Chess Corner - The Endgame, Part 2

Last week, we focused on checkmating in the endgame and looked at two examples. This week, we will focus on playing to a draw instead of a win in the endgame. Whenever you know you can’t win, you just have to try not to lose.


Let’s take a new look at one of our earlier examples: a queen and a king versus a king. You know how to handle this if you have the queen (see my previous post), but what if you have to face your opponent’s queen? This situation seems hopeless, but you can delay checkmate for a while - maybe even long enough to draw. What does your opponent have to do to checkmate you? The answer: Force your king to the edge. For this reason, you should always try to stay as close to the center as you can. This may not always be enough, but if your opponent cannot keep you under his “control,” you may be able to draw. I have seen highly-ranked players that cannot quickly and effectively trap their opponent with only a queen, so never give up hope in a scenario like this. Always look for the opportunity to draw.

The worst thing to do when you’re losing badly is to resign. It is just like saying, “I give up. I’ll lose now so I don’t have to later.” My recommendation is to never resign. Like everyone else, I don’t win every game, but I sometimes draw when everybody, including me, thought I was going to lose.

In many endgames, you’ll find that even though your opponent has more material, the position is still in your favor and you most likely will draw. The first position above is an example. White is a pawn ahead. It isn’t a threat right now, but don’t forget that it can promote to a queen, which is a big threat unless Black knows how to hold her off. But wait – can White’s pawn promote safely? Well, it’s Black’s turn, so let’s find out: 1… Ke6. White has two options from here: he can try to rush the pawn to the edge with 2. h6 Kf6 3. h7 Kg7 4. h8/Q+ Kxh8. There are only the kings left on the board now, so neither side can checkmate the other and the game is a draw. White’s second option is to try to bring the king up to defend the pawn, but that won’t work, either: 2. Kf2 Kf6 3. Kg3 Kg5 4. h6 Kxh6. This also is a draw. It doesn’t matter what else White tries; Black can outrun him every time.

Obviously, I can’t list every possible endgame scenario. For more information on the endgame, I suggest reading Pandolfini’s Endgame Course, which covers much more than I can write here. Even if you’re a master at the game, you can still learn a lot from the book and greatly improve your endgame play.

This week’s puzzle is a well-known one, where White’s king has to face three pawns. He can hold them off and even win the game. Can you find out what White has to do? (Hint: If Black’s king moves at all, White can promote his a-pawn.) Good luck!

Answer to the previous puzzle: All White has to do to win Black’s queen is use a basic tactic: the skewer! After 1. Qa6, Black’s king and queen are skewered and the game continues with 2. Kd2 Qxf1. This puzzle is from Pandolfini’s Endgame Course, (by Bruce Pandolfini, 1988).