Saturday, August 16, 2014

Endgame Study and Tactics

A while back I started to integrate endgame study into my daily tactical exercises, and I believe it is a very powerful training tool.  As I do my daily tactical drills of roughly 50-100 positions:

1. Calculate to find the tactic

2. Evaluate the final material balance AND THEN
3. Ask myself how comfortable I am with the resulting endgame.

After doing my set of tactical exercises, I pick one or two of the resulting endgame positions to play against my strongest computer.

To let off some steam, sometimes I pick an endgame I know really well and just go crush Fritz 13! Other times I pick endgames I don't feel completely confident playing.  I open my best endgame book(s), find the chapter on that position, and look for:

· key techniques used to win

· key defensive techniques
· critical positions to remember

The goal is not to become an expert on the particular endgame.  The goal is to become familiar with a broad range of practical endgame positions.  Focus on understanding the three points above, and then take a run at beating Fritz.  (If you are a nerd like me – I mean, umm, if you have the time and dedication – keep a journal of the endgame positions you select.  Print out the position, and write down the key winning/defensive techniques, and print out any critical positions.  Review them occasionally.)

Integrating endgame study into tactical exercises does three things:

· Improves Visualization (a key component of calculation)

· Improves Evaluation (a critical step in calculation)
· Improves Endgame skills (knowledge and technique)

Visualization: In order to evaluate the final position, you first have to clearly ingrain the final position in your mind. That is a good way to practice the stepping stone technique Tisdall recommended in "Improve Your Chess Now".

Evaluation: Determining the material balance is the most basic evaluation you have to do.  Otherwise, how do you know if your tactic did anything good for you? But asking yourself if you know how to win the resulting endgame helps your evaluation tremendously.  Practicing that endgame tells you if your evaluation was correct!!

Endgame Skills: These are real endgame positions that pose complicated problems for you to solve. Often our endgame studies are done in a vacuum, meaning we learn theoretical positions that may not arise in a real game. We shy away (or at least I do) from messy positions with a mix of pawns, rooks and minor pieces because they’re so very hard.

Even if you don't have the time or dedication (or nerdiness) take the last step of trying to play out the position, the simple step of including the question "Do I know this endgame?" as part of your evaluation process is very helpful.

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