Saturday 3 November 2012

Improvement in Chess - The Endgames

The last two articles about improvement in chess (at least in this serial) will be about the aspects of chess which can be learnt on the same way as we can learn mathematics or history.
It is the theoretical knowledge which is necessary to excel at the openings and the endgames.
Today, I shall write about the endgames but again, there will not be many practical examples.

The endgames are the most under-rated part of chess trainings. Obviously, if we want to win the games, we need to know some techniques like mating with two bishops, or with a knight and a bishop.
This knowledge is strictly theoretical.
As our level in chess improves, we needs to know larger number of this theoretical positions.
It is like in the openings, when we are rated about 1600 in Elo, we don´t need to know so much opening theory (although some players knows a way over their level, but that just can´t help them to get better results) as we are not going to meet the opponents which can test our variations.
When we improves to the level, let´s say of 1900 in Elo, then we know much more about some openings.
It is very similar in the endgames.
On the 1600 Elo level, we needs to know how to draw the next position:

Of course, it is the  known defence on the sixth rank.
This is just a theory. You should considered a knowledge about this position just as the knowledge of the introductory moves of The Queen´s Gambit.
As every purely theoretical knowledge, it is of course possible to learn much more complicated endgames even if our level is way below of needs for such an endgame.
This can be compared with the openings, when a player on the level of 1700 in Elo can blitz out the long variation in The Sicilian Defence, but he doesn´t understand many of the moves.
Same is possible in the endgames but if somebody don´t understand the position, then the pure theoretical knowledge is of no use, as it is highly possible that experienced player will understand very quickly what is going on, and just trick his opponent somehow (...and yes it is fair!).

For example, here is the very common endgame which should end in a draw, but of course we need to have some theoretical knowledge.
There is a couple of drawing methods here, but the most simplest is Dautov´s drawing method which starts with:


There is no need to go deeper in problematic of this endgame as my point is not to show how is this a draw but to write about the levels of theoretical knowledge in the endgames.
This example is already the title players level.
What I mean with that?
Is it not possible for 2100 player to draw this endgame against another 2100 player?
Of course it is, but the moment when a player is sure that he can make a draw against every player in the World, then he or she can considered that endgame as his theoretical knowledge level in the endgames.
It is highly possible that some 2500 player would win this position with white pieces about every 2100 player (despite of how much work a 2100 puts in this endgame).
On the opposite, if a 2400 player devoted enough time and study the details and typical plans in this endgame, there is a high possibility that he/she would make a draw against 2800 player.
That means that this position is important for the title players and they should work on it!
It is possible that many of the title players would not devote enough time on this endgame, and some of them would make a draw over the board and some of them would not.
It depends on general principles and the level of general level in the endgames.
However, every serious player has many openings databases, with all kind of the openings files and analysis.
The few of them has an database of typical endgames.
It is essential to do.
It depends on the player level, it has to contain the endgames which one should win/draw against the very best players.

If you have the complicated endgames for your level in the endgames database it is the same  mistake if you don´t have database at all!

Occasionally you can delete some of the endgames from your database when your level became higher (you don´t need sixth rank defence if you are 2000 Elo player, but still needs it if you are 1800 player), and fill it with more advanced examples.
It is the work in the process and a database should contain about 150-200 positions.
It sounds like a quite a big number but look at this in the following way.
We have seven types of simple endgames:

  • Pawns endgames
  • Knights endgames
  • Knight vs. Bishop endgames
  • The opposite colour bishops endgames
  • The same colour bishops endgames
  • Rooks endgames
  • Queens endgames
If we have about 10 position in every type of the endgames, we are already up to the 70 endgames.
Of course that we need more than 10 rook´s endgames, but about 6-7 knight´s endgames would be enough.
There are also many endgames which are very important and are not on the previous list.
They are mostly the endgames in which:
  •  One piece fights against the one or more pawns
  •  Endgames in which we have an advantage of exchange
  •  Queen against rook , and all variations of that (side with rook has one or many pawns)
  •  Rook + minor piece against a rook
As we can see, it is very easy to get about 150 in our database.
All what I wrote up to this point was just about theoretical endgames, which can be just learnt.

In theoretical endgames we need to learn what to do but not how to think.

A good sight is that the theory of the theoretical endgames doesn´t change in a way as the openings theory does.
A book from the 1955 or from the 1990 can be as actual as a book from 2009.
There are a few changes which was noticed when table databases are invented ( For example, two bishops wins against knight), and some positions were inflicted by the computers (For example, a knight and four pawns against a knight and three pawns on the same side was considered as a wins but computer showed that this is just a draw).
However, as your opening book from the 1960 is worthless, an endgame book from the same period is more than 90% accurate.

The real mastery in the endgames is however in something else.
How to play good in the endgames is much more complicated question and it is not easy to answer.
I would be wrong from me to just say that it is a matter of general strategy.
In a way it is, and the process of training can be the same, a lot of analysis and a method of comparison (you can read an article about strategy) can be strongly recommend, but there is a one more important think.
In the endgames we need to think differently, to think in the endgames way.
How quickly we can switch from the middlegame mode to the endgame mode during the games is another question.

This is a position from the game:
Michael de Verdier - Rickard Engman  Malmö 2012

The main plan for white is to play for e3-e4 break.
Despite blundering a whole pawn, Micke and I found that White has full compensation for the pawn, and the one possible way to play was:

19. Bxf5, Bxf5
20. e4

White would get his full pawn centre or advance e4-e5 on the very next move. The further plan is to advance with f-pawn and to play on h-file. A nature of play is very dynamic (both sides has own play on the opposite wings and it is hard to asses who is quicker) and the pawn less doesn´t matter.
However, Micke kept his bishop pair and played:

19. Qf2, Qg3
20. Qxg3, Nxg3
21. Kf2, Nf5

They got following position:

Michael is a player with a very good positional sense and his endgame play is also above his normal level.
In this position, however, he failed to found the right way.
He played for e4-break:

22. e4 ?

...and his position was suspicious, although he won later on.
The right way was:

22. g4!

Our analyse showed that White probably has a little more than a full compensation for the pawn.
We can see that Michael didn´t switched from the middlegame mode to the endgame mode, as in the endgame an importance of e3-e4 break and a full centre e4-d4 was much less significant than in the middlegame.
After 22. g4 White will push Black´s knight on h5 and than with Rh1 force Black to weaken his kingside with g6.
In that moment the very interesting idea is to push a3-a4 in order to play Bc1-Ba3 and if it is possible later on to play f3-f4 with Nd2-Ne5.
In any moment it is possible to sacrifice an exchange with Rh1xh5.
As we can see, the strategy in the endgames is quite different from a strategy in the middlegames.
To master these strategies, one need to analyse huge number of endgame masters games.
There are huge number of them. Ulf Andersson, Michail Botvinnik, Anatoly Karpov, Vladimir Kramnik, Akiba Rubinstain are just some of them.
When analysing these games we should do exactly the same as we do when we are trying to improve our strategy in the middlegames.
The method of comparison is crucial.

Coming soon, Improvement in chess - The Openings....

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