How To Approach The Endgame – First Steps To Chess Improvement

Hello guys and gals, chess brothers and sisters in arms. It took me some time, but I am finally able to present you the latest article in my First steps to chess improvement series. This time I would like to talk about the endgame and how you should approach it as an improving player. Bear in mind that lower rated players are pretty bad at playing endgames, so playing it a little better than your peers can help you immensely. As always, I have some examples ready for you.

First things first, know that it is not my intention to teach you things like opposition, Philidor and Lucena position, basic checkmates etc. That is what you have to do all by yourselves, as I’ve previously stated in my guide. There you can find some instructive YouTube channels that can help you with some of your endgame study. Once you get to intermediate level, you might consider some books as well. Anyway, let me present you our first example.

In this game, my opponent was rated over 1 300, and he still didn’t really know how to convert this into a win. His moves in the endgame actually benefited me and he practically traded down from completely winning position to Philidor like position. He even exchanged rooks, making my job drawing the game even easier. Moral of the story is that just by knowing basic endgame stuff, you will be better than a lot of lower rated players.

Here we have a similar game in a sense that my opponent doesn’t know basic endgame stuff. In this case, he converted the game from Philidor like position to a losing endgame. This is even easier to win than Lucena position, because his king is completely cut off.

In chess generally, but even more so in the endgame, you need to evaluate the position on the board, calculate, create a plan accordingly and play slowly whenever possible. This is especially the case when you have a critical moment on the board. Everything that permanently changes the nature of the game is a critical moment. In this case, a potential exchange of the rooks.

This game is a straightforward example why you need to pause and calculate. My plan was simple, as the game was a dead draw before my opponent’s mistake. The plan was to exchange the rooks if possible, as I’ve calculated that without them on the board, I am winning. If my opponent have paused a bit to ponder his move, he would’ve probably gotten a draw from this game.

I would like to exchange queens in this example. Why? Because I have a trump card – outside passed pawn. One of those can be a real asset in the endgame, especially when most (in this case all) of the pieces have been traded off. When the opportunity showed itself, I immediately exchanged queens. You always need to look at what are strengths and weaknesses of both players, piece activity, what happens if you exchange some pieces, etc. This might help you to create some sort of plan.

Now we get to my embarrassing loss. This is a great example why you must activate your king in the endgame. I had a completely winning position, but I blew it because I haven’t moved the king towards the center of the board.

I’ve stated the importance of king activity, but it certainly doesn’t end there. In the endgame (and chess in general), you should try to play actively with your pieces. The more relevant your pieces are (and the less relevant your opponent’s pieces are), the greater chances for victory you have. This is another thing you can build your plan upon.

This endgame is pretty specific, but it is useful to know it. Opposite color bishops endgame is, in many cases, a draw with perfect play. Generally, if you are a pawn down in this type of the endgame, your plan can be to put your pawns on your bishop’s color. That way his bishop doesn’t have any targets and all you need to worry about is his king.

I want to show you another lost endgame on my part. This will teach us that although I have previously stated how you should play actively, this doesn’t mean you should play positionally unsound, reckless moves that will make your position practically lost. Basically don’t be stubborn and try to win at all costs. I have made my opponent’s rook more active, which is a big mistake. If possible, what you should do is to try improving your pieces and neutralizing all counter play your opponent has.

The last example will teach you that you should never relax, even in a completely winning position. One misstep and all your hard work goes down in flames. Endgame is very tricky. Pretty much every move is potentially a losing blunder. Margin for error is smaller compared to the rest of the game.

Let’s recapitulate what I’ve written here:

– Learn basic endgame stuff

– Evaluate the position on the board, calculate and create a plan accordingly

– Activate all off your pieces (king included)

– Neutralize all counter play and don’t play risky, unsound moves

– Don’t relax until the game is over

– Play slowly 

In the end, I hope that you’ll find the article helpful and interesting. Thank you for taking the time to read it.

Till another time,