Chess Corner - The Endgame, Part 1



In many endgames, most of the pieces are off of the board. The kings are active, and both sides are looking to promote their pawns. When you see this, you know you are in the endgame. Now is the time to try to checkmate your opponent.

You should base your strategy on which pieces you and your opponent have. Depending on your entire army’s strength, you may need to consider playing for a draw instead of a win. Usually this means tricking your opponent into stalemating you (trapping you so that you cannot move). But in this column, we’ll focus on how to win in the endgame and avoid a draw when you’re winning.

As I mentioned, your strategy will be based on which pieces you have. If you have a king and a queen versus your opponent’s king, your strategy will be much different than if you have a king and a rook!

Let’s start with one of the easiest endgames: a king and two rooks versus a king. (See the first position above.) White first plays 1. Rg5+, attacking Black’s king. What can Black do? White’s rooks guard the fourth and fifth ranks, so Black has no option but to move up: 1. Kc6. Now, White plays 2. Ra6+, attacking Black again. Black must keep moving up until he gets to the edge. When Black gets there, White can attack him one more time, and Black is trapped. Checkmate. (See the second position above.) This can also work with a queen and a rook, though keep an eye on your queen – it’s easier to stalemate your opponent!

Another standard (and very common) mate is a queen and a king versus a king. It is not challenging, but it takes a bit more time than with two rooks. Look at diagram 3 above. White’s queen has Black’s king confined to a quarter of the board. It’s Black’s turn; let’s say he moves up one square: 1… Kd7. White’s queen should move up, too: 2. Qe5. Black now has even less room in which to operate. Let’s say he continues with 2… Kc8. After White’s queen moves up two squares, 3. Qe7, Black’s king is trapped on the edge. After 3… Kb8 4. Qd7 Ka8, what should White do? If he moves his queen to c7,  the game is a draw. In other words, Black’s king is not being attacked by the queen, but he can’t move – stalemate. White should play 5. Kb4 and get his king to the action. The game continues: 5… Ka8 6. Kb5 Kb8 7. Kb6 Ka8. After this the board should look like diagram 4 above. It’s White’s turn, and he plays 8. Qb7#. A basic explination of what to do in a position like this is that you should keep limiting the king's space until he is limited to two squares. Then you bring your own king up and checkmate.

Obviously, I can’t list every endgame scenario possible here. But overall, when you’re winning, it’s important to focus on your endgame without stalemating your opponent. However, when you’re losing, stalemating yourself might not be such a bad idea. After all, a draw might not be a win, but it’s better than a loss.

In this week’s puzzle, White has promoted to a queen, but so has Black. White, however, can guarantee that Black will lose his queen with one move. Can you find it?

Answer to the previous puzzle: Despite the pin, Black responds with 1… Nxd5! and he is a knight ahead. If White plays 2. Bxd8, Black checks White with 2…Bb4+! After White plays a forced 3. Qd2, Black takes White’s queen. After the dark-squared bishops are traded, Black is still up a piece. This position was from Larry Evans’s book, The 10 Most Common Chess Mistakes and How to Avoid Them (Second Edition, 2002).