Endgame solutions

An endgame solution is a pattern or sequence of moves that forces the game to a particular result. Often a player can drive the game towards one of these endgame solutions by trading pieces, and then use the endgame solution to force a win or a draw.

Endgame solutions are dependent upon the sufficiency of checkmating material. If one side does not have sufficient material to force a checkmate, the best that side could obtain is a draw. If neither side has sufficient material for checkmate, the game is judged a draw and ended.

Having single bishop or knight plus a king is not sufficient to force checkmate on a lone king. Two knights plus a king versus a lone king are also insufficient to force checkmate. It may be possible to get a checkmate with these set-ups, but the player is likely to encounter a forced draw via the fifty move rule.

Here are some endgame solutions that we want to study, as they are useful as tools of forcing the final outcome of the game.

Two rooks + king vs. king

In this situation, the king with two rooks attempts to sweep the enemy king to an edge by alternating the rooks in the attack.

Suppose we have and endgame scenario that looks like this, and it’s black’s move. Black should easily win, but how do you do it without using way too many moves, or worse, allowing white to get a stalemate?

The first thing black wants to do is to select an edge of the board. The plan is to drive the enemy king towards this edge. In this example, black chooses the top edge of the board, or the eighth (8th) rank. She could have chosen any edge, but there is generally an edge that is easier, based on the location of the pieces.

Next she wants to move one of her rooks so it clamps the enemy king to a reduced section of the board, like so:

The rook at b4 is called the clamping rook, because it clamps the white king away from the rest of the board, driving it towards the selected edge.

Ideally, black would next like to move her other rook, called the attacking rook, to the fifth (5th) rank to put the white king in check. However, if the white king moves to d5, that rook would be vulnerable. Instead, she moves it as far as she can to the other side in a direction parallel to the chosen edge:

Now her clamping rook is vulnerable! She must move it as far as she can away from the white king in the same direction as the other rook but without interfering with her other rook:

The white king is now too far away to threaten either rook, so she can attack. She moves Rh5+:

Notice that now the h-file rook becomes the clamping rook, which means the g-file rook becomes the attacking rook. Her next move would be Rg6+, forcing the white king even closer towards the edge.

This process continues until the white king runs out of board. The rooks will alternate in their roles, from clamping rook to attacking rook.

The important things to remember are:

  • Always move the attacking rook, and leave the clamping rook in position until the enemy king gets close.
  • When the enemy king gets close, move as far away as you can parallel to the target edge.
  • Don’t let your rooks interfere with each other (and keep your king out of the way).

Please note: you can use this pattern with a queen and a rook also. However, you have to be careful with a queen, because it gives you more options for attack, but it also makes it easier for your opponent to get a stalemate! (That’s why I usually recommend to my players to get a rook, rather than a queen, when a pawn promotes.)

If you use this endgame solution, you can beat ANYONE!

One rook + king vs. king

In the situation of one rook plus a king versus a lone king, the player with the rook should be able to force a checkmate using a technique called opposition and press.

In opposition, the two kings are in the same rank/file but separated by one square. The king whose turn it is to move is opposed.

Suppose we start with this endgame scenario:

White has used his rook to clamp black to one side of the board. His goal is to drive the black king towards the top edge of the board.

Notice that white has maneuvered his king to be on the opposite side of the attack line (the rank/file the rook is on) from the enemy king. This endgame solution doesn’t work if your king is in the way!

It is black’s move. What white would like is for black to move Kf6, moving into opposition with his king. When this happens, white can then press, or move his rook to attack:

The white king prevents the black king from moving into the fifth (5th) rank, and the rook does not allow it to stay in the sixth (6th) rank. The black king must move into the seventh (7th) rank, one rank closer to the edge.

Suppose the black king moves Kg7, threatening the white rook. White simply moves the rook all the way to the other side of the board, but parallel with the chosen edge:

Suppose that black responds with Kf7… what should white do?

If white moves Kf5, then he would be the one moving into opposition. That would allow black to simply slip out of the trap. Instead, white should move Ke5. Then, if black wants to move towards the rook, it will be black moving into opposition, which allows white to press with the rook.

Suppose we have 1. Ke5 Kg5. What should white do?

In this case, white simply chases the black king with Kf5. If play continues along this line: 1. Kf5 Kh5 2. Kg5, white will be forced to move into opposition.

What if we have this situation:

It’s white’s move. If he moves into opposition, black slips out. Instead, he can make a zwischenzug and move the rook forward one square (sometimes this is called a “stutter step”):

The move Rb6 solves the problem. Now black is faced with moving into opposition.

One last thing to look at: what if the enemy king moves towards the edge?

In this scenario, white just made the move Kd3. Instead of staying in the fifth (5th) rank and moving towards the white rook, the black king moves into the sixth (6th) rank and closer to the edge.

The rule to remember is this: if the opponent gives you a rank or a file, you take it.

White should move Rh5 and tighten the clamp.

King + pawn vs. king

This is one of the most common endgames. The goal of the lone king is to get in front of the pawn (or force a capture). In this case, the game is a draw. The player with the pawn wants to prevent this so the pawn can be promoted to a rook or queen, yielding an endgame solution we have looked at previously.

In the case of a rook-pawn (a pawn on the a– or h-file), the king with the pawn may be forced into stalemate if the king can’t get out of the way for the pawn to advance.

The goal of all of the endgame solutions in this category is to control the two squares in front of the advancing pawn. If the minority player controls one of these squares, the game is a draw.

Let’s look at the following situation:

In the diagram above, regardless of whose move it is, white can force a stalemate because white can get her king to d3 before black can prevent it.

Now consider this one:

In this situation, if it’s black’s turn to move, black can protect the pawn advancement with Kd3, because the white king can’t get around to the front of the pawn, nor can the white king separate the pawn from the black king.

If it’s white’s turn to move, though, the white king can easily keep the black in opposition around the d-file, which could possibly lead to a pawn blunder, white getting control of the d2 or d1 squares, or the threefold repetition rule, all of which are draws.

One more possibility to consider:

In this one, the black king is able to prevent the white king from getting in front of the pawn, thus guaranteeing a win.

Bishop pair + king vs. king

If one player has both of his or her bishops (a bishop pair) in the endgame against a lone king, it is possible to force checkmate on either a corner square or the square adjacent to the corner.

The goal of the player with the bishop pair is to use his or her king to force the enemy king back through opposition and some clever corralling with the bishops.

The goal of the player with the lone king is to stay in the center. If he or she can force a mistake and capture a bishop, the game is a draw.

The procedure is somewhat lengthy (at least 17 moves) and requires precise play, but the goal is to force the lone king into one of the positions shown in the diagrams below:

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