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How To Play Chess Endgames? A Complete Guide

Endgames are one of the most beautiful yet complex things ever. I’m sure every professional chess player would agree with this. 

“But why?” you’d ask. 

Because playing with fewer pieces on board could actually make you think more!

Let me be honest – learning chess endgames can be boring to many. But what people do not know is that learning and playing chess endgames well gives you a crucial edge over many. 

So if endgames are that important, how do you go about them? For beginners especially, this question always makes them wonder – how to play chess endgames?

Here, I am going to simplify certain important principles and give you tips on how to play chess endgames.

Endgame Rules You Must Remember!

Any difficult or complex thing can get simplified if you follow the rules that guide it. 

Similarly, for chess endgames, there exist certain principles that help you in comfortably deal with various positions. 

The more you get in tune with these rules, the easier you start finding the endgame positions. So let’s take a look at the important ones –

1. Manage your Time Well 

This is the most practical endgame tip that I’d give. Endgame is the final phase of the game. So it is but natural that you’ll have less time on the clock as compared to what you would have in the opening or middlegame. 

Hence, managing your time well should be one of your priorities. You can play simpler moves faster so that you can save more time for moves that are actually crucial. 

Along with this, if you are able to create time pressure for your opponent in the endgame, then it would be a cherry on top. This is because the lesser time they have, the more difficult it will be to counter all your threats. 

2. Activate Your King and Centralize It 

The key difference between middlegame and endgame is that the king becomes active in the endgame. You need to treat your king as a piece rather than something that needs to be protected (like you do in the middle game).

The reason is that with fewer pieces on board, you have to utilize all your pieces to the maximum. The king can provide essential support and control of squares. Its placement can make or break the game in most endgames. 

And because there are lesser pieces in this phase, your king won’t be in danger of getting checkmated from your opponent’s pieces.

Instead of keeping it tucked in the corner, centralize your king so that it can reach either side of the board whenever necessary. 

Believe me, most of the endgames, especially the ones with pawns or minor pieces, are decided because of the king’s activity and placement.

Centralized king

3. Use the Principle of Two Weaknesses to Your Benefit 

When there is only a single weakness in your opponent’s camp, there is a good chance that they might defend it. No matter how smartly you try to attack that weakness, your opponent might just hold the position somehow.

But when you create another weakness in their camp and attack both of these points simultaneously, it will put immense pressure on your opponent. Realistically, defending the two weaknesses efficiently, especially in the endgame is next to impossible. 

And that is how many endgames are won!

Two weaknesses on b6 and f6 will be attacked constantly!

4. Avoid the Creation of Pawn Weaknesses

Based on the same principle as the point above – With lesser pieces on board, it is more difficult to tend to your own weaknesses as well. Pawns especially are more vulnerable when they are isolated, doubled or scattered. 

You should think carefully before making any pawn advance. Unlike pieces, pawns cannot retreat. Once they are advanced, they can only go forward! 

Hence their movement should be carefully planned.

If you do have a pawn weakness, try to exchange it if possible. Removing your own weaknesses and creating new ones for your opponent is a great way to move forward!

White’s weak pawns

5. Keep your Pieces as Active as Possible

The more active your pieces are, the better your chances are to acquire critical squares. In the endgame especially, controlling important squares is the way to go as it will help you put more pressure on your opponent.

Minimizing your opponent’s activity while maximizing your own, is an excellent way to increase your chances of scoring the full point. Put your pieces in optimal squares where they have maximum mobility. 

Identify pieces that need improving and search for a better square for them where they can be maneuvered. Exchanging such a piece is also an option, especially with your opponent’s strong piece.

6. Be Mindful of Your Exchanges 

In endgames, the whole situation and equation of the position can change in a split second if you aren’t alert. Exchanges are one such medium that can completely overturn a position. 

For example, if you give up your good piece for your opponent’s bad piece, then it will result in your opponent getting the upper hand.

Keeping this in mind, you should calculate well and decide if a particular exchange is necessary or not. Especially in pawn endgames, maintaining a particular structure is often important. Hence, tactfully choosing which exchange to undertake and where to keep maintaining the tension is essential.

7. Prophylaxis

This is an extremely powerful tool once you master its use properly. Get inside your opponent’s head and think about how they are thinking.

If you understand what their ideas are, you’ll anticipate that and even prepare nasty plans against it.

As I’ve talked about it in ‘How to play middlegames’, not letting your opponent execute their ideas can be very frustrating for them. And we have to use exactly that to our advantage.

Sometimes it so happens that there isn’t a good plan available for us at a particular moment. In that case, you can take a pause in thinking of your plan and instead destroy what your opponent is planning. 

This is the strategy that World champions like Anatoly Karpov and Mikhail Botvinnik are famous for!

8. Create a Passed Pawn 

Having a passed pawn is like having a dangling sword over your opponent’s head. You never know when your opponent could slip and your passed pawn would become unstoppable and eventually turn into a mighty Queen.

The possibility not only keeps your opponent on their toes but also restricts them from undertaking expansion on other parts of the board. 

To add to this, if you have a protected passed pawn, then that is icing on the cake. That your pawn doesn’t need protection from other pieces. Your army is now free to take action on another side.

The power of pawns in endgames is unreal! To think that the least valued pieces in the opening and middlegame can actually make or break a game is amazing!

Protected c4 pawn restricts the White king

9. Keep your Rook behind your Passed Pawn 

If you are playing a rook endgame and you have passed a pawn, always remember to support it from behind. The simple reason is that you have more space and freedom when your rook is behind the pawn.

Another important reason is that the rook itself shouldn’t obstruct the pawn’s path to promotion. If the rook is in front, then at some point it will have to move away from the file to make way for the pawn. And your opponent can use that small window to attack or capture your important pawn.

10. If you have a Material Advantage, Exchange as much as possible 

Think of it as simple maths – when you have one or more extra pieces or pawns, if you exchange the rest with your opponent’s counterparts, you will be left with one or two more!

Hence, exchanging pieces in such situations is a simple and foolproof way to walk towards victory without much complications. 

In the endgame, you have to keep things as simple as possible. The more clarity you have in your head, the easier you will deal with the position. The rules mentioned above will greatly help you in this process!

Additional Tips on How to Prepare for Endgames 

The confidence with which you play onboard has also something to do with your preparation beforehand. That is because when you know you have practiced a particular position or concept before, you execute it with conviction on board when the time comes.

Here are some additional tips on how to prepare for endgames so that you can play them even better in a real game –

1. Be Well Aware of the Basic Checkmates 

Knowing all the important checkmates is super important as it can save you crucial time on board. Though it may seem like an easy task, certain mates, especially the bishop + knight one, can really make your head spin if you don’t know it beforehand.

Knowing the king + queen, king + rook, two bishops, and bishop + knight mates is extremely important. 

There are various move rules as well – such as if both players don’t make a pawn move or an exchange for 50 moves then it is a draw. 

When you are well-versed with your mating pattern, you can assure yourself that you won’t overstep that move limit.

2. Solve Endgame Studies to Enhance Calculation 

Endgame studies are compositions created by famous composers. They are mostly positions that do not arise out of real games but are artificially created. 

The biggest benefit of solving such studies is that it helps you in getting faster at your calculations. It teaches you how to consider many different possibilities when there are few pieces left on board. It stretches your mind’s thinking horizon.

If your calculation is fast then it means you are saving time on the clock. And we all know the importance of having a time advantage over our opponent in the endgame, right? (Suggested Read: What happens when a chess clock runs out of time?)

3. Practice Playing Endgame Positions with a Training Partner 

The more you practice a particular concept, the easier you can deal with it when it actually happens. Similarly, when you play a variety of endgame positions with a strong training partner, you can familiarise yourself with the possible human responses to those moves.

This experience is important as you have to play against a human at the end of the day. 

No amount of engine analysis can prepare you for the actual battle that you have to undertake against a real person in the tournament. You can recreate those conditions with your training partner while practicing.

4. Read a lot of Endgame Books 

There are some great books out there that highlight the importance of key concepts while playing endgames. The more you look at such positions, the more ingrained those concepts become in your brain.

You can check out my articles on the best chess books for beginners and the best chess books for intermediate players.

You wouldn’t even realize how your brain recognizes patterns in tournaments and recreates those concepts on board!

These additional tips will serve as an extra push that would put you on the path to being an endgame expert from the beginning. 

Conclusion

In the end, I would like to mention that learning and playing endgames depend on your perspective. They can be pretty easy to deal with if you approach them in the right way. Or else they can be pretty boring. 

But the important thing is – you need to do it either way. So you might as well have fun on your way!

I hope this lesson gave you critical insight into how to play chess endgames. Do follow the rules and keep adding to the list in order to simplify your endgame play for yourself!

And by the end of this lesson, we have also completed our Chess basics: The complete beginner’s guide on how to play chess series.

I hope you have understood whatever I discussed with you so far.

Now, what are you waiting for? Start playing chess games and apply all the concepts you learned till now! Thank You 🙂