The endgame is a weak point for many average club players. These players mistakenly believe that the endgame is easy because there are fewer pieces.
Drawn to the latest trend in opening theory or exciting middlegame strategies with plenty of sacrifices, mating attacks, and tactics, some players don’t pay enough attention to the final phase of the game.
However, this means that players who do have good endgame technique can get lots of easy points and strongly increase their ratings!
The endgame is clearly a very crucial part of the game! In fact, many coaches or advanced players often tell their students or beginner players who want to take the game seriously, that they should start by learning the endgame.
Some players will even lose an endgame, and then superficially pick out a move they made in the opening as the point where they went wrong! This raises the question:
How can we Learn to Handle Endgames in the Right Way?
If you are unsure how to approach a certain aspect of the game, it is always a great idea to look for a role model, a chess player with superb endgame technique.
We can learn a lot by simply analyzing the games of the masters. A chess player with an outstanding endgame technique is the World Chess Champion and world number 1, Magnus Carlsen.
Magnus’ excellent physical shape helps him to concentrate even after four or five hours of play. When many of his rivals become tired and start to play inaccurate moves, Magnus Carlsen seizes his chance and squeezes wins out of seemingly equal endgame positions.
In his latest video, GM Damian Lemos analyzes Magnus Carlsen’s best chess endgames and tries to figure out the reasons for his success at this important stage of the game.
Magnus Carlsen’s Best Chess Endgames
Let’s dive right into the world of endgames:
Sinquefield Cup 2015: Magnus Carlsen – Maxime Vachier Lagrave
The position at hand was reached after White’s 22nd move (see the diagram on the right).
First of all, it is important to figure out the key imbalances in the position.
The material is equal, but White has a bishop against a knight which may be an advantage as there are pawns on both sides of the board.
Moreover, Black has a weak pawn on d7 and White has a doubled pawn on the f-file. In essence, the position should be around equal; maybe White has a very small advantage. Let’s see what happened in the game.
Black played the strong move 22…Qb6. He does not defend his pawn on d7 passively but brings all his pieces to active squares instead.
Magnus replied with a very strong move himself. He played 23.a5!
The idea is to advance the pawn to a6 where it is only two squares away from promoting. Obviously, Black can’t take the pawn as 23…Qxa5 would lose material to 24.Qd4+. 23…Qc5 24.Qxd7 Ra2 25.Qd3! (see the diagram on the left).
Qd3 is another brilliant move by Magnus Carlsen. He gives up the a5-pawn in order to activate his pieces.
If Black plays 25…Rxa5, Magnus would go for 26.Qe2! (protecting f2 and preparing to bring the rook into play in the next move which would be very unpleasant for Black).
For this reason, GM Vachier-Lagrave left his rook on the second rank and improved the position of his king – 25…Kg7. But now Magnus had the chance to play 26.a6, putting his pawn on a dangerous square.
The reason why the pawn on a6 is so dangerous becomes clear if we skip a few moves ahead and take a look at the position after 34 moves (see the diagram on the right).
The queens have been exchanged and Black has managed to win back his pawn. However, White’s pieces are very active now.
Magnus went for 35.Rb7! He attacks the pawn on a7 and Black can’t play 35…Re7 to defend his pawn, as White has the strong resource 36.Bh3! (see the diagram on the left). Black is in trouble.
He can’t take the rook on b7 as White’s pawn would simply promote. Moreover, White threatens to take the knight in the next move. Black is lost here.
For this reason, Black had to play 35…Re1+. Afterward, Magnus won the endgame with precise play and great technique.
If you want to see the rest of the game and some more instructive and common ideas in the endgame, you definitely need to watch the whole video and listen to the explanations by GM Lemos.
Being Accurate in the Endgame
After a few hours at the board, most players will find themselves getting tired and will be more open to mistakes. But not Magnus Carlsen! His play is so accurate, he even spots how a natural looking move would have been a mistake. Let’s see:
Biel 2007: Magnus Carlsen – Bu Xiangzhi
We start with the position on the left.
At this point, White has an advantage due to the bishop pair, which is especially useful in open positions such as this.
Black’s knight on c2 is not well placed (it would be far better placed, for example, on c6). White has the initiative.
White also has the idea of playing Rb7 and Bc4, putting pressure on the f7 pawn.
It is Black to move. …Bf8. In practice, it is hard for Black to find something useful here, and Bf8 is actually a mistake. Carlsen responds with Bd1.
This is a good move, as it sets up for the bishop to move to b3 where it will attack f7. Unlike on c4, on b3 the bishop is protected by the a-pawn and avoids giving Black any counterplay.
For example, if Carlsen had played Bc4, Black has an amazing resource – one that is tough to find and easily missed.
Yet, Carlsen clearly spotted these ideas and played extremely accurately! After Bc4, Black could play …b5! If White captures the pawn with the bishop, it loses the other bishop.
If White captures the pawn with the rook then …Na3 forks the bishop and rook, and White loses a piece! See the diagram on the right.
Yet Bc4 is a move that most of us would have played, missing the …b5 resource. It looks natural, after all. After Bd1, the game continued with …Nb4.
The knight isn’t very good, so Black decides to trade it. Bxb4 …Bxb4 Bb3 and the game is an opposite-colored bishop endgame, where White is much better due to the attack on f7, and due to the fact that Black’s pawn on d4 is poorly placed and can be a target for attack.
So what was Black’s best defensive option instead of …Bf8? Be sure to watch the video to find out, and for more in-depth analysis of this, and other, Magnus Carlsen endgames.
Want to improve your chess endgames and expertly dismantle your opponent, just like Magnus Carlsen?
Most people associate getting better at chess with 8 hour long sessions studying the intricacies of rook and pawn endings. Truth is, there are a number of “quick fixes” we can all apply to our game to start taking down even our toughest rivals. GM Damian Lemos reveals his top tips for rapid chess improvement in his free email course.
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