There are theoretical endgames where memorizing moves helps you hold a position, but principles are more helpful for practical endgame strategy in chess. The key to success is knowing which principle to apply in the position.
In many practical chess endgames, a good strategy is to go slow. However, this principle will prove ineffective if you find yourself in a pawn race, so it’s best to have more than one strategy in your arsenal.
Let’s take a look at three principles you can use to improve your endgame strategy in chess:
- Piece activity.
- Be careful with committal moves.
- Accumulating advantages.
In this video taken from Practical Chess Endgames for Club Players, IM Valeri Lilov shares his insights about accumulating advantages in the endgame.
Include Piece Activity in Your Endgame Strategy in Chess
Correctly evaluating the position is vital in all phases, including the endgame. One of the critical factors to consider in endgame strategy in chess is piece activity.
Are your opponent’s pieces stuck defending other pieces and weak squares? What outposts or open files can you use to increase your piece activity?
When there doesn’t appear to be any good squares for your pieces, look to bring them closer to the center. Ask yourself, “What is my worst placed piece? How can I improve it?”
Centralizing your king is a good strategy in many endgames.
Be careful about exposing your king in queen endgames. You might not get checkmated, but you don’t want to give your opponent the chance to force a draw with a perpetual check.
Piece activity is often more important than material in an endgame!
Grabbing a pawn and having one of your pieces out of play is, more often than not, a bad trade-off. In light of this, it is often a great idea to sacrifice a pawn or even two if it means your pieces become more active.
Look at how Anand activates his knights and improves his position with patient play. A pawn break seals the win when he has all his pieces on their optimal squares.
Be Careful With Committal Moves in Your Chess Endgame Strategy
Apart from endgames with pawn races, patience is a vital virtue to cultivate in your chess endgames. Look to improve your position slowly and carefully!
Advancing your pawns leaves potential outposts for your opponent to exploit. You have fewer pieces to defend these squares in the endgame than in the middlegame.
Regrouping your pieces to improve their activity before initiating contact will give your opponent more time to make mistakes. If your opponent isn’t as patient as you, he will likely weaken his position.
Piece exchanges are committal moves you must not rush into in a chess endgame. The reduced material in the endgame makes exchanging the right pieces important.
Start by looking to exchange your opponent’s active pieces.
When your opponent has the bishop pair, an excellent strategy is to exchange one of the bishops.
In this position, Black’s most active piece is the bishop on c6. Kramnik exchanges it and activates his pawns on the kingside as well.
Accumulating Advantages Is a Crucial Endgame Strategy in Chess
Losing an advantage in the endgame often happens because of imprecise play. Because the benefits you get in the endgame are often small pluses, it takes exact play to keep them.
These small advantages include more active pieces, better pawn structure, and weak squares.
Whenever the position allows, choose to play slowly with maneuvering and regrouping your pieces. Bring all of your pieces into place before attempting to win the endgame with direct tactics.
When you have your pieces placed on their best squares, remember to look for tactical opportunities. Tactics exist in all three phases of the game-opening, middlegame, and endgame – but are sometimes overlooked in the endgame.
Another excellent tactic for converting advantages is the pawn break. Temporary pawn sacrifices can open up a file or create weak squares in your opponent’s position.
The primary purpose behind pawn breaks is to allow your pieces to infiltrate your opponent’s position.
Pawn breaks and sacrifices help create another weakness for your opponent to defend. One weakness is often easily defended, and to win an endgame, you often need to make at least two weaknesses.
Aronian had only the slightest advantage against Svidler in this position, yet one mistake was all it took to give Aronian a decisive advantage.
Many chess players neglect to study the endgame, and yet endgames can become fun with the correct principles to guide you. The lack of time to recover from an error makes endgames exciting to play.
Many players find endgames challenging to play successfully. The time you invest in learning endgames will serve you exceptionally well.
These three principles – active piece play, being careful with committal moves and accumulating advantages – combine very well to help you safely navigate practical chess endgames.
There is much more to learn before you master endgames, but with IM Valeri Lilov as your guide, your journey to endgame mastery is off to an excellent start.
Learn promotion tricks, pawn structure secrets, weak squares, and lots more in this practical 6-hour Endgame Renaissance course. Everything you learn you can apply to your games right away.