Chess Endgame Principles

When do we reach the endgame? When does the middle-game become endgame? The answer to this question is not cast in stone – but usually a position can be viewed as an endgame position when it is safe for the king to join the other active pieces.

You can improve your understanding of chess endgame principles by studying this list:

The main chess endgame principles:

  1. Get your king close to the action – ideally in front of your own pawns.
  2. Cut the enemy king off from the action when you can.
  3. Rooks should be placed behind passed pawns – your pawns or your opponent’s pawns.
  4. Advance your good pawns to increase your chances of creating a passed pawn.
  5. Attack your opponents weak pawns to force your opponent’s pieces into defensive positions.
  6. Place your pieces on squares where they restrict the mobility of your opponents pieces.
  7. If you have a material advantage, it is good to exchange pieces but keep pawns. Exchanging pawns increases your opponent’s drawing chances. The less pieces there are on the board, the more important the pawns become.
  8. If you have an advantage, you should leave pawns on both sides of the board so that your opponent will be forced to defend on both sides of the board.
  9. If you have one bishop, put your pawns on the opposite colour squares – this way you can control squares with your pawns which the bishop can’t control.
  10. The bishop pair (two bishops) are usually very powerful in the endgame, possibly worth at least an extra pawn.
  11. The best piece to block a pawn with is a knight. This is because the knight also attacks the squares from where other pawns can protect the blocked pawn.
  12. Passed pawns should be pushed forward and supported by all your pieces. Remember – promoting a pawn can often be as good as checkmate since you will be able to force a win with a new queen.
  13. Passed pawns on the edge of the board is a key advantage since you can use it to distract your opponent’s pieces (or king) away from other targets.
  14. A bishop is usually slightly better than a knight when the action is on both sides of the board. However, when the pawns are only on one side of the board, the knight can be more useful since it can reach both the light and dark squares.
  15. Bishops on opposite colour squares tends to often lead to a draw even when one player has an extra pawn or two.
  16. Create threats on both sides of the board. This may cause your opponent’s pieces to become overloaded with defensive tasks and give you an opportunity to promote a pawn by a tactical combination.

The purpose of the chess endgame principles is to guide you in achieving the main goals of the endgame.

What are the main goals in the endgame?

There are 3 main goals (tasks) that you should always keep in mind for the endgame. Achieving these goals will increase your chances to win the game:

  1. Get your king into an active position.
  2. Create a passed pawn.
  3. Dominate the activity of the opponents pieces.

Getting your king into an active position:

The attacking value of a king is surprisingly high. Unfortunately, the king can mostly not be used as an attacking piece since he is a vulnerable target. However, when the opponent do not have enough pieces to actively attack the king, it becomes possible to use the king as an attacking piece. Activating the king to the best square is essential to improve your position for the endgame. The attacking value of the king can even be slightly more than that of the knight or bishop. The estimated point value of the king is about 4 points – more than a knight or bishop, but less than a rook. Certainly the value of all pieces depends on other factors in the position but the fact remains that it is essential for the king to help the remaining pieces and pawns during the endgame.

Example

 

Material is even, but white wins easily because his king is active.

chess endgame principles active king
1.Rxd6 cxd6 2.Kd5, followed by Kxd6.

The white king will easily win the black queen-side pawns.

Creating a passed pawn:

Promoting a pawn to a new queen in the endgame usually leads to your opponent resigning the game. Even if a passed pawn can not immediately be promoted, it can often tie down an enemy piece which needs to keep watch and prevent the passed pawn from slipping through. This means that your opponent often have to play on other parts of the board with one less piece and can give you the opportunity to create another weakness to exploit. Often the opponent needs to sacrifice a piece in order to prevent promotion of a passed pawn. Playing with an extra piece in the endgame is usually an easy win for the player with the extra piece.

Example

 

Black wins by playing 1…. Bxc3.

chess endgame principles passed pawn
1… Bxc3 wins because 2.bxc3 allows the black b-pawn to promote.

Black will win the b2 pawn too since white cannot protect it and bxc3 allows the b3 pawn to promote.

Dominating the activity of the opponents pieces:

Restricting or dominating the mobility of the enemy pieces is important in the middle-game as well as during the endgame. In the endgame there are only a few remaining pieces, if any – this means that every piece should play an important role since there are not many other supporting pieces in the endgame. If you can restrict the mobility of your opponent’s pieces it can bring you an advantage and the chance to see if you can convert your more active position into a more concrete winning chances.

Example

chess endgame principles dominate enemy pieces
White plays 1.Bd5 with the idea to restrict the activity of black’s knight.

Black will have serious difficulty to activate his knight – which may give white the opportunity to dominate the action on the king-side of the board.