Chess endgames and chess endgame strategies are an often overlooked part of the game by many players. Watch enough chess training videos, and you will soon learn even chess grandmasters can struggle in the endgame.
At lower levels, learning how to play the endgame will give you an edge over your opponents.
Because endgames in chess are poorly played by many players, it isn’t uncommon for your opponent to make you play out a theoretical draw.
When you have the material advantage, there is no reason not to ask your opponent to prove he knows how to draw the position.
The following five winning chess endgame strategies will help you convert your advantage or draw a game you might otherwise have lost.
One winning chess endgame strategy you can use now is the initiative. There’s nobody better than GM Bryan Smith to show you how to use this strategy in your own endgames in chess.
Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
Table of contents
1) Initiative in Chess Endgames
Often believed to be significant only in the opening and middlegame, the initiative can be your surprise winning chess endgame strategy.
Having the initiative in chess endgames is of the utmost importance!
The initiative is a dynamic advantage, and as we know, when it comes to having a dynamic advantage, you will lose it if you don’t use it. This applies to having the initiative in the opening, middlegame, and endgame in chess
One of the best ways to keep the initiative is to constantly create threats for your opponent to deal with throughout the game. Applying this strategy in the opening and middlegame will make your chess endgames much more pleasant.
Do Not Respond to Threats Passively
When one of our pieces is attacked, we usually respond by seeing if we can:
- eliminate the threat by exchanging the attacking piece,
- defend the piece under attack, or
- move the piece to safety.
What is often overlooked is you can defend against a threat by creating a greater threat against your opponent.
Active play with a counter-attack is a very effective way to put your opponent under pressure. Applying pressure in the endgame in chess is especially strong because there is less time to recover from a mistake.
Obviously, if you are the one being pushed back or having to respond to threats, then you have clearly lost the initiative!
In all phases of the game, it’s easier and more pleasant to be the attacker instead of the defender.
When you are attacking and make a mistake, you might need to settle for a draw. A blunder when you are defending for an extended time, apart from being almost inevitable, is often fatal as well!
Don’t be afraid to sacrifice material in the endgame in chess to gain the initiative.
In this game, GM Bryan Smith was more concerned with advancing his endgame strategy than defending his d-pawn. This decision gave him the win.
Holt, C – Smith B, Okie Festival (7), 2008, 0-1
2) Zugzwang Wins Many a Pawn Chess Endgame
Since zugzwang means “compulsion to move” and all possible moves will weaken the position, this strategy is most often found in chess endgames.
It stands to reason that the fewer pieces there are on the board, the more likely a player is to run out of good moves.
Zugzwang is often a crucial winning strategy in king and pawn chess endgames.
Pawn endgames are some of the most challenging endgames to play in chess. You need to have a good understanding of theoretical pawn endgames and pawn endgame strategy if you want to avoid zugzwang.
This theoretical knowledge will help you a lot in situations where you might want to lose a turn.
In the following diagram, the squares e2 and g3 are called “mined squares.” If Black reaches e2 before White gets to g3 and doesn’t have an extra tempo with the h-pawn, White wins.
Look at the following study to see why it’s essential to know the theory about mined squares.
If you know the position with a king on b6 and a pawn on b5 is winning, it is easy to formulate a plan. Instead of trying to calculate all the way to the end, you can use zugzwang to promote your pawn.
3) Opposition Is a Crucial Winning Strategy in Chess Endgames
Opposition is such an essential element in winning chess endgames. There are two types of opposition:
- direct opposition when only one square separates the kings who stand on squares of the same color, and
- distant opposition when there are many squares between the kings.
The player who doesn’t have to move is said to have the opposition. You might find it easier to remember if put another way:
Standing still – Victory!
A lot of strong chess players win games against lower-rated opponents by being patient in level positions. They trust the weaker player’s compulsion to do something to lead him into a worse position.
Although direct opposition usually occurs with the kings facing each other in a file, it is possible to use the opposition in a rank. This is an excellent strategy to use in your endgame in chess because it could catch an unwary opponent by surprise.
To have the distant opposition in endgames in chess keep an odd number of squares between you and your opponent’s king.
Always take into account the placement of the pawns. They can sometimes prevent your opponent from gaining the opposition by occupying the crucial square.
Another thing to keep in mind is the opposition can be held if the kings face each other on a diagonal. For example: if the black king is on f5, White can keep the opposition if he can play Kh3.
Knowing how the opposition works will help you decide which square is best for your king. Often in endgames in chess, there are several open squares for the king to move onto; now, you will choose the one that gives you the opposition.
4) Blockades Often Neutralize a Material Deficit in Endgames
We’ve all heard many times that bishops of opposite color endgames in chess are almost always a draw. Hearing and knowing are not the same as doing.
A vital component of the blockade with opposite-colored bishops is to force your opponent’s pawns to squares that are the opposite color of your bishop.
When you attack his pawns, your opponent will often have no choice but to advance them to a square of an opposite color to your bishop.
The next position clearly indicates why you want the pawns on the opposite color to your bishop. White is three pawns up, but the game is a draw.
For example, if white plays c6, there follows …Bxc6 Kxc6 and stalemate. The black king cannot move. The a7 pawn can’t move, and if the b-pawn advances, it gets captured.
White has no piece that can attack either the black bishop or the black king. The bishop will stay on the h1-a8 diagonal, and the king will remain on a8.
This is the knowledge you must know to set up chess endings you can draw or win while still in the middlegame.
When you are material down, head for an opposite-colored bishop chess endgame with the pawns on the same side. Your king and bishop will have a much easier time getting the draw.
If you are material up and can see a chess ending with bishops of opposite color, you will want to keep pawns on both flanks.
5) Triangulation: Lose a Tempo to Win an Endgame
To employ the triangulation strategy in chess endings, you need to be aware of the zugzwang square. The triangulation maneuver is your way of moving around this crucial square.
Your knowledge of the opposition will guide you in determining the zugzwang square. You don’t want your opponent to meet your move with one that puts an odd number of squares between your kings.
Another critical factor is having greater mobility while your opponent can only move back and forth. This usually happens because the king is tied down to defending a pawn.
Numerous chess endgame strategies often combine with each other, so the more you know, the better.
In the following position, Black has the opposition. White would win if it was black’s move in this position.
This would require repeating the position after an odd number of moves. Triangulation is the perfect strategy to help white win this chess endgame.
Black is tied down to stopping the g-pawn from promoting to a queen. This keeps the king tied to the f6, e7, and f8 squares.
White begins by playing Ke4! If black plays …Kf6 white responds with Kf4 and then Ke5.
The moment the black king is forced to d7, White can push the f-pawn and promote the g-pawn.
Here is how the play might unfold.
There is a lot to learn about chess endgames, but your rewards will make the time invested seem a small price to pay.
Get into the habit of looking to transition from the middlegame to a won endgame. This will deny your opponents time to fight back and level the position.
Transitioning to a won chess endgame helps you avoid making a blunder in the middlegame that could cost you the advantage or even the game.
Even when studying an opening, make sure you consider the typical endgames you are likely to reach. Learn how to play these endgames first and then expand your endgame studies.