7 Beginner Chess Endgame Tips (That Work Fast)
Chess can be divided into 3 stages: the opening, middlegame, and endgame. However, beginner chess players frequently dedicate the majority of studying time to good opening play and tactics, ignoring the “boring” positional themes associated with long-term strategy and chess endgame motifs. The importance of endgame understanding and technique in chess should not be underestimated, as the vast majority of chess games do not finish in the opening or middlegame.
It is all too common that chess players of all levels do not pay adequate attention to the importance of developing precise endgame technique, leading to missed opportunities and subsequent feelings of disappointment and embarrassment.
The following 7 Beginner Chess Endgame Tips will have you capitalizing on the slightest endgame advantages in no time!
“Lack of proper endgame technique allows many players to escape from lost positions, even without any spectacular play on their part” – Leonid Shamkovich
Chess Endgame Technique #1: Piece Activity
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First of all, the concept of piece activity is extremely important in any endgame. Are your opponent’s pieces tied to defending passively? Do you have open files or outposts for your pieces? Try to aim for an active setup of your pieces and avoid passive positions.
Piece activity even trumps material in the endgame: Whenever you can, maximize the strength of your pieces and make them as active as possible. Even at the cost of a little bit of material, this can greatly improve your position and help you to win games that may not have seemed winnable at first. Material is often not as relevant as the initiative in endgames. Therefore, let all your pieces participate in the endgame and improve all your pieces to the squares where they have the maximum impact. Don’t forget to play with all of your pieces.
There is one more chess endgame secret about active piece play. Don’t only evaluate the position of your own pieces, but also your opponent’s pieces. A second key endgame technique connected to the principle of piece activity is to identify the opponent’s most valuable and most active piece and to exchange it.
Chess Endgame Technique #2: King Activity
Endgames are fundamentally different from middlegames and openings. The changing role of the king is one of the most important characteristics that separates endgames from middlegames and openings.
The king needs to be well protected in the opening and in sharp middlegame positions. Once you’ve reached an endgame, however, the topic of king activity becomes of paramount importance. An active king can protect weaknesses and control important squares so that more valuable pieces like rooks can be more actively placed and don’t have to fulfill defensive tasks.
However, it’s key to not follow these chess endgame principles blindly. You can regard the tips as guidelines to help you in most endgames, but it can’t be applied to every situation – remember to calculate!
Centralization of the king does not make sense in every kind of endgame: if you have a queen endgame, for example, you need to check whose king is safer.
Chess Endgame Technique #3: Pawn Structure
Pawn structures play a crucial role in the endgame. You need to compare your pawn structure with your opponent’s pawn structure.
Is the pawn structure symmetrical or not? Does your opponent have any weak pawns or weak squares? How many pawn islands do you have? Are there passed pawns or doubled pawns? All these questions need to be addressed in the endgame.
With reduced material in the endgame, pawn weaknesses like doubled pawns, isolated pawns, backward pawns, many pawn islands etc, can turn out to become decisive factors. For this reason, it is key to avoid careless pawn moves in the endgame. Remember: pawns can only move forward, but never backward.
If your pawn structure is bad, try not to exchange too many pieces. The more pieces that come off the board, the more that pawn weaknesses start to count. Good endgame technique allows you to exploit these pawn weaknesses in your opponent’s position.
Chess Endgame Technique #4: Realize Critical Changes in the Position
In chess, some decisions are irreversible. Piece exchanges, for example, can’t be taken back. Although this can be applied to all stages of the game, it is especially important in the endgame because as there is less material remaining, every exchange becomes more significant. Pay attention to all possible long-term changes in the position, especially the pawn structures and any minor piece exchanges.
Of course, there are other important factors to consider such as the initiative, an attack, exchanges of heavy pieces, etc.. – but the main point here is that as more pieces have been exchanged in a chess game, the importance of the remaining pieces goes up.
That’s why you have to think twice about which pieces to exchange in the endgame. Due to the reduced material in endgame position, it is even more important than in middlegames. Make sure you exchange the right pieces.
Chess Endgame Technique #5: Patience is a Virtue – Don’t Hurry
“Patience is the most valuable trait of the endgame player” – Pal Benko
If you impatiently move too fast and make mistakes, it is not conducive to success. Time management is one thing, but impulsively grabbing pieces is another. In the endgame, this principle applies even more – because there are so many subtle tricks that can change the outcome from a win to a draw, or from a draw to a loss. Although you’re not usually going to have a ton of time left in the endgame, you can still employ a patient strategy to make sure you will not let your opponent slip out of a bad position. Don’t play too fast on the clock or on the board, as steady progress will definitely result better than loose moves with tactical holes.
Here are the 3 key endgame rules of patient play:
- Slow, consistent play is key in the endgame. Do not hurry in quiet positions: if the opponent is deprived of active counterplay, try to improve your position before starting any concrete action. Don’t try to win as quickly as possible. Look for the qualitatively best way to win the game.
- Don’t make any committal moves without good reason. Play patiently and improve your position slowly.
- Regrouping your pieces to more valuable squares is the best practical strategy in endgames. Often, your opponents won’t be able to handle your slow and patient play and soon weaken their position even more.
Chess Endgame Technique #6: Schematic Thinking – Form a Plan
In endgames, technique becomes of primary importance. In the majority of practical endgames, it is essential to think in terms of plans. Pure calculation of variations does not help you handle most endgames. You really have to try to thoroughly understand the fundamentals of the position. Only this will enable you to form a plan for your next 5-10 moves or more.
Therefore, schematic thinking is necessary. Thinking in schemes means thinking in small components of a plan. Therefore, you need to define your overall plan at first. An overall strategic plan can be promoting an extra pawn on one side of the board or winning a weak pawn, for example. However, usually, a lot of preparatory work is necessary in order to achieve this goal. You need to come up with several small plans, like improving the position of the pieces, centralization of the king, creating a weakness on the kingside, advancing pawns, suppressing counterplay and so on.
If you’re not sure how exactly you can improve your position in the endgame, it is a good idea to start by improving your worst placed piece.
Chess Endgame Technique #7: Tactics In The Endgame
Tactics also occur in endgames. Black seals the deal with 1…Nxg2! 2.Nxg2 h3! White can’t stop the h-pawn from promoting.
Even seemingly simple endgames can be surprisingly tactical. Sometimes, for example, there are opportunities to checkmate. If your opponent’s king looks vulnerable, see if you can take away the escape squares and trap it.
Moreover, chess endgame tactics are of paramount importance when it comes to converting your accumulated advantages. Most of the time, to finish off the game requires a tactical blow which will convert your advantage into something more concrete. Therefore, good endgame technique and chess tactics often go hand in hand.
Many of the practical endgame strategies presented in this article tend to repeat over and over. These strategies can be seen as guidelines which you can use to navigate more confidently through any endgame you come across in your games. For this reason, you can regard these endgame techniques as a mental toolbox which helps you to play good moves whenever it comes to endgames.