Of all the stages in a game of chess, perhaps the single most studied stage is the endgame. You may have found yourself wondering, however, why this is the case. Why is the endgame studied more than the rest of the game? Is it simply because that is when all of your hard work comes to a head; when the culmination of your entire strategy either succeeds or falls flat? Or is it because it is when you can finally crush your opponent beneath your booth and grind them into the dust, if you so desire? In truth, the endgame is often the most studied aspect of a game of chess because if you can hope to pull your endgame off successfully, you must be able to recognize the scenarios and steer your game toward your ideal endgame right from the start.
In this article, we are going to discuss not only why endgames are important to study, but what an endgame really is, and how it relates to the entirety of the game of chess. While there are definite stages in a game of chess, each stage relies upon and relates to its counterparts, and understanding how those interactions work, and how they are also distinct from one another, is crucial to making sure that you not only fully understand each stage, but that you can adapt to them as they unfold.
So, let us start from the beginning. You may begin your game of chess and have an ideal endgame scenario – or a way you would like to win – in mind. You plan to work toward it – to steer your opponent and your own pieces in that direction so that you can close the net and pull off your ideal checkmate scenario. But it may not go that way. Each game of chess is fluid, and plans do not always work the way you intend them to work. In the famous words of professional boxer Mike Tyson, everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.
But what do you do if you can tell by the middlegame that your plan is not going to work; that you are not going to be able to set up the endgame you had in mind when you started the game? Do you simply continue to try to force that endgame anyway? No, of course not. This is why studying endgames is so important. You have to be able to react to the direction the game is headed in the middlegame and use that to stage your endgame. While it is okay to have an ideal win condition in mind before you start, you must be willing and able to adapt that scenario as the game unfolds. We study various endgame scenarios so that we can recognize them – and adapt to them – as they begin to unfold.
In this respect, we can begin to see that the middlegame is the stage as it is being set for the endgame. By the time you have reached the middlegame, you should have a good idea of how your opponent plays; whether they are an aggressor or a defensive player. Likewise, you should try to see where your opponent is trying to go with the game. Just as you have developed a plan and are trying to enact it, so has your opponent, and he or she will be doing whatever they can to not only pull of their own plan, but foil yours.
We can take this idea back even further, and it may help you understand better what an endgame truly is. Your middlegame is of course the stage for your endgame, but your opening is likewise the stage for your middlegame. The way you open your game will shape your middlegame, and will therefore help determine what endgame scenario you will find yourself inside. In this way, we can see that the entire game – opening, middlegame, endgame – are all reliant on each other. You play an opening which shapes your middlegame, and your use your middlegame to shape your endgame.
Endgames are so important to study because they are – as we mentioned at the start of this article – the culmination of your entire game. We study these scenarios because even though you may have a great plan at the beginning, the moves of your opponent may force you to change that plan as you go. When that happens, you will have to be able to recognize endgame scenarios and adapt to them, so that you can pull off a victory no matter what type of endgame you find yourself in. Failure to do so will leave you scrambling in the last stages of the game, and will likely cost you a victory.
The other side of this is that it is important to study endgames because doing so will help you understand what your opponent is doing. The more time you put into understanding how each type of endgame is set up, the easier it will be for you to recognize when your opponent is trying to steer you toward one. If you can recognize those types of scenarios, you can likely work to avoid them. That alone should be reason enough to convince you of the importance in studying endgames – because doing so will help you see into the mind of your opponent. Virtually nothing else can be so powerful of an ability to possess in the entire game of chess.
So just as many players put emphasis on studying openings, and many players tout that the middlegame is truly the most important stage (and don’t get us wrong, there is merit to both of those positions), we must also be sure to study our endgames. This diligence will pay off in spades when you are able to recognize your opponent’s trap and avoid it before the noose tightens, and also when you are able to pull that noose tight around your opponent’s neck and claim the victory for yourself.