Lesson 7 – What you should do in the endgame

The endgame stage of the game is when most of the pieces and pawns have left the board and only a few remain. But don’t be deceived, just because there are only a few remaining chessmen does not mean the endgame is easy. In fact, many players who manage to do well in the opening and middle-game, often fail in the endgame. The various endgame techniques and strategies you will learn in this lesson will significantly improve your chances to emerge as the winner.

Below the video is a transcript (with diagrams).


What you should do in the endgame

In this lesson you will learn more about the endgame in chess. In the middle-game there are many pieces and pawns on the board, but when there are only a few left, we reach the endgame.

The endgame is when there is only a few pieces remaining on the board.
The endgame is when there is only a few pieces remaining on the board.

One of the most important characteristics of the endgame is that your king is not in big danger anymore. Since in the endgame your opponent has only a few pieces left on the board, they can’t effectively attack your king. And because of this, it’s actually a good idea to bring your king out into the action. It’s hard to say at exactly which point does the middle-game turn into the endgame, but once it’s fairly-safe for the king to come out of it’s hiding place – that is usually a sure sign that you’ve reached the endgame. Now here’s an important thing I want to tell you about the endgame – don’t think that just because there are few pieces left, that now things will be easy. That’s not true, a lot of things can still happen in the endgame. And in this lesson- I will again show you 3 things you should do in the endgame and 3 things you shouldn’t do.

As before, we start with the 3 things you should do. And the first thing I already mentioned – once it’s safe for your king to join the action, you should do so immediately. When you have only a few pieces left, then it’s very important that your king should come out to support them and you can do this by moving your king in the direction where he will be useful, and usually that means that he should move towards the centre.

In this position white’s knight is attacking a black pawn…

In the endgame your king should join the action.
In the endgame your king should join the action.

but black’s own knight protects the pawn. If white wants to win this pawn, he will need the help of the king. And if black doesn’t realize how urgent it is to get his own king into the action, then you will easily get an advantage. I’ll show you what I mean. White moves the king to f1, but black doesn’t realize the urgency of the danger and he responds with a useless pawn move.

Once the white king becomes active – via e2-d3-c4..

White achieves a big advantage thanks to his active king.
White achieves a big advantage thanks to the active king.

… white quickly gets an advantage because now black’s king is too far away, and he can’t support his pieces on the queen-side.

Look what happens now after black moves Kf8…

The white king attacks the black knight and the pawn on a5.
The white king attacks the black knight and the pawn on a5.

White’s king goes to b5, attacking the black knight. If black wants to save the knight, he will have to move it away. Then white can capture the pawn on a5 and start thinking about a plan to promote their pawn on a4.

And that bring us to the second thing you must try to do in the endgame – try to promote a pawn because the first player to promote a pawn and get a new queen, will usually win the game. If your opponent is smart, they will obviously try to prevent you from promoting a pawn. Since it’s so important to try to promote a pawn.

I’ll show you a few examples of how you can do it. Here’s the first example:

White want to promote the pawn but he must be careful how he goes about it.
White want to promote the pawn but he must be careful how he goes about it.

White has a king and one pawn, and he wants to promote the pawn and then checkmate black with the king and queen. But obviously the black king will try to prevent this. If white goes here without thinking…

The black king will be in time to capture the pawn once it promotes.
The black king will be in time to capture the pawn once it promotes.

… then the black king will move in to capture the pawn, and even though the pawn gets to promote, it would be meaningless because black will capture him and the game would end in a draw. Let’s go back. Here’s the idea I want to show you:

White uses an idea know as "opposition" to prevent the black king coming closer to the pawn.
White uses an idea know as “opposition” to prevent the black king coming closer to the pawn.

White moves the king here. Now he covers all these squares and the black king can’t come closer. This idea is known as opposition, and it’s when you use your king to block your opponent’s king in such a way that he can’t come closer.

If black goes here to try slip around…

White continues to use the power of opposition. The black king can't come closer to the pawn.
White continues to use the power of opposition. The black king can’t come closer to the pawn.

… then white can again take opposition by moving the king here and eventually white will reach this position where his pawn can promote safely. Opposition is a very important idea in the endgame. You can sometimes also use it to push away your opponent’s king. In the position below, black’s king doesn’t want to allow the white pawn to promote, for obvious reasons, but white can use opposition to force the black king to leave. White moves here and takes the opposition.

White will use the power of opposition to force the black king away from the square where white wants to promote.
White will use the power of opposition to force the black king away from the square where white wants to promote.

Black’s king can go either left or right. But if he goes left, we go to the right, or if he goes to the right, we go to the left:

The white king supports the pawn all the way to the square where it will promote.
The white king supports the pawn all the way to the square where it will promote.

And now white’s king will protect his pawn on these three squares, which means the pawn can safely march through and promote. This is another reason why you should bring your king to the action in the endgame – because if your king wasn’t close then he would not have been able to support his pawn. Let me show you another idea you can use to promote a pawn:

How can white promote a pawn? Use a breakthrough!
How can white promote a pawn? Use a breakthrough!

The idea I want to illustrate here is known as a break-through. A break-through is when you manage to open-up a path for your pawn to promote. In other words, none of your opponent’s pawns can stop your pawn anymore. Once a pawn cannot be stopped by other pawns, then we refer to that pawn as a passed pawn. White doesn’t have any passed pawns here because the black pawns obviously won’t allow a white pawn to simply pass through. For example, if white goes here…

White plans a breakthrough!
White plans a breakthrough!

black will surely capture him. But white has a plan, he moves this pawn, threatening to capture black and then promote on the next move. But the real point behind the move is that if black captures him…

Nothing prevents the white passed pawn from advancing.
Nothing prevents the white passed pawn from advancing.

… then the pawn on the c-file becomes a passed pawn – and he will soon promote. Here’s another example:

How can white unblock the pawn on b6? Use the bishop!
How can white unblock the pawn on b6? Use the bishop!

White can’t move the pawn on b6 because it’s blocked. However, he has a smart plan. He captures a pawn with the bishop…

White is willing to sacrifice the bishop because he will then promote the pawn.
White is willing to sacrifice the bishop because it will allow the pawn to promote.

Initially this move appears to be a mistake because white will lose points, but it isn’t a mistake. In fact, if black captures the bishop, then this pawn will become a passed pawn and he will soon promote.

Now white's pawn can promote. Sacrificing the bishop was a small price to pay because not white will get a new queen.
Now white’s pawn can promote. Sacrificing the bishop was a small price to pay because not white will get a new queen.

Now you can see why it was a good idea to sacrifice the bishop – you lost 3 points, but you got a new queen – worth 9 points. So, this is an important thing you must do in the endgame – try to promote a pawn.

The third thing you should try do in the endgame, is to cut off your opponent’s king if you get the opportunity to do so. I’ll use this example to show you what I mean.

White moves the rook to e1. Now black's king will be cut off and can't do anything to stop the advance of white's pawn on d5.
White moves the rook to e1. Now black’s king will be cut off and can’t do anything to stop the advance of white’s pawn on d5.

It’s white’s turn to move and white knows that black’s king is coming to prevent this pawn from promoting, because if white goes here, the black king will move in to attack the pawn. So instead of moving the pawn, white moves the rook here and cuts off the black king. Now with the next move white can advance the pawn and eventually promote. Black’s king is cut off and there is nothing he can do to stop the pawn. Of course, it’s not always possible to cut off your opponent’s king, but when you do get the opportunity to do so, then it’s usually a very good idea.

So, these are the three things you should try do in the endgame – bring your king closer to help your other pieces, try to promote a pawn, and cut off your opponent’s king if you get the chance to do so. In the next part of the lesson, I’ll tell you about three things you shouldn’t do in the endgame. And the first thing you should do is – don’t make fast moves simply because there are fewer pieces on the board. It’s a mistake many people make – they believe they can move quickly because there’s only a few pieces on the board, but often they then end up making a critical mistake. You must be careful even when there’s only a few pieces on the board.

The second thing you shouldn’t do in the endgame is that you shouldn’t allow your opponent to easily promote a pawn. Here’s what I mean:

The white king must act immediately to deal with black's passed pawn on a5.
The white king must act immediately to deal with black’s passed pawn on a5.

If you notice that your opponent wants to promote a pawn, then you shouldn’t wait. You should immediately make a plan to be sure you can stop it. It’s easy to think – the pawn is still a long way off, but when it gets closer to your side of the board, you may suddenly realize it’s too late to stop it. Be sure you can stop your opponent’s pawn before it’s too late. As you can see here, it appears the black pawn still has a long way to go before it can promote, but in fact, it is important to do something now, otherwise it will be too late. For example, if white doesn’t bring his king closer to this side, if he instead moves a pawn, then after the black pawn moves ahead one more square, white actually can’t stop the pawn anymore, he will be too late. (You can try visualize the moves in your mind).

Instead of carelessly moving a pawn, you should see in your mind that if you want to be in time to stop the pawn, then you must react quickly:

If white acts quickly, he will be just in time to capture the pawn (queen) when it promotes.
If white acts quickly, he will be just in time to capture the pawn (queen) when it promotes.

It’s also important that you practice to visualize and calculate moves in your mind without moving the pieces – it’s a very useful skill when you play chess, because if you are good at it, then it can help you see things coming that maybe your opponent didn’t see.

The third thing you shouldn’t do in the endgame is that you shouldn’t advance your pawns if you can’t support them. Here’s an example:

White wants to promote the pawn but he must be careful - don't advance your pawn if you can't support it.
White wants to promote the pawn but he must be careful – don’t advance your pawn if you can’t support it.

White wants to promote his pawn and without thinking, moves it forward…

White will lose the pawn because he can't support it.
White will now lose the pawn because he can’t support it.

But black sees white’s plan and he prepares to stop it by moving his rook back and he will actually soon the pawn. And this is sad for white because if he had more patience then he might have promoted this pawn at a later stage.

To conclude this lesson, I’ll give you a summary of what you learnt.

In the endgame your king should join the action.
In the endgame your king becomes a powerful piece and he should join the action as quickly as possible.

The first thing you should usually do in the endgame is to bring your king out towards the action so that he can support your other pieces. Secondly, you should try to promote a pawn because the first player to promote a pawn and get a new queen, usually wins the game. And third, it’s usually a very good idea to do so if you get an opportunity to cut off your opponent’s king. Then there are also a few things you shouldn’t do in the endgame. You shouldn’t move faster just because there are fewer pieces on the board, you must still be careful because a lot of things can still happen in the endgame. You also shouldn’t allow your opponent to easily promote a pawn, instead you must do all you can to prevent it and lastly – you shouldn’t advance your pawns if you can’t support them because you will just end up losing your valuable pawns.

This is now the end of this lesson. In the next lesson you will learn about tactics and how you can use tactics to trick your opponent and win lots of material. It will be a very interesting lesson.

End of Lesson 7 – What you should do in the endgame