Thursday, August 5, 2010

Maybe They Should Call It Recess

Endgame study just sounds so dry. Maybe endgame recess would be a better marketing idea. These gems are valuable in so many ways. Firstly, they are simply another way to enjoy the game of chess, like solving chess problems or following the world championship games. Too often it seems we fall into the trap of thinking that playing a rated over-the-board tournament game is the only "real" way to enjoy chess. Secondly, endgame studies usually have a lot to teach us about endgame principles, and often other aspects such as tactical themes. Though they are usually composed, these positions do contain ideas that can be used in your own games. And thirdly, endgame studies can be used as a tool for building visualization skills. This is an idea that I hadn't previously thought of that I found in my new Soltis book: Studying Chess Made Easy. Since the endgame usually involves fewer pieces, the positions are ideal for practicing calculation. As Soltis mentions, even looking at the solution to find the correct first move and then going back to the position to practice visualizing is a great help.

Here's a study (White to Move and Win) which can be found in Fred Reinfeld's last effort: 200 Brilliant Endgames. He credits it to Birnov in 1970. I like this one a lot because it is very simple (just 2 kings and 2 pawns on the board!), and yet you are almost sure to jump for the wrong solution at first glance! And finding or seeing the correct solution leads you to more than one valuable lesson.

Want to try more? You could buy a book, but you can get a quicker start online. For example, Chess Cafe has a regular Endgame Study feature and also a monthly column by Karsten Mueller called Endgame Corner which also usually features them. You can also find a weekly selection at Chess Vibes, visit a club for the smitten at ARVES, or read back issues of EG, the magazine for enthusiasts.

Still looking for the solution to the Birnov study? Check it out below the fold:

  (1.f5? a5 2.f6 (Ke2 a4 3.f6) 2... a4 3.f7 a3 4.f8Q a2)
1... a5 2.Kd3 a4
  (2... Kb2 3.f5 a4 4.f6 a3 5.f7 a2 6.f8Q a1Q 7.Qb4+ Ka2 8.Kc2)
3.Kc3 a3 (3... Kb1 4.Kb4) 4.Kb3 Kb1


Pushing the pawn right out of the gate leads to a draw! But threatening your opponent's pawn clears the way for a win. If Black abandons his pawn advance to block with his king on b2 he finds that White's new king position puts him close enough to support mating tactics after queening rather than allowing the room for Black's drawing tricks. If Black continues his advance, White simply strolls right by the black monarch and picks up the pawn!

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