Forget about the opening, study endgames!

endgame_200Books on chess openings are hugely popular. Of course it is nice to know how to give your game a kick start. But chess games are rarely won in the opening phase. Unless one of the players makes a silly mistake of course.

Personally I think books on the middle- and endgame are much more interesting and valuable. These books give us better insights in the chess game. If you know in which direction you want to go, it becomes also more easy to decide on your opening play.

There is another huge advantage in studying endgames. In the endgame you learn more about the properties of the chess pieces. Which might come in handy for other phases in the game. In that way time spent on endgame study is not wasted. Even if you do not play so many endgames*. It is in fact very valuable.

I am a bit ashamed to confess that in the past I did not spent much time on endgame study. Some of the material is quite technical and a bit boring. More boring than solving tactical puzzles so it seems.

But when I started to look a bit closer I noticed to be completely wrong. First of all there is a lot of tactics involved and secondly you can earn extra points in real games when you understand the basic endgame ideas.

Enough said, let’s jump in! See the diagram. It is black to play. Please evaluate this position. Which of the following statements is true?

  • The game is won for white
  • The game is won for black
  • It is a draw

Did you make up your mind? Shall we have a look?

The black king is in check, so the follow up is forced. First let’s see what happens when the black monarch makes a move:

1… Kg4 is met by 2. Nxe3+ and black loses his queen and the game.
1… Kh5 2. Bf7+ Kg4 with the same tragic result.

So this leaves black with the third option: sacrificing his queen for the knight. This seems winning because the black e-pawn will produce a new queen after: 1… Qxf5 2. Bxf5 e2. Game over? Probably hoards of players would throw in the towel at this moment. Is this position really lost? Or is there a road to salvation?

At first glance the black pawn seems to be unstoppable. The white king cannot catch the pawn. Or can he? Did you notice the somewhat awkward position of the black king? To be honest: I had some visions of building a fortress, but could not figure out how to bring this about. The solution is quite stunning!

White plays 3. Bg4!! When black captures the bishop (3… Kxg4), white plays 4. f3+ and captures the pawn. See for yourself that this is really a draw. It’s quite easy. Black goes after the h-pawn and white is just in time to snatch the g-pawn off the board.

By the way: here is a striking similarity with the Loman-Lasker game I mentioned earlier. See my blog ‘Beware of silly checks’. Conclusion: black cannot take the bishop.

What’s the problem anyhow? Black simply queens to pawn and wins the game: 3… e1Q. And now comes the trick. White plays 4. h3 and the black king is locked up in a cage. Meanwhile the black queen is unable to break white’s fortress on her own. So it is a draw. Although my computer believes otherwise. It goes on and on and evaluates the position as -7,69. Which proves that you can’t trust those damned silicone things!

Note that 4. f3 does not work. Black plays 4… Qe2+ 5. Kg1 Qd2 6. Kh1 Qf2 and white is in zugzwang.

Don’t you think this is a great and interesting puzzle? This position is not derived from an actual game. It is a study by Chekover and I found it on in the trailer for Andrew Martin’s DVD ‘First steps in endgames’

*On the game average is only 25 moves!? Makes you wonder a bit about the quality of these games.

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