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Learning the endgame

By Torbjørn Ringdal Hansen

There are two types of people: Those who love to study endgames, and those who think it’s like watching paint dry.

Even though there are only a few remaining pieces on the board, endgame positions are often very complicated. The endgame is all about getting a new queen or delivering mate, and to achieve either of these you usually have to calculate very far. Sometimes the positions are so complex that you need to have studied it beforehand to play accurately.

Towards the end of a game, players are exhausted, and they are generally low on time. This is the phase when mistakes happen. One thing is for sure; if you know how to play the endgame, you will win many games. Many players try to avoid the endgame, and you can use this to your advantage.

A beginner should start by learning the fundamental techniques to mate. I’m talking about giving mate with a queen or with two rooks. Knowing how to do this is very useful in the beginning, as often one player is much better than the other, and the game continues all the way to mate.

Next up is knowing if a position is drawn or not. The more positions you know, the better. This will give you confidence when approaching the endgame, as you will know what to go for.

Last week, I was part of a team that opened a chess bar in Oslo called The Good Knight. Yes, you read right, and I’ll tell you more about this in another post. Last night I walked passed a table in the bar where two guys were playing. The guy with the black pieces stopped me and asked if I could help. “Don’t say a word!” said the other guy and looked at me. This was the position on their board:

Endgame-diagram-1-2

The guy playing Black knew that this was a theoretical draw, and he also knew that the easiest way to achieve it was by the king running towards a corner. His problem was that he didn’t remember which one. I let him figure it out on his own.

It’s almost impossible to figure out positions like this over the board. Instead, you need to know it, and that’s what strong players do.

The way I learned it was by reading books and collecting painful experiences in my games. You have more options than I did. There are plenty of videos, courses, chess coaches, and of course, the Magnus Trainer has plenty of lessons on the topic. They can’t compete in popularity compared to openings and games from Magnus, but they are just as important. Probably more important.

Before you go on studying, I would like to mention that you have different types of endgames, and they all have to be treated differently. You have the theoretical endgames, typically with a few pieces and by studying the theory, you should know exactly how to handle them.

But before you reach the theoretical endgames, you have a phase where there are quite a few pieces on the board, and to play correctly, you should know the general principles of the endgame, for instance, the importance of king activity.

It all boils down to theoretical knowledge, knowing the fundamental principles, and finally, precise calculation.

To practice and improve your endgame check out our Magnus Trainer app!

Photo: Lennart Ootes