I have always felt that the endgame is the easiest phase of chess to learn and to master. For one, the entire body of knowledge is finite. The number of key positions (tabiyas) are known, and new discoveries are extremely rare.
Endgames are also one of the key building blocks to evaluating middlegame positions. Additionally, simple endgames are a great way to develop an appreciation for basic tactical themes, and endgame studies can be a great way to highlight one or more of these basic ideas in entertaining ways. Even the most basic piece configurations can embody multiple tactical motifs. For example, Rook vs Bishop is an easy draw but there are plenty of tactical ideas for both sides:
- all of the line tactics (pins, skewers, discovered attacks/checks),- remove the guard,- double attacks against king and piece,- double attacks vs piece and mating square,- zugzwang,- stalemate, and- domination (usually of the bishop!).
My personal experiment to achieve endgame mastery.
I have studied endgames for many years and own about 30 books plus van der Heijden’s endgame study database, van Perlo’s endgame tactics, and other excellent studies/compositions. But I have never had structure — I just learned endgames that I liked or that I recently lost.
I decided to add some structure and discipline, I broke the endgame down into three basic categories — pieceless endgames, pawnless endgames, and mixed piece/pawn endings. Those are then subdivided into basic/complex. See detailed breakdown below.
After dividing the material this way, I surveyed all 30 or so endgame books in my library to pull out the most instructive positions, along with the most intresting or compelling studies. After reviewing the theory and trying to solve and digest the key positions on my own, I then enter the positions into Chess Position Trainer and review the material on a daily basis for one month before moving on to the next.
Pieceless endgames – this covers all endings with only kings and pawns.
Basic endings here include King vs Pawn, Pawn vs Pawn, 2P vs P, the 3P breakthrough, and other positions that emphasize the rule of the square, key squares, drawing themes, etc. Roughly 160 tabiyas including studies.
Complex endings include multiple pawns for each side with one side having an extra pawn that is already a passed pawn, or a passed pawn can be created due to a majority, and then positions where king penetration is required to win a pawn/promote.
I have completed all of the basic pieceless endings of 160 or so tabiyas, and am ready to move to complex king/pawn positions. I am collecting those tabiyas now.
Pawnless endgames – this covers all endings without pawns, only pieces.
Basic endings here include QvK, RvK, 2RvK, QRvK, two bishops, bishop and knight, QvR (philidor position), QvN, QvB, RvB, RvN, and RBvR (philidor).
Complex endings include QvRB, QvRN, QvBBN, QvR+2minor pieces, Rv2minor pieces, QvR and RBvR defenses (3rd rank, 2nd rank, cochrane, etc), and other irregular heavy/minor piece combinations.
I have completed all of the basic pawnless endings including RBvR and Philidor’s QvR, and am ready to move on to complex. I am collecting those tabiyas now.
Mixed Piece and Pawn endgames – this covers all endings with both pieces and pawns.
Basic endings include Queen(s) and Pawn(s), Knight(s) and Pawn(s), Same-color Bishop(s) and Pawn(s), Opposite-color Bishop(s) and Pawn(s), Knight(s) vs Bishop(s) and Pawn(s), and of course Rook(s) vs Pawn(s).
Complex endings include various configurations of queens, rooks, and minor pieces. This is where the ‘endings are finite’ argument explodes into limitless configurations and complexities.
I have completed all of the basic Queen and Pawn endings (queen vs pawn, and queen and pawn vs queen which can be very tricky — I like Axel Smith’s chapter on it in pump up your rating). I am currently collecting knight(s) and pawn(s) tabiyas.