endgame differs from both the opening and the middlegame in many
aspects. It has its own rules of thumb, quite different from those in
the other phases of the game, since the number of the pieces left on the
board is small. It is important to play the endgame correctly, or else
the efforts spent to arrive at it may be lost.
The 'king safety' principle that applied to both the opening and the
middlegame no longer holds. It is hard for the enemy pieces to combine
properly and begin a winning attack. Instead, the king is playing a key
role, his power increasing as the number of the pieces reduces. It is
necessary to make one's king active by transferring him to the centre or
wherever is needed.
Pawn promotions are typical in the endgame. Trying to promote a free
pawn or creating a free pawn is a common plan. All available forces need
to cooperate for this purpose. The king himself may be needed to help
the promotion. Promoting a pawn usually means to win the game, so the
opponent will probably sacrifice some material if he can not prevent it
The key notions of development and tempo no longer apply (or at least,
not to that degree). Instead, pieces need to be placed correctly, which
requires the construction of a plan. A common rule of thumb is 'do not
hurry in the endgame'; it is easy to see in which cases it applies and
when tempi are important.
The pieces involved define different strategic factors. In an endgame
including rooks the seventh (or the second) rank may be of critical
value; this is because the king is usually still on the eighth (first)
rank after the middlegame and if the enemy rook penetrates through the
seventh (second) rank, he will restrict the king's activation whilst
threatening the pawns on this rank.
In rook endings where promotions are intended, a rook is best placed
behind a pawn, either friendly or enemy, so that his mobility increases
as the pawn advances. The king is best placed in front of a pawn, either
friendly or enemy, to assist or prevent its promotion.
In light piece endings, a bishop is more valuable when his pawns are
placed on squares of the opposite color than the bishop's square,
allowing him to move with freedom and threaten the enemy pawns. Also a
bishop is worth more when the centre is open and there are pawns on both
wings, for he can exploit his increased mobility. In the contrary a
knight is better when the position is closed and the pawns blocked.
To play the endgame correctly one needs to know the basic endings very
well. The basic endings are trivial situations, with very few pieces on
the board; these positions arise all the time. Having a fair
understanding of these basic endings helps the analysis very much. For
example, assume that WHITE has found a line which eventually leaves him
with his king on e8 and a pawn on e6, while the black king is on g8. He
may stop counting further, because he knows that this position is won
for WHITE; the pawn promotes easily and the basic ending King + Queen
vs. King (after the promotion) is winning.
Basic chess endings include :
King vs. King
King + Pawn vs. King
King + Knight vs. King
King + Bishop vs. King
King + Rook vs. King
King + Queen vs. King
King + Knight + Bishop vs. King
King + Knight + Pawn vs. King
King + Bishop + Pawn vs. King
It seems to be a complicated matter, but it is far from truth. Most of
them are quite straight-forward and need no effort to understand.
Awareness of the basic endings provides a solid background for further
understanding of the endgame.