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How to Play Chess Endings

How to Play Chess Endings

by Eugene Znosko-Borovsky
How to Play Chess Endings

How to Play Chess Endings

by Eugene Znosko-Borovsky

Paperback(Revised ed.)

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How many chess players really know what to do in the end game? More is demanded in this stage of the game than in any other, and the knowledge and imagination that saw you through the opening and middle game are just not enough to carry you through the end game also. You need a thorough knowledge of the principles of chess endings, and this book is an excellent introduction to those principles.
World-famous chess teacher Eugene Znosko-Borovsky clearly explains the importance of tempo, the rule of the triangle, the idea of related squares, the power of the pawn and king, and the versatility of the rook. Each piece is studied individually, and many common end game situations are considered. Drawing on games from such master players as Morphy, Marshall, Steinitz, Capablanca, Alekhine, Lasker, and Botvinnik, Znosko-Borovsky shows you how to think during the end game no matter what pieces you may have or what situation you may be in. Special consideration is given to the theory of positional play, the conception and execution of a plan, and the recognition of tactical opportunities.
Emphasis throughout the book is on understanding principles, rather than memorizing moves, with the result that the reader will be able to apply Znosko-Borovsky’s techniques to almost any situation that may arise. The author’s well-known clarity of exposition makes this book most useful to a beginner or intermediate player.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780486211701
Publisher: Dover Publications
Publication date: 02/29/2012
Series: Dover Chess
Edition description: Revised ed.
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 777,481
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.80(d)

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Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 1974 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-16533-2


The Elements

We shall now examine in what manner chess fundamentals affect the end game, how far-reaching is their influence there and to what extent their application varies as compared with the other phases of the game. It is assumed that, in a general way, the reader is familiar with the various elements. In any event, they are fully described in my book, "The Middle Game in Chess," and popularized in "How Not to Play Chess."

The Chessboard

The chessboard represents a perfect geometrical figure, with 64 equal squares, and it would be easy to assume that any manœuvres on such a board would submit to the laws of geometry. Far from it! It is interesting to note—and in practice of considerable importance—that here the straight line is not the shortest way between two points. There are a number of ways all equally short. For instance, in order to reach K R 7 from K R 1, the King requires 6 moves going up the R file. He can, however, move on a diagonal from K R 1 to K 4, and from there, again diagonally, to K R 7. By this lengthy route also he will take but six moves.

In point of geometrical distance, the diagonal Q R 1—K R 8 is longer than the file K R 1—K R 8. But the King can cover either of them in seven moves.

It is the number of squares that matters, and not the distance.

The facts are of the greatest importance in an end game, and to ignore them may cost you the game.

The linear relations between ranks and files on the one hand and diagonals on the other, in other words between the oblique line and the straight, must not be overlooked in end game play. They perform a paramount rôle in most end game combinations.

But an approximative appreciation would be insufficient. It would not do, for instance, simply to count moves and squares: the intended route might suddenly become obstructed, the itinerary adopted by the adversary, which seemed innocuous, may be changed suddenly and without loss of time, thanks to his knowledge of linear relations.

If we examine Diag. 1, Black appears to have a won game: he threatens to queen in seven moves by 1 ... P—B 5; 2 P × P, P × P; 3 any, P—B 6; 4 P × P, followed by ... P—R 5—R 6—R 7—R 8 (Q).

As it is White's move, he might stop the pawn from queening after: 1 P—R 4, K—Kt 5; and the white King taking the diagonal from K Kt 7 to Q Kt 2, would reach the critical square Q Kt 2 on the 6th move, just

in time to hold up Black's Q R P, but for one fact: after 3 ... P—B 6; 4 P × P, there is a white pawn at Q B 3, which now obstructs the white King's progress and stops him from arriving in time. The long diagonal clearly is not the right one to select. White must use another if he can do so without loss of time. But how is it to be done?

The great master who conducted the white pieces may not have reasoned in this precise manner: but this type of reasoning would help even a moderate player to find the correct idea of what is to be done: and in that case he also would find ways and means.

After 1 P—R 4, K—Kt 5; White, instead of playing 2 K—B 6, as one would expect, played 2 K—Kt 6, threatening to queen his pawn by 3 P—R 5, etc. Thus Black is compelled to lose a tempo by 2 ... K × P; and White has achieved his object: he has changed the diagonal without losing time, and now, via the diagonal K Kt 6—Q B 2, he reaches Q Kt 2 in the same number of moves, which is not difficult to ascertain.

If he perseveres with his original plan, Black runs the risk of losing the game, e.g.: 1 P—R 4, K—Kt 5; 2 K—Kt 6, K × P; 3 K—B 5, P—B 5; 4 P × P, P × P; 5 K—K 4, P—B 6; 6 P × P, P—R 5; 7 K—Q 3, p_R 6; 8 K—B 2, P—R 7; 9 K—Kt 2, and the white King is in time to stop the pawn. The whole combination has failed because of a judicious change of diagonal by White, and it is Black who must now play for a draw. With three united pawns against a doubled pawn, he has a precarious game, for his King, after capturing the R P, is further away from his pawns than is the opposing King. Luckily for him the draw is not difficult to obtain, e.g.: 3 K—B 5, K—Kt 6; 4 K—K 4, K—B 7; 5 K—Q 5, K—K 6; 6 K × P, K—Q 6; 7 K × P, K—B 7; 8 K × P, K × P (Kt 6); etc.

This example is very instructive. Besides the change of diagonal, we see a sacrifice to divert the opposing

King, another to obstruct his progress, and a third to obtain a passed pawn and this in various parts of the board.

The importance of the correct choice of a line is clearly demonstrated here; for the object and direction of the alternative diagonals were the same. But we shall see that in choosing the right itinerary for the King, we can sometimes serve the needs of two or more alternative plans.

We perceive this clearly in Diag. 2, which, however, I shall not treat at length, as I have already given it in another book. After 1 P—R 4, Black seems lost, for the hostile pawn is two moves ahead, and, whatever line is chosen for the King, he cannot overtake the pawn. Therefore, if we take this pawn only into account, the game is lost. But if Black remembers that he also has a pawn, things may be different. For Black it is a case of combining two objects: he must approach his own pawn without giving up the pursuit of his opponent's. In this case again, the diagonal will serve him well.

After 1 P—R 4, instead of thoughtlessly playing

1 ... K—R 7; Black must play 1 ... K—Kt 7; 2 P—R 5, K—B 6. If then 3 P—R 6, then Black, after 3 ... K—Q 7; also queens his pawn in two. Therefore White must first stop the pawn with 3 K—Kt 3, and after 3 ... K—Q 5; White is faced with the same problem, 4 P—R 6, K—K 6; and queens in two, and so he must first capture the pawn 4 K × P, after which Black can overtake the pawn by 4 ... K—B 4; 5 P—R 6, K—Kt 3; and draws.

How has this reversal of chances been effected? Black has forced his adversary to lose two moves in effecting the capture of the pawn, the two tempi which he lacked. The diagonal was the deus ex machina and, without increasing the distance to the passed pawn, enabled the black King to aim at both wings at the same time.

This example also shows the importance of the centre, which we might have been tempted to underestimate. Such a double mission can be best accomplished from a central position: from the centre we can observe and control both flanks. Thus we re-establish the relative value of the squares, and we revert to the fundamentals which are the basis of the game of chess as a whole. Thus also the unity of the game is established and the study of the end game becomes possible. We find there the same laws and principles which govern the other phases of the game. An essential difference is that in the end game, some at least of the basic ideas find no application, because it is more limited in scope; there are fewer pieces and the ultimate object is now clearly defined.

In common with combinations, end game play achieves its aims by force in a greater degree than ordinary manœuvres and often dispenses with considerations of a purely general nature. But the essentials are the same, as, for instance, the geometrical idea. Thus the position in Diag. 3 is akin to the preceding one and is derived from it.

What is the difference? The black King is at Q R 7 instead of Q R 8, the white King at K R 2 instead of K R 3, which does not appear to affect the position at all, and yet everything is changed, even the result.

The play is: 1 P—R 4, K—Kt 6; 2 P—R 5, K—B 5. But whereas in Diag. 2 as soon as the black King reaches the Q B file the white King has to move to stop the hostile pawn, in the present case there is no need for him to do so, for after 3 P—R 6, K—Q 6; 4 P—R 7, P—B 7; 5 P—R 8 (Q), P—B 8 (Q); 6 Q—R 6 ch, followed by 7 Q × Q, and Black is lost. Clearly the position of his King at Q B5 is fatal: he must leave the unlucky diagonal and find a different route. Therefore: 2 ... K—B 6; and if now 3 P—R 6, K—Q 7; and if 3 K—Kt 3, K—Q 5; and in either case a draw results as in Diag. 2. But White takes advantage of his King's position at R 2 and first plays 3 K—Kt 1, stopping the B P whilst the black King cannot overtake the R P. For this time his King has only made one extra move, instead of two as in the preceding example.

By drawing a parallel between these two positions, we clearly see on which subtleties endings are based;

they are made up of nice distinctions and nuances. That is why it is hardly possible to set up hard and fast rules, of a general character, to suit all cases. Although such rules do exist and find their application at all times, it is essential to take into consideration the peculiarities of a position and to recognize when any particular rule might apply.

The choice of the correct file or diagonal decides the issue in countless cases. Take, for instance, a simple example: White: K at Q 5, P at K R6; Black: K at his K B 5 and P at Q R 6. The play is as follows: 1 P—R 7, P—R 7; 2 P—R 8 (Q), and Black's pawn is stopped. Imagine the same position with the respective pawns at their K Kt 6 and Q Kt 7. Now we have: 1 P—Kt 7, P—Kt 8 (Q); 2 P—Kt 8 (Q), Q—R 7 ch; followed by 3 ...Q × Q; drastic examples of the importance of the correct choice of lines in an ending. That which happens but seldom in the middle game is here of constant occurrence.

It is fatal to disregard this characteristic of end game play. Here is another and more complicated example (Diag. 4).

The continuation is: 1 R—R 8, P—B 7; 2 P—R 7, K—B 6; and the game appears irremediably lost for White, who is threatened with mate by 3 ... R—R 8. But there follows 3 R—R 8, R × R; 4 P—R 8 (Q), R × Q stalemate!

From K R 8 the Queen commands Q R 1 where mate was threatened, as did the white Rook from Q R 8 on the preceding move. It would have been sufficient for Black to play his Rook to Q Kt 7 instead of Q R 7, and the whole combination would have failed. He pays the penalty for having neglected the geometrical idea and selected the wrong file.

As we proceed with our study of the end game, we shall notice that other general principles which occur in the middle game find their application in the end game also, e.g., the question of space, and many others.

In thus greeting old acquaintances, we must not shut our eyes to the fact that, in the end game, there are subtle variations in the application of these principles.


In an end game time is of greater importance than space. The management of time is the very essence of end game play. After all, the question is who will be the first to make a new Queen, whose pawn will be at least a move ahead in reaching the queening square. Nowhere else does time play such an important part, and outside the end game, positions are rare in which one tempo can so completely alter the state of affairs. In endings, on the contrary, the result quite commonly depends on one tempo. The question as to who has the move is all-important in judging an end game position, whereas, in the middle game, where numerous pieces are in play, it often makes but little difference. Thus end games require to be handled with the utmost precision; in that they are akin to combinations. Thereis nothing to equal end game play for developing powers of analysis and intricate calculation.

A curious and at times baffling circumstance is that frequently, in an end game, to have the move means to lose the game. This can upset all one's calculations, for from the very beginning of the game, the "move" is looked upon as a definite advantage, which we must try to increase, whilst to have few moves available is a sign of a deteriorating position. No doubt such cases also occur in the middle game, but they are extremely rare and are in the nature of exceptions: also the loser's game is usually compromised so that the onus of the move only precipitates the impending catastrophe.

In end games the compulsion to move often turns an even position into a loss, or a win into a draw, nor are such cases exceptions; on the contrary they illustrate an essential element of end game technique.

Let us closely examine this anomaly, try to understand its nature and to identify any signs which might warn us of this transformation in values.


Take one of the most usual cases: White: K at Q 6, P at K 7; Black: K at his K 1. Black has succeeded in stopping the pawn, but if he has the move, he must willy nilly play ... K—B 2; and after K—Q 7, the pawn queens. If it is White's move, the game is drawn, for after K—K 6, Black has no move—stalemate. Space is limited on the chessboard, whereas time is not. Thanks to the convention that a stalemate means a draw, stalemate becomes an important weapon in end game play. There are positions which are theoretically drawn on account of stalemate: in others it occurs through the opponent's inaccurate play. Even here it is a perfectly legitimate weapon. Frequently pawns are blockaded and therefore immovable, and it happens that there is but one piece left to the defender, the only unit able to move: here is the germ of the idea of a sacrifice, which is to eliminate this troublesome piece, of which the drawback is what at other times we appraise the most: mobility. Subtle and pretty combinations are based on this, as are also, at times, crude traps, which rely on the possibility of a blunder, due to the carelessness of an adversary who feels certain of victory.

We have already seen a stalemate combination in Diag. 4: here is another (Diag. 5), a typical trap devoid of all charm.

After 1 ... R—K 6; White could have played 2 K—B 1, or even 2 R—B 1 ch, winning easily. Instead of which he rushed on blindly 2 P—Kt 6, and the game was drawn after 2 ... R—K 8 ch; 3 R × R, stalemate.

On entering upon the end game stage, we must bear in mind that it is the domain not only of the mate, but of the stalemate as well, and its shadow hovers over all our calculations, over all our plans.


Often a stalemate is the result of a Zugzwang, a compulsory move, which affects the result. In the first example it occurred on the edge of the board; but it can well happen in the centre of the board and in extremely varied circumstances, depending in no way on the conflict between two essential elements, time and space.

Examine another position: White: K at K Kt 1, Ps at K B 6 and K R 6. Black: K—K Kt 1, Ps at K B 6 and K R 6.

Whoever has the move loses, e.g., 1 K—B 2, P—R 7; or 1 K—R 2, P—B 7; queening in either case. As the positions are symmetrical, the same applies to Black if he has the move.

Both adversaries have obtained the best possible arrangement of their forces, and in either case the position must of necessity get worse, if it has to be altered at all. This is far less likely to occur in the middle game, where many pieces are available which can threaten other points or create diversions. The end game, however, is inexorable; the problem in hand must be faced at once, for better or for worse.

If we add a few pawns in the last position, say at Q R 2 and Q Kt 2 on both sides, will the result be affected? In other words is the first player still lost? As the position on the K side has not altered, the question will be whether, as the moves on the Q side become exhausted, one side or the other can gain a tempo. (This is an indication, to which we shall revert at a later stage, that the analysis of an end game position is dealt with in sections, at least, as here, in two.)

If 1 P—Q R 4, P—Q R 4; 2 P—Kt 3, P—Kt 3; and White's moves are exhausted. If 1 P—Q R 3, P—Q R 3; 2 P—Kt 3, P—Kt 3; 3 P—Kt 4, P—Kt 4; and again White has no move left. He must play the King, which loses as we have seen.

This shows clearly that, when the pawns are arranged symmetrically, the first player has no means of altering the order of the moves, nor is it difficult to gauge the situation when the pawns are not in symmetry. But the second player is in a different position. After 1 P—Q R 4, Black has only to play P—R 3; to alter the situation, or after 1 P—R 3, P—Q R 4; and in either case the first player has the move, which in this case, as it happens, is to Black's detriment, but which, in similar cases, might be desirable. Note also how important it is to have a pawn on the second rank, where it has the option of a double step, according to circumstances.


Excerpted from HOW TO PLAY CHESS ENDINGS by EUGENE ZNOSKO-BOROVSKY, J. DU MONT. Copyright © 1974 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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