All chess games are different in the middle phase but in the end game, you will often find fairly close similarities in many games, may not be in the exact positions of the pieces but in the themes that occur. Chess analysts have identified certain standard techniques to deal with these themes from either player’s point of view.
These techniques help in two ways: the quickest way to corner the opponent or the best way (and sometimes the only way) you can gain advantage over your opponent. If you know these techniques, you don’t have to waste your time in analyzing the sequence of moves but know straightaway whether something will work or not. By just looking at the pieces and their positions, you know if it is a drawn game or if it can give you a winning position. But just recognizing a winning possibility is not enough, you often need to play a very precise sequence of moves to convert the possibility into a reality.
In describing the techniques, it is presumed that you have the white pieces. If you have black, just reverse the positions.
1. Be aware of the Square in King and Pawn vs. King:
When you have only pawn endings, the winning strategy obviously is to get at least one pawn to reach the last row for ‘queening’ before your opponent does. In some situations, it may be possible for your pawn to do that without any help but in others, it needs the assistance from your King to guard against the opponent’s King. If the former is possible, you don’t need to move your King around and you reach your goal in less number of moves. So how do you know if that is possible? Here you have to be aware of the Square.
From the square where your pawn is standing, imagine a diagonal line to the end (eighth) row. Diagonal towards the right or towards the left? (This question will not arise if the pawn is in rook’s file). Towards the right if the black king is on the right side of the pawn, towards the left if black king is on that side. Visualize a Square which has this line as its diagonal. If it is your move and the black king is outside the Square, your pawn is out of reach of black king and will become a Queen if you just keep it moving forward. If black has the move but the king cannot step inside the Square, then also your pawn is safe. In all other positions of black King, the pawn needs your King’s support.
The following diagram should help in understanding the concept of the Square. With White to move, Black King cannot capture the Pawn. With Black to move, Black King can step into the square to prevent the Pawn promotion.
2. Be aware of ‘opposition’
If you can move your king to a square which is just one square away from black’s king in the same file or in the same row or in the same diagonal, you have the opposition. It is now black king’s turn to move and it has to move sideways or backward. Either way, it yields control of some squares to white king. If black king can do the same and it is your turn to move, then black has the opposition. By having opposition, you gain additional control as noted above. This assumes importance in King and Pawn vs. King endings to have the possibility of ‘queening’ your pawn. (Since we are discussing basic techniques, we will not talk about distant opposition).
In the diagram position, neither King can move into the crossed-out squares.
If it is Black’s move now, then White has the Opposition.
But if Black has, say, a pawn that can be pushed forward when White has only the King (or has a pawn that is blocked), then Black gains the opposition by moving his pawn as White King has to move now and can only do so sideways or backward.
3. King and Pawn vs. King (in the Square)
You will have to play it out on a board or (or on a PC with chess playing software). I will just mention the basic principle. You must make your king lead the pawn. Your aim is to arrive at the following position (with Black king trying its best to block your pawn).
Black king on e8, your pawn on e4, your king has just moved to e6 getting the opposition. Black king has to move now.
The sequence of moves will be:
In the same starting situation for the kings but Black having the opposition, pawn will still become queen provided it was on e5. The sequence will be like above starting from the 3rd step.
If the pawn is a rook’s pawn, the tactics will be a little different. You have to position your king in such a way that Black king cannot enter into the corner square.
In all other positions, Black can draw with precise play by maintaining opposition.
To be able to promote the Pawn, assuming it has its King’s support, the principle is:
when the pawn moves to its rank 7, if it does not create a check on the enemy King, it will promote. If the move to rank 7 gives a check to the enemy King, it will end in a draw.
4. King and Rook vs King
This is fairly easy but if you cannot see the target position, you may be able to checkmate only after creating a record number of moves for this type of situation. You have to utilize the opposition concept with checks by rook to push Black king to one edge. Assuming that you have pushed the Black king to the eighth row, your rook on the 7th row will keep Black king confined to the 8th row. Your king now has to move to a position of opposition to the Black king which will try to deny you the opportunity by moving sideways, say, towards the a8 square. You in turn keep moving your king towards a6 square. When your king is in b6, Black king has to move back from a8 to b8. All you need now is to deliver check by moving the rook to the eighth row.
In the position shown, if White has the move, then Rh8 delivers check mate. If it is Black’s move, then the maneuver as described above will ultimately lead to checkmate.
In our next article, we will examine some more positions.