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Today, you can learn an article written by Yury Markushin specially for the students of our Remote Chess Academy. It’s called “Fundamental Endgame Principles: Win More Games“.
Written by Yury Markushin TheChessWorld.com
Endgame is the part of the game which if improved can lead to a major rating boost for a majority of pre-master level players. However, most players do not pay specific attention to this stage of the game and do not invest their time into developing it. Don’t make that mistake in your chess.
Understanding of the basic endgame principles will not only improve your results in the games against equal strength opponents, but will also give you a serious weapon that can be used against both weaker and stronger players.
What that means, is that you will win almost all of the games against a weaker opponents in the endgame and will hold your grounds against a much stronger opposition. I have compiled a list of the most important endgame principles that will help you to win more games.
1. Activate your King early
Activating your King in the early stage of the endgame is probably the most important principle that many players overlook. How many games were lost in equal material ending just because one side was wise enough to activate the King a few moves before his opponent did? Millions.
A simple rule of thumb is to activate your King at the early stage, as soon as it will not place the King under an immediate danger. Many players believe (quite incorrectly) that the King should only be activated in King and Pawn ending when there are no pieces on left the board.
This is not the case in most of the games. The King can be used as a powerful weapon even with the rooks and minor pieces present on the board. In the example below even though the rooks are present on the board, both sides should activate their Kings.
White to move
2. Passed pawns must be pushed
Many players know about the importance of creating passed pawns. However, it stops there. When a player creates a passed pawn he just leaves it alone and starts planning something else, shifting his attention to the other side of the board. You should always remember that the passed pawn possesses an imminent treat for your opponent.
The closer the pawn gets to the end of the board, the more valuable it is. A passed pawn on 7th rank may easily be worth a Rook. On the diagram below you can see the simplest example it may be the case. The rook must be sacrificed for the pawn to avoid queening.
White to move
At the same time a passed pawn deep inside the enemy’s territory is usually weak if not supported by other pawns and/or pieces.
Therefore, the passed pawns must be pushed and protected!
3. Exchange pieces when you up in pawns
Just imagine you’re a pawn or two up in the game. What kind of endgame would it be easier to win: two pawns + King vs. King or two pawns + King + 3 other pieces vs. King + 3 other pieces?
The answer is simple and obvious. Of course winning the King and Pawn endgame is a better option if you’re up in material.
In the position with 3 other pieces on the board, you’re risking to get checkmated even before starting to push your pawns. These extra pawns are far less valuable in middle game positions, than in the endgame. In the diagram below, white is two pawns up, therefore they should exchange pieces to realize their advantage.
It can be easily achieved via 1.Re8+ Rxe8 2.Qxe8 Rxe8 3. Rxe8+ Kh74. Rxh8 +-
White to move
Here are the two rules to remember:
I. If you are up in pawns, exchange pieces
II. If you’re down in pawns, exchange them off
4. Double check your calculations
Endgame is the most straightforward part of the game in terms of calculation simplicity. There are not many pieces and pawns on the board, making it possible to calculate deep variations, sometimes until the pawn promotion or some other decisive event.
The price of a mistake significantly increases in the endgame since a single wrong King move, lost tempo or pawn can quickly lose the game. Therefore, it is necessary to double check your calculations to avoid these unfortunate accidents, called blunders.
5. Place your Rooks behind passed pawns
In the rule #2 we already talked about the importance of passed pawns, that they must be pushed and most importantly supported. The best way to support an advance of the passed pawns is by placing a rook behind it.
Since the pawn will move through a file and the rook controls the files very well, it makes perfect sense to support a passed pawn with a rook. Also the rook placed behind the passed pawn won’t be obstructing the promotion square (as in the case of the rook in front – bad idea).
Correct way to protect the passed pawn
6. Place your pawns at opposite color squares to your Bishop.
This is a somewhat counter-intuitive rule. Most players would think that placing the pawns on the same color squares as your Bishop is a safer bet since the Bishop can protect the pawns. However, this is incorrect because it would obstruct the Bishop and reduce the available space needed for maneuvers.
In the example below white has a dark squared bishop therefore; he places his pawn on the light squares locking the opponent’s pawns on dark squares. Not only white obtained more space for his bishop, but also created some targets.
Correct placement of pawns
Remember that the correct placement of pawns in the endgame is on the opposite color squares than your Bishop. However, if your opponent has a Bishop you want to obstruct it. That can be done by setting up a pawn chain on the same color squares as the opponent’s Bishop, if possible.
7. Play actively
Playing actively is a very important principle of chess in general which can be applied to the endgames in specific. For example, activity of the Rook or a King in the endgame can well compensate an absence of a pawn. While playing passively and defensively in the ending where you’re down in material is a guaranteed lose, by playing actively you can change the game around and swindle away with a draw or even a win.
8. Keep your Bishop pair
It is a no brainier that a bishop pair is strong in the middle game, but in the endgame it becomes a devastating force, especially in somewhat open positions. Keep your bishop pair until the endgame, and you will most likely win that ending!
Of course, there are some exceptions to this rule, where the two knights or a knight and a bishop can be a better pair than the bishops. But these are very rare and only happen in locked up positions or with the knights (that for some reason cannot be exchanged off) located right in the heart of your position, next to the King.
Generally speaking, the bishop pair is the whole pawn better than two knights or a knight and a bishop.
9. Avoid weakening your pawn structure
Pawns do not go backwards. Before making a pawn move, especially in the endgame, think twice how would that affect your pawn structure. You also need to be careful with advances and exchanges since it can lead to weak, doubled or delayed pawns. Pawn weakness is that small advantage or disadvantage that can make or break your game.
Unless it is absolutely unavoidable try not to weaken your pawn structure, to have a better endgame chances.
10. A rook on a seventh rank is worth at least a pawn more
A white rook on a seventh rank (or a black on 2nd) is an incredibly powerful weapon. Not only it cuts off your opponent’s King from fully participating in the game, but also it can be used to very efficiently pick up the pawn since they are totally unprotected from the back.
A general rule of thumb for an endgame initiative is to place your rook on the seventh rank to create a lot of trouble for your opponent. Check the position below. The white rook on the 7th rank completely dominates the position.
The rook on 7th rank is very strong
These are some general rules and principles that should be used in most endgame situations, and if applied correctly will improve your endgame performance. However, the rules are not unbreakable. In every position you should use your judgment and evaluation of positions skill to decide what rule is applicable and what not.
If you liked this lesson then you should check our FREE Ultimate Endgame Tutorial: 10 Must Know Endgames Step-by-Step.