Monday, July 02, 2007

Gathering endgame maxims

Latest update:december 7, 2008

This post will act as a scrapbook for endgame maxims and will be updated regularly. From time to time it will look chaotic, maybe. After sorting things out that will disappear.
There is quite a difference between endgame technique and endgame strategy. In order to develop an endgame strategy I will gather all maxims I can find, put them in a blender and distill a strategy out of it.
I will try to avoid double maxims around the same topic: what good is for you to strive for is automatically bad for the opponent and has to be avoided by him and vice versa.

Endgames of the 0-st order: pawnendings.
  • If one pawn can hold two that is favourable.
  • If you have two pawns on adjacent files, push the one on the free file first. To prevent the previous maxim.
  • Have your pawnmajority on the side where it is not opposed by the enemy king.
  • Advanced pawns can lead to a favourable break because they are closer to promotion.
  • Create a passer whenever it is safe.
  • Create an outside passed pawn as a decoy to help your king to penetrate in the enemy position on the other wing.
Endgames of the 1st order: 1 piece+pawns vs 1 piece+pawns

The light pieces.
  • If you have a bishop, put your pawns on the opposite color. No matter what your opponents piece is. The idea is twofold: it makes your bishop active, and when the opponent pushes his pawns till they are blocked against yours, they automaticly become a potential target for your bishop since they are on the same color.
  • If you have bishops of the same color the previous maxim will make his bishop bad.
  • If you have bishops of opposite color, and you try to win, put your pawns on the opposite color as your bishop. If you are defending, put them on the same color as your bishop.
  • A bishop is strong in an open position.
  • A bishop is strong when working on two wings at the same time. Especially important with bishops of opposite colors.
  • If you have a knight, a knight is strong in closed (blocked) positions.
  • A knight is strong with all pawns on one wing.
  • With knight vs knight, the penetration of the king is the main motif, plus the outside passer.
  • A knight needs outposts.
  • B vs K deprive the knight from outposts, then dominate the knight.
Rook vs rook.
  • Before anything else you must be able to play the Lucena and the Philidor position and the 3rd rank defense.
  • Make your rook active at all costs.
  • Let your king help.
  • Try to bind the enemy rook to the defense.
  • Defend a passer from behind, i.e. the first rank, to leave the promotion square free.
  • Two joined passers are often winning, so you can sacrifice a few pawns for that.
  • A condition to play for the win is that there are pawns on both wings, which make it very dificult for the defending king to choose where to go.
  • If the pawns are on one wing you have only a chance when you can cut of the enemy king.
Rook vs bishop or knight
  • Keep the pawns on the board.
  • Attack the enemy pawns from behind (=7th or 8th rank).
  • Create weakness which you can attack with both your rook and king.
Endgames of the second order: 2 pieces+pawns vs 2 pieces+pawns

  • The attacker decides when to trade pieces for an endgame of the first order, since the defender doesn't want to change pieces.
Two bishops vs two bishops.
  • After the trade you will have two bishops of the same color. So the pawnstructure dictates which bishop to trade. You must be left with the good bishop. Your opponents bishop will automatically be bad.
Two bishops vs bishop and knight.
  • A russian proverb says: "The advantage of the bishoppair is that you can trade it off. " Beware that you keep the good bishop and avoid bishops of opposite color when the underlying pawn ending is better for you.
Two bishops vs two knights.
  • Open up the position. Create two wings. Trade off your bad bishop.
  • Pawns at the rim are difficult to stop by a knight.
Bishop+knight vs bishop+knight.
Bishop+knight vs 2 knights.
  • In general a good bishop is better than a knight. The only reason to prefer a knight is when your opponent has the bad bishop and the pawns are on one wing.
2 knights vs 2 knights.
  • Trade of a set of knights when the underlying pawn ending is better. Remember that the remaing ending with knight vs knight is about penetrating with the king and the outside passer.
2 rooks vs 2 rooks.
  • Trade off a set of rooks when you have winning chances.
What to do with your King?
  • Head for the center, from where the king can intervene where needed.
  • Walk to your passed pawns.
  • Walk to pawns that are susceptible of being attacked.
  • Free a piece that is bound to defence.
  • Penetrate the enemy positions when you are faster than the counter attack of your opponent.
General idea's.
  • When you don't know what to do, try to inflict your opponent with an extra weakness.
  • When you are worse, don't play for the win.
  • Only accept a draw or offer a draw when you are worse. Otherwise you will never learn to play an endgame. Worse can mean behind in time.

When to trade pieces and pawns?
  • When behind in material, head for a drawish endgame (bishop of opposite color or rook vs rook with pawns on one wing)
  • When behind in material, trade pawns, not pieces. In the end you can sac your last piece for his last pawn, when you leave him with insufficient mating potential.
Middlegame techniques to get a good endgame.
  • Minority attack. You attack with 2 pawns 3 hostile pawns. After trading off you leave your opponent with an isolani that you can conquer.
  • Inflict damage to the opponents pawnstructure: double pawn, isolani, backward pawn, many pawn islands.
  • Create an (outside) passed pawn.
  • No open files leads to a rook ending.

When you have additions and/or corrections, please feel free to submit!!


  1. Hi Tempo,
    That's a great idea gathering the endgame maxims into a collected format. I'm trying to gather some stuff as well and making "flashcard positions" in Chessbase format including notes to cover "strategic ideas" and "key concepts" for review and study.
    Right now I'm using Rashid Zaitinov's (Ziyatdinov on the book jacket) "GM-RAM" and Lev Alburt's "Chess Training Pocket Book" to help build some starting positions.
    It's slowwwww going.

    How ya been? I'm glad you're back!

  2. Nice list. Very helpful. I look forward to more additions.

    It's good to see Sancho, the absent father, back.

  3. Hi Sancho!
    actually it looks like you who is back, not me:)
    Feel free to dump your found maxims here.


    Alot of endgames info in the link above unsure if you would find it helpful.

    Silman has alot of maxims in his book. Do you have this?

    I am fond of some Mednis tapes which I get from the library on endgames. He is like a 1950 Latvian Professor with a real sense of right and wrong (which you need in endgame)

    This is helpful and if I see any gaps I will make some comments.

  5. Tak,
    That guy Mednis is interesting. I will have a look at it. Today I counted 16 endgame books in my library, so lack of material shouldn't be the problem:(

  6. BDK directed me to this post. I'll keep it bookmarked because it has lots of good general principles I'd like to absorb. Thanks, Dean