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Endgame technique is an incredibly important concept that is too frequently overlooked by chess players of all levels.
Understanding critical concepts in the endgame will not only help you save draws in difficult positions, but it will also help you squeeze points out of materially balanced games as well.
Strong knowledge of fundamental endgame themes will enable you to avoid theoretically unpleasant endgames, or subtly steer your games towards endgames where you know will retain strong winning chances.
To illustrate how to apply endgame principles in the opening and middlegame phases, I’ve decided to dissect a classic example from Round 6 of the 1972 World Chess Championship Match between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky.
1. c4 e6 2. Nf3 d5 3. d4 Nf6 4. Nc3 Be7 5. Bg5 0-0 6. e3 h6 7. Bh4 b6 8. cxd5 Nxd5 9. Bxe7 Qxe7 10. Nxd5 exd5 11. Rc1 Be6 12. Qa4 c5 13. Qa3!
Fischer’s goal in the opening was to achieve a solid position with long-term positional pressure and without weaknesses. Unless black’s pawns on c5 and d5 can manage to become mobile and dynamic, they will be static/permanent weaknesses that black will have to defend throughout the rest of the game.
13. …Rc8 14. Bb5 a6 15. dxc5! (the a6 pawn is pinned, so Fischer leaves his bishop on b5 where it hinders the development of black’s Nb8) 16. 0-0 Ra7 (black capitulates, placing his rook awkwardly on a7 to push white’s Bb5 back) 17. Be2 Nd7 18. Nd4!
After enticing black to weaken his a-pawn with 14. …a6 and to weaken the position of his rook with 16. …Ra7 – Fischer had strengthened his positional initiative against white’s center. 18. Nd4! is a perfect example of the “transformation of advantages” concept in that white is transforming positional pressure against black’s c5 and d5 pawns into a long-term minor-piece advantage with his soon-to-be powerful light-squared bishop against black’s knight. After the ensuing 19. Nxe6, Fischer will attempt to open the position rapidly to capitalize on the B vs N minor piece imbalance.
18. …Qf8 19. Nxe6 fxe6 20. e4! d4 21. f4! Qe7 22. e5
With the last few moves, Fischer has immobilized black’s central pawns and changed the nature of the long-term pawn structure – placing his pawns on dark squares so that his light-squared bishop will be able to work with the pawns and have an influence on both sides of this recently-opened position. Black’s only chance is to centralize his knight and try to activate his central pawns, however white never let go of the initiative to give black a chance to catch up.
22. …Rb8 (attempting to generate counterplay with the rooks) 23. Bc4 Kh8 24. Qh3! Nf8 25. b3 a5 26. f5 exf5 27. Rxf5 Nh7 28. Rcf1 Qd8 29. Qg3 Re7 30. h4 Rbb7 31. e6 Rbc7 32. Qe5 Qe8 33. a4 Qd8 34. R1f2 Qe8 35. R2f3 Qd8 36. Bd3 Qe8 37. Qe4
With 24. Qh3, Fischer combined tactics with his long-term plan – transferring the queen to the kingside where it will be well placed to attack the black king (especially the weakened light-square complex h7, g6, f7, e6). Fischer proceeds to open the position to increase the power of his bishop with 26. f5 – also smoothly activating his rook and preparing to double on the f-file.
Fischer’s slow but solid play takes no chances, as Spassky is forced to passively wait as there is no way to improve his position. After 37. Qe4, Fischer had improved his own position as much as possible and was ready to blast open the position decisively with an exchange sacrifice to tear black’s kingside open and end the game with a decisive attack.
37. …Nf6 38. Rxf6 gxf6 39. Rxf6 Kg8 40. Bc4 Kh8 41. Qf4 1-0 black resigned
This game is an immaculate example of long-term strategy and the effects of consistent pressure, as Fischer first took the initiative with a series of aggressive maneuvers on the queenside.
Then, Fischer transformed this positional pressure into a favorable minor piece imbalance B vs N – leading to white first placing his pawns on dark squares to complement the light-squared bishop and then opening the position to further emphasize the effectiveness of the unopposed light-squared bishop.
Fischer’s patient strategy enabled him to squeeze his opponent as Spassky was simply unable to generate any sort of counterplay. Fischer finished the game with perfect coordination – transforming his central control, strong bishop, past pawn and superior activity into a decisive kingside attack.