Chess patterns – the more you know, the easier it is to find winning ideas. This is just as true for chess endgames as it is for checkmate patterns.
The aim of this post is to give you 11 chess endgame patterns that will help you in your games.
They’re the kind of ideas that, once seen, are hard to forget… and will win you games for years to come.
No. 1 – One pawn holds two
When your opponent has two connected pawns, one a square (or two squares) in advance of the other, you can prevent both from moving if you can move your pawn to the square in front of the advanced pawn.
One pawn will be blocked and the other in danger of being captured if it moves, either in the normal fashion or by en passant.
In this position, if the queenside pawns were removed, it would be a draw. Black to move wins with 1…b5, creating a passed pawn. But White to move wins with 1.a5! Now if 1…b5 2.axb6 e.p. and White promotes.
If Black plays king moves instead, White forces him into the corner until he cannot move (White king on g6/h6 and pawn on h7). Now Black has to play …b6 or ..b5, White takes – allowing Black to push the a-pawn – and promotes to a rook or queen delivering mate.
This is a useful way to stop your opponent’s expansion in any phase of the game, but is more common in the endgame.
No. 2 – Self-reliant pawns
Even with their king far away, connected pawns are perfectly safe against the opponent’s king. All White needs to do is advance one of the pawns so it is protected by the other.
Black cannot attack the base pawn as this would allow the other pawn to race through to promotion.
All Black can do is kill time, moving back and forth in front of the pawns. This gives White the time needed to bring their king over to support them.
Check out this similar idea using the knight. 1.Nd4! wins by protecting the pawn and giving the king time to get into the game.
The knight cannot be taken as then the pawn races home to promotion.
No. 3 – The pawn break
The pawns can take care of themselves here, too. White wins with 1. b6! axb6 2.c6! bxc6 3.a6 and promotes. If 1…cxb6 2.a6! bxa6 3.c6 and promotes.
Note that the White pawns need to be on the 5th rank to guarantee winning the race.
No. 4 – Knights against pawns
While pawns on the a- and h-files are generally less valuable than pawns nearer the centre, they can cause the awkward-moving knights real trouble.
In this position, Black seems to be holding things. However, White can exploit the weakness of the knight with a rook sacrifice.1.Rxg7! Nxg7 2.h6 N(any) 3.h7 and promotes.
The “N2” squares (b2, b7, g2, g7) are notoriously poor for knights.
No. 5 – Avoiding knight checks
If you’re low on time, perhaps playing blitz or in time trouble, you might be subjected to some annoying knight checks as your opponent attempts to win on time.
To avoid these, after being checked by a knight, move your king two squares away from the knight diagonally (one empty square between you). It will now take your opponent at least 3 knight moves to check you again.
If this is not possible, place your king next to the knight, either horizontally or vertically. The knight will have to make two moves to deliver check.
No. 6 – The bishop for pawn sacrifice
In this position, material is approximately equal. White’s c-pawn is prevented from advancing by the b7-pawn and 1.Bb5 d4 2.Bd7 d3 is too slow (3.Bxe6 d2 4.Bxf5+ Kg3 5.Bc2 Kf4).
White wins quickly with 1.Ba6! bxa6 2.c6 (or 1…d4 2.Bxb7 d3 3.Bf3).
A more advanced version of this sacrifice was seen in Topalov-Shirov, 1998, with what is widely considered one of the most impressive moves of all-time.
47…Bh3!! A move that requires accurate analysis!
The main points are:
- Black clears f5 for his king’s journey to e4.
- Capturing the bishop costs White a move and doubles the kingside pawns, making them less of a threat.
- Ignoring the sacrifice leaves Black either tied to the defense of the g-pawn, costs him the pawn, or costs him a few tempi in dealing with the threat.
No. 7 – The rook skewer
White’s rook is awkwardly placed, blocking the pawn from advancing.
Thankfully, White can take advantage of the Black king’s position on the 7th rank with 1.Ra8! Rxh7 (else the pawn promotes) 2.Ra7+ K(any) 3.Rxh7.
No. 8 – King displacement check
In this start position, your instinct might be to put your rook on the seventh rank with 1.Rd7.
Always look to see if you can throw in a check to force your opponent’s king further away from the action first. 1.Rd8+! Kh7 2.Rd7
No. 9 – Shouldering with the King
You can take advantage of the fact kings cannot stand next to one another to force your opponent to “take the long way around”, costing them valuable time to get to the critical area of the board.
See how White uses a pawn sacrifice to set up this shouldering maneuver 40.b4+! Kxb4 41.Kd4!
No. 10 – The Réti maneuver
Richard Réti’s famous endgame study from 1921 shows how to combine two threats to save a seemingly impossible position.
White’s king is too far away to catch the h-pawn and pushing the c-pawn loses it to Kb7. Nevertheless, White can save the game!
1.Kg7! h4 2.Kf6! h3 3.Ke6 (or Ke7) h2 4.c7! Kb7 5.Kd8=
Or 1.Kg7! Kb7 2.Kf6! h4 3.Ke5! h3 (…Kxc6 4.Kf4=) 4.Kd6! h2 5.c7 h1Q 6.c8Q=
No. 11 – Triangulation in chess
Triangulation is a specific example of “losing the move”, reaching the same position but with the opponent to move.
Here, White has just played 55.Kf1, as allowing Black the opposition on f4 (55.Kf2? Kf4) would lose quickly.
Black cannot force the pawn home yet 55…Ke3? 56.Ke1 f2+?? 57.Kf1 Kf3 stalemate. And 55…Kf4 56.Kf2 doesn’t get anywhere.
Black (a 15 year old Garry Kasparov) wants to reach the same position with White to move. He achieves this by moving in a triangle Ke4-f5-e5-e4. White (GM Lev Alburt) cannot match this as he’s denied access to e2 and g2 and anytime he plays Kf2, Kf4! wins.
55…Kf5! (obtaining the “long opposition”) 56.Kg1 Ke5! (…Ke4 57.Kf1) 0-1. On 57.Kf1 Ke4 and Black has achieved his aim. 58.Kf2 Kf4, 58.Ke1 Ke3.
Note how Black needs to lose another move near the end with …Kf3 as promoting to a queen immediately would stalemate White.
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