Thursday, July 05, 2007

Seeing the obvious

A major flaw in my play.
If I haven't killed my opponent before the end of the middlegame, then invariably I reach a position at the begin of the endgame where I have no clue whatsoever. I even have no idea at which side of the board I should look. So no matter how favourable the position, no matter how low the rating of the opponent, at this stage I offer a draw. Always. Often even when one or to pawns ahead. And when the oppenent declines the offer, I 'm invariably lost. I swap rooks which I shoudn't, I advance pawns which I shouldn't etc.. In an attempt to cure this problem I studied theoretical endgames daily for 6 month, without being able to lay the connection with my own games. That's why I abandoned the study of theoretical endings.

Discovery of the practical endgame.
Yesterday I discovered that there is a vast area between the middlegame and the theoretical endings. About 95% of the endgame play takes place in this area of practical endings. From the 16 endgame books that I have there are 15 which focus on the theoretical endings. Since that accounts for only the last 5% of the ending that is pretty ridiculous.

I don't know why those endgamebooks neglect this area. The only thing I can come up with is that you can write in definite terms about theoretical endings, while practical endings don't seem to be so conclusive at first sight. Or maybe what to do in this area is so obvious that I'm the only one on this planet who doesn't see it. Which wouldn't surprise me. Shereshevsky's book "Endgame strategy" is the first one which acknowledges the very existence of such area and that gives some guidance how to handle.


And that is quite a revelation!
The first discovery is the very existence of this area. With hindsight I don't understand why I didn't notice this before. Maybe for the same reason why 15 of the 16 endgame books don't mention it.
The second discovery is that the goal in this area is very evident: queen a pawn! Again I don't understand why I overlooked this obvious point. Maybe the middlegame has an hypnotic effect on me? In the middlegame the threats seem to well up spontaneous when you move your pieces around in an active manner. Here you have to create the threats. Since the pieces have lost their ability to deliver a tactical blow for 90%, this phase of the game is dictated by the pawns.
The third discovery is that the practical endgame is the first and only phase of the game where you can make a plan that has a realistic chance to work. Since the turmoil of the middlegame doesn't interfere any longer.

All good positional advice is aimed at this part of the game. "Get the bishoppair", "accumulate little advantages", "damage his pawnstructure", "give him a bad bishop", "create weaknesses" etc. are all aiming at this stage of the game. No wonder that it never worked in my games! All cryptic statements about the game like "the pawns are the soul of the chessgame" become clear in this phase of the game.


Don't expect that Shereshevky's book can do the work for you. It gives a clue and a few hints, but you have to do it yourself. But I'm confident that I can manage that now I have a start. I will give an example why I say DIY.
At a certain moment, Capablanca could trade off a knight against a good bishop. In the meantime inflicting the opponent with an extra isolani. But he didn't. And the book didn't explain why not. So I set up the position in the computer and tried to play it out. It appeared that the trade made it possible to get the opponents king into action much faster than your own king.
The valuation of the kings distances to the center of action relative to the wellknown advantages of removing a good bishop and causing an extra isolani can't be learned from a book. Only from experience.

There are only 18 days to go to the next tournament. I must focus on the major flaw in my play I just discovered, although it's short time.
In order to learn the utmost from the tourney and to overcome my hydrophobia I take the following pledges during the games:
  • I will not take the consequenses of my actions for my rating into account. No matter what.
  • I will abstain from complex middlegame play, which is the second flaw in my play anyway, in order to avoid time trouble at all costs. I will play simple chess instead.
  • I will not offer a draw.
  • I will not accept a draw offered before I have less than 15 minutes on my clock in the last period of the game.
Have a look at my new system against the Caro-Kan.
Have a look at the QID.
Have a look for another system against the French.


  1. Sounds like you are on an interesting track. GM-Ram lists 100 endgames positions one should throughly know.(the 95%) Of these 100, approx 5 are pawn and king against king. The goal is to steer the game to the favorable side of these known endgames. In entering into an endgame plan, we begin with an end in mind.

    I look forward to reading your posts during the next few weeks. good luck in your tournament.

  2. Tak,
    The goal is to steer the game to the favorable side of these known endgames.

    Be careful, or you miss the main point. You talk about the transition of the practical endgame into the theoretical endgame. When you ENTER the practical ending, just after the transition from the middlegame, you will and cannot have any idea to which theoretical ending it will lead. Theoretical endings play no role AT ALL at this stage. But there are new laws that govern this area. Knowledge of these laws and how to apply them is paramount.

    Go to the nearest person in your neighbourhood who is commonly known as an "endgame specialist". If you ask him how he became so good in endings I bet he will say something like the following: "I don't know, it's just that I gain the most points in the ending. I know very little about theoretical endings". It's just that these guys know what practical endings are about. They just stumbled upon these laws by accident.

  3. "When you ENTER the practical ending, just after the transition from the middlegame, you will and cannot have any idea to which theoretical ending it will lead. Theoretical endings play no role AT ALL at this stage."

    I think that’s too strong. For example, after a few opening moves, you could very possible have a reasonable idea of the coming pawn structures. Similarly, when you first start to enter the endgame, you can very possibly have some ideas of the theoretical endgame that are coming (and you can aim for those that you can win). I would say that it is a lack of understanding of theoretical endgames, the prevents correct play in the practical endgame. The endgame books that I’ve used and recommend, Alburt, Dvoretsky, Muller and Lamprecht, and Fine are all good. But it’s laborious to go through endgame books, and so, recently, my endgame play has benefited most from the PCT endgame modules.

    "queen a pawn!"

    Uhh, yes, that’s important ;) But it made me think of an important middle game precept: when you’re up a piece, trade pieces not *pawns*. How come? Undoubtedly, it’s due to the pawn into queen idea.

    All the best in your tournament.

  4. HDK,
    I like my statements strong. If even Dvoretsky says he has only a global idea about the theoretical endings, why would I try to improve on that?:)

    But seriously, the focus on theoretical endings is in no proportion to their importancy. Which is something different than to say that they are not important.

    "queen a pawn" how improbable it might seem, the obvious wasn't seen by me. To be more exact: I didn't appreciate the consequences of that statement. Now I do.

  5. Tempo: these are very cool ideas, helping me see what I wasn't articulating while studying the typical endgame books that teach you "technique": how to go from middle game to the point where it is just "technique". Most say it is a matter of steering, just as takchess says. But that is sort of a cop-out. When it is crazy complicated, what makes them think to steer it one way rather than another.

    Also your insight that this is when the strategic stuff REALLY starts to matter is great. By the time the endgame hits, if it ain't about advancing pawns, it's about piece activity.

  6. An interesting thought. Will following your global rules on endgame play tend to lead to known winning positions? Can these global rules be derived from practicing these winning positions ?