Endgame

Grandmasters often recommend a starting player to study the endgame before the opening. At first, this seems illogical because if a player loses in the opening, what is the use of his extensive endgame knowledge? In this article, I will try to communicate why grandmasters have such a deep respect for the endgame and how to improve your own endgame skill.

Knowledge of the basic opening principles is, of course, helpful for a beginner in order to survive the opening phase of the game. However, above those principles, studying the endgame is the most productive aspect for a beginner in the long term. In endgame positions, pieces can be studied in isolation, and due to their increased mobility on the simplified board, beginners can really grasp the true potential of individual pieces. For example, endgames with king and pawn versus king are quite unique compared to other areas of chess, and good knight versus bad bishop is one of the classic positional endgames to study. This sort of study is more difficult to do on a full chessboard because there are often many distracting issues such as opening traps and which opening to choose.

In order to improve your game, you must study the endgame before everything else, for whereas the endings can be studied and mastered by themselves, the middle game and the opening must be studied in relation to the endgame. – 3rd World Champion and Cuban Grandmaster José Raúl Capablanca

I recommend that beginners start off by studying endgame checkmates. The simplest of these start with:

King and queen versus king
King and rook versus king
King and two bishops versus king

(Maybe leave king, bishop and knight versus king until down the track because this endgame is slightly harder to learn and hardly ever occurs.)

The next level of complexity comes in the form of practical strategic endgames, such as:

King, rook and pawn versus king and rook
King and pawn versus king
Good knight versus bad bishop
Good bishop versus bad bishop

Where can you learn all this? There are quite a few good endgame books around as well as endgame DVDs. For studying the endgame, there are two kinds of books that can be recommended – books that focus solely on the endgame, and general chess books that cover a variety of topics and have a great section on the endgame. The latter will likely be more useful for beginners, so that is what I will focus on. Two generic chess books that are strong all round and have an exceptional endgame section include The Complete Book of Chess Strategy by International Master Jeremy Silman and Secrets of Practical Chess: New Enlarged Edition by Grandmaster John Nunn. Some of Nunn’s material gets quite complicated, so start with Silman’s book if you are not feeling confident. For your interest, two well-received endgame chess books that fit the former category and are suitable for beginners include Silman’s Complete Endgame Course and Grandmaster Yasser Seirawan’s Winning Chess Endings.

I would also recommend studying concurrently with Chessmaster. In particular, the section of International Master Joshua Waitzkin’s Chessmaster Academy that concerns endgames. There is not any description of king and rook versus king or any other basic endgame checkmates. Rather, Waitzkin focuses on long term strategy in endgames and typical themes that are invaluable for the improving player.

If you are still hungry for more, it is difficult to look past Grandmaster Karsten Müller, who specialises in endgames. He has produced a number of DVDs for ChessBase that are about the endgame.

For purchasing chess books or DVDs, I recommend Wholesale Chess. They provide the highest quality chess products at the lowest prices (especially for US and Canadian players). They even offer to match prices with other chess websites! Even though I live overseas, this is where I choose to purchase chess goods.

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