Endgame Techniques: Shouldering. Part 1

In this article I would like to show you “shouldering,” an endgame strategy that in my opinion is not given enough attention in specialized books. Most books covering the endgame are full of matters concerning “zugzwang,” “opposition,” etc., leaving this topic, which is no less important, to always take a back seat.

In the endgames, something quite peculiar happens between both kings. They are the only pieces that cannot directly threaten or capture each other. This nuance becomes important in the final stages of the game, especially during pawn endgames, rook endgames, and pawn versus rook endgames. Here we can see an example from the famous Ukrainian player Mikhail Zinar.

White to play

Shouldering 2
White to play

Here, we can see a direct route to go to capture the pawn, but this only leads to a draw, with: 1.Kc4 Kf2 2.Kb5 Ke3 3.Kb6 Kd4 4.Kxb7 Kc3.

Instead, White must prioritize using their king to prevent their opponent from organizing their defense. With this in mind, the simple solution is 1.Ke2! Thus, the white king “shouldered” its counterpart, stopping them from achieving an active role in the endgame. 1…Kg2

2.a4 Once the rival doesn’t have any useful moves it is advised that the pawn advance. 2…Kg3

3.Ke3 Kg2

4.a5 Kf1 Now, with a much more promising situation, the king begins its triumphant journey to the queenside.

5.Kd4 1-0.

I learned a lot about chess endgames by using “An Endgame Expert – GM Igor Smirnov” and I recommend it if you want to learn more on the topic.

White to play

White to play

Let’s study another useful example from IM Leopold Mitrofanov.

1.Rd7! (against 1.Rf7 Black has the following trick 1…Ke4! 2.Re7 Kd5 3.Rd7 Ke6 4.Rd8 Rc5 followed by …Rd5, and winning. Black creates a “bridge” in the Lucena position) 1…Ke4

2.Kg4! (If 2. Kg6, a new trap appears 2…Rc6 3. Kg7 Rc7!) 2…Rc4!

3.Rxd2 Ke3+ 

4.Kg5 Kxd2 

5.h4 Ke3 

6.h5 Rc5+ 

7.Kg4!! Again shouldering saves the game. (7.Kg6? won’t work because of 7…Kf4 8.h6 Rc6 9.Kg7 Kg5 10.h7 Rc7 11.Kg8 Kg6 12.h8(N) Kf6-+ and the promotion of the knight always loses due to zugzwang when the there’s an a or h pawn) ½–½.

Understanding these subtleties in the endgame is of vital importance to any player that wishes to improve. We’ll continue analyzing this amazing strategic theme in the next article.

Learn The Endgame 1-2-3 – IM Andrew Martin
Endgames For Experts – GM Rustam Kasimdzhanov
Pawn Endgames – IM John-Paul Wallace, GM Jesse Kraai and IM David Vigorito
Beginner Endgame Tips

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