking & Checkmating Studies I, II, & III section provides extensive coverage for simple checkmates/basic endgames with no pawns, along with specific basic principles, concepts, and considerations. In addition, there are tutorials covering complex checkmates, including many established “named” complex checkmates such as Damiano’s Mate, Pillsbury’s Mate, and so on, along with a number of complex checkmating problems to aid you in learning complex checkmates.There are additional available tutorials covering Endgames with no pawns, and other types of endgames studies. Some tutorials might be only in the pdf format for downloading/viewing/printing, so be sure to check the pdf files downloads section.

1. “Rook on the Seventh Rank”: A player with a Rook on the seventh rank (either Black with a Rook on the 2nd rank against White, or White with a Rook on the 7th rank against Black) can wreak mayhem among the opponent’s pawns, and also severely limit and entomb the opposing King on the back rank (1st rank for White and 8th rank for Black). The power of a Rook on the seventh rank is not confined to the endgame.
2. “Rooks must be placed behind passed pawns”: this so-called rule actually is a principle based on the defensive power of the Rook to aid the pawn in its push toward pawn promotion. By being behind the pawn as it advances, the Rook is able to defend it. If the Rook were in front of the pawn as it advances, eventually the Rook would need to move out of the way of the advancing pawn, thereby possibly subjecting it to capture by the opposing player.