Chess Endgame Beginner Studies 1: KP vs K
version 1.0, 2003-12
Basic chess endgames are important to know. At least one well-known author claims that there are something like a dozen endgame positions that must be known in order to reach 1600.That may very well be true. In this post, I begin looking at some of the absolute basics of King and Pawn vs King endgames.
Is it necessary to study the endgame in chess? If you want to win more games, it seems so.
Lev Alburt, in Chess Training Pocket Book (diagram 133) presents an endgame position about which he says, “This is one of those dozen or so maxims every 1600 player must know about pawn endings in order to become an Expert!” Need more convincing? Jeremy Silman in Silman’s Complete Endgame Course puts it this way: “it is annoying to find yourself with an extra Queen in the endgame and not know how to deliver checkmate.”
Although Silman’s statement can be construed as hyperbole, as if somebody cannot not know how to checkmate with king and queen against a lone king, it’s not. For beginning players, and particularly for younger players, many things that seem obvious to more experienced “old dogs” are not obvious.
It’s taken me a while in my own teaching experience as a homeschooling dad to realize that everybody learns in different ways and at different rates. This is true in every subject, including chess.
If you’re teaching younger players, for example, you’re homeschooling, and Chess is a part of your curriculum, please remember that younger kids beginning chess will not progress as fast as older kids or adults. Don’t expect them to see everything that you see!
Still, it’s impossible to say just exactly how important the endgame is for beginning players. It may help you win more games, or it may not. Why is that? Because for beginning players many games end in the middlegame, or even early in the opening due to blunders that lead to tactical shots. Therefore, endgame study probably should take second place to solving tactical chess problems, especially for beginning players.
On the other hand, studying the endgame does give a great feel for how the pieces work, both individually and in coordination with others. For example, study and learn the KBN vs K checkmate and you will forever have a greater feel for how to coordinate your knight and bishop. And, I hate to admit it, but it wasn’t until I studied the endgame, and after I had been playing chess many years, that I realized in any significant fashion that a knight always moves to an opposite colored square. And studying the endgame does help in tactical play. For example, learning how a knight really works from studying the endgame can significantly help you find knight forks in the middlegame.
So, yes, we (and you!) need to learn the endgame. Really learn it. And, we may as well start at the beginning.
Below is the most basic KP v K ending that I can think of. It doesn’t matter who has the move, White will win by promoting the pawn.
This is clearly a position that you need to know. Here’s one line: 1. Kf7 Kd8 2. e7+ Kc7 3. e8=Q
Or if we want to give Black the move: 1. — Kd8 2. Kf7 Kc7 3. e7 Kd6 4. e8=Q
Someone will say, “But this position is so easy! Why even bother?” The answer is: because there is an important point to be made. Yes, you may be able to win this position, but do you understand it?
Winning Isn’t Everything!
We all want to win, but just being able to make the moves isn’t really enough. In order to make progress, we need to understand what it is that we are trying to achieve in a position. This is more than just making the right moves. It’s knowing why the right moves are the right moves. And, knowing why about one position has the potential to increase our understanding of many positions.
Starting again from the above position, suppose the following: 1. e7 d7
Now what must White play ? Let’s look at a diagram:
Clearly the white king must occupy the f7 square in order to support a pawn push to e8. So, f7 is key for White. In fact, let’s call it, a key square. A key square is a square that if the white king can occupy it, then it’s a won position. (A “won position” meaning that that the position can be won with correct play.)
On the other hand, Black must put his king on e8 in order to stop White from occupying his key square.
So there’s a fight between the two opposing kings over f7.
Understand what both White and Black need to achieve allows us to make a generalization that will help guide us in our endgame play. Something like, “when a king is helping to promote a pawn, it’s important for the king to get to the seventh rank.”
Of course, in this position, the battle is easily won. White simply moves to f7. But in the next section, we’ll see that the battle for the seventh is not always so easy to win.
Here is a battle for f7 except in this case, unlike the previous position, it’s not so obvious: will the white king be able to occupy f7 or will the black king be able to stop him?
Notice that I didn’t say who has the move.
This is one of those positions that the beginning player needs to sit down and analyze. Once that is done, it will be obvious that the side that wins is the side that has the move.
If White is to play: 1. e7!
Why is e7 such a great move? For one, White clearly understands the needs of the position. After all, White could have played e5? a move that result in only a draw.
What is there to understand about this position? Simply that White must occupy the f7 square. How does the move 1. e7 make that happen? Look at the position and try to figure it out. when you do, you’ll discover that the move e7 prevents Black from defending the f7 square. Black would love to move to f8 and block White from moving Kf7 but he cannot. Play proceeds: 1. … Kd7 2. Kf7 and the win is clear.
But what if Black has the move? The we have: 1. … Kf8!
And now, why is Kf8 such a good move? Because Black is defending f7 preventing the white king from occupying his critical square. There is nothing left for White except 2. e7+ and a stalemate will be the final result.
We’ve seen the importance of the king occupying the seventh rank giving support to his pawn. Having understood it, it now becomes a part of our fundamental endgame chess knowledge. We will use this knowledge in future endgame studies.
When you study endgames, or any aspect of chess, or any subject, always be relentless in your desire to understand! And, never give up! Keep studying!