Endgame principles

The best way to win chess games is to know your endgame principles. Chess masters tend to win because they understand the endgame and can drive the game towards an endgame in which they have an advantage, and then they turn that advantage into a win.

Here are some principles that apply to the endgame you should really study to improve your chess play:

Activate your King

In the beginning of the game, your king is mostly stationary, staying out of the battle to avoid threats of checkmate. In the endgame, your king must be active — protecting your attack pieces, clearing pawns, and remaining a moving target for your opponent’s pieces and plans. Don’t leave your king in a corner or on an edge.

Minor Piece Mathematics

It is vital to understand the relative power of minor piece combinations, for you and for your opponent. These comparisons are general; a particular board position could change these relationships.

B > N A bishop tends to be better in an endgame because the
board is more open.
B + B > N + N A bishop pair is a powerful weapon in the endgame.
B + B > B + N
N + N > B + N
It’s better to have a pair of bishops or a pair of
knights than to have one of each.
R + N > R + B
Q + N > Q + B
Knights are better in conjunction with queens or
rooks.

Rule of Two Weaknesses

In the endgame, there are fewer pieces, and it is more difficult to be in two places at once. Your opponent most likely will not be able to attack two groups of advancing pawns on opposite sides of the board, or be able to fend off two lines of attack.

Roadblocking

When the board is open, pieces have more freedom of movement, which means they have greater opportunity to attack. That’s why it’s important to use your pieces to control key squares, ranks, and files, so your opponent cannot move freely, but instead gets stopped in a “roadblock” of your pieces.

Simplify

When your opponent has less pieces, she has less ways to attack you. When you get an advantage in pieces, simplify the game by trading pieces, with two exceptions:

Don’t trade pawns unless it makes sense to do so. Trading pawns just for the sake of trading pawns is usually unwise.

Don’t trade your last rook if you can avoid it. Otherwise you might simplify your win into a draw.

Beware of Draw!

Drawing in an endgame can be a powerful weapon if you are losing. If you are winning, you must take care not to let your win slip away into a draw. Here are some tips to guard against the draw:

Know the minor piece combinations that lead to a draw. A lone knight or lone bishop is a draw. Opposing bishops of opposite colors tends towards a draw. Don’t simplify into a drawing situation.

Avoid pawn gobbling. Many stalemates occur at the club level because the player with the advantage decides to obliterate the opponent rather than go for a checkmate… the next thing you know, your opponent has no legal moves, and the game is a draw. Don’t take a pawn unless it is an actual threat.

Rule of Symmetry

Symmetric pawn structures tend to keep things stationary. To make things move or change, you typically want to break the symmetry. Knowing this relationship can work to your advantage, either in defence or attack.

Pawn Power!

Pawns get a lot of attention in the opening, but they really shine in the endgame. After a pawn moves into enemy territory, its value increases as it gets closer to its promotion rank.

There are important things to know about pawns in the endgame:

Pawns with buddies are better than lone pawns. Advance adjacent pawns together for a more powerful combination. Advancing pawns in a mob (pawn storm) can be a powerful and decisive weapon.

A passed pawn is golden. If you are able to get a passed pawn, all of your pieces should be aimed at protecting it and escorting it to the back rank. If you don’t have a passed pawn, you should work towards getting one, unless you have a clear path to checkmate.

Wing pawns promote more easily than central pawns.

A rook or a queen behind a passed pawn is a lethal weapon!

Use your king to escort your pawns. With the king behind, protecting the pawns in the rear, you have a formidable force.

Watchtower Rule

When you have an advantage, you should be able to turn that into a win. The only thing that’s stopping you is your opponent. Most of your attention should be spent assessing what threats your opponent has. Unless you have a checkmate plan that you can execute immediately, it’s often a good idea to concentrate on eliminating your opponent’s pieces.

Rule of Opposites

What’s good for you is bad for your opponent, and what’s good for your opponent is bad for you.

For example, from the Activate Your King principle (the first one), you know it’s not good to leave your king on an edge or in a corner. By the Rule of Opposites, then, we see that it is good for you if your opponent’s king is on an edge or in a corner, so a good plan would be to force or trap the king onto an edge or into a corner.

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