Endings being really complex in nature, finding the right path to either win or save a half point is definitely no easy task. Hopefully, a few rules exist to help you navigate more safely into their meanders.
So here are 10 endings rules you certainly must know!
Unleash the King’s power
The fewer the pieces on the board, the more powerful the king becomes. Indeed, checkmate threats slowly decrease and allow your king to initiate his fighting spirit by entering the center and getting active both in terms of attacking opponent’s pieces and defending yours. His ability to transform into a stronger unit is perfectly demonstrated in the example below.
Get your rook as active as possible
Rooks are generally the last pieces to be exchanged and constitute thus an important resource in the ending phase. In order to maximize their potential, I invite you to highly consider these 2 points:
Put the rook behind a passed pawn to support its progression as soon as you can
Get the 7th rank (or the 2nd with black obviously) with your rook, ideally to trap the king on the back rank, and also to target opponent’s passed pawns more easily.
Usually prefer the Bishop over the Knight
Usually, endings are more open positions where the bishop will find his comfort.
A more closed landscape may appear, in which case only you will be happy to jump with your knight.
Therefore we will retain here that except in case of locked pawn positions, you will favor having a bishop instead of a knight.
Create passed pawns…
Just like the king, pawns take another dimension in the final phase, mainly thanks to their promotion ability. But due to their limited capacity to move, it is logical that you will aim to free their road and create what we call passed pawns.
… and push them!
You got it; you have your passed pawn. Now, you must not forget to push it! En passant, wing pawns will usually be preferred as they are easier to queen.
So unless the route is mined, plan to move your pawns towards the 8th rank.
Pay attention to the pawn structure
While advancing towards the endgame, you will want to make sure your pawn structure has as few weaknesses as possible. If a problem of isolated or double pawn can still be fixed or compensated more or less easily in the opening or in the middlegame, those types of weaknesses can reveal themselves to be disastrous as more and more pieces disappear.
Note that if you are a beginner or if you need a quick refresh, you can check out this video which quickly summarizes the concept of pawn structure.
That said; let’s check this endgame with the 3 typical problems of weak pawn structure you may face, and how it can lead to a decisive advantage.
From those examples, you have certainly understood that isolated, doubled and backward pawns must be avoided, unless a forced combination gives you the gain.
The general advice is to carefully pay attention to the pawn structure while still in the middlegame and approaching the ending phase. Never forget that any transposition can either make you suffer until the end of the game, or give you the edge depending on the situation.
Know when to exchange the pieces
Another thematic rule in the ending is to exchange pieces when you are ahead by material force. This will simplify the position and help you convert the full point.
On the contrary, when facing a difficult position, maintaining a material balance will be your way to survival. Note that in that sense, knowing some well-known theoretical draws such as the Philidor is more than often a good drawing rescue.
Use your space advantage
Although commonly inherent to the middlegame, you can also benefit from a space advantage in some endgames cases.
The most glaring example which illustrates that is called zugzwang. A player is said to be “in zugzwang” when any possible move will worsen his/her position, as seen in the puzzle below.
Other than the zugzwang situation (which let’s admit it is relatively rare), any remaining piece which will lack possible movements will constitute a serious weakness on which the attacking player can rely on.
In some games, a trapped piece could largely suffice to grab the point.
Target one weakness, and then another one
Approaching the endgame, the attacker will concentrate on creating weaknesses in the opponent’s camp.
For sure, one weakness is better than none but it won’t be sufficient in most cases, especially against resilient adversaries. So the key is to create two weaknesses and make your life easier.
By pursuing that objective, creating pawn weaknesses and using a space advantage will definitely be your main assets.
Rely first on calculation
This last rule is probably the most important one. Before any attempt to follow blindly any other general rule I just mentioned, you must never forget to calculate first. It is commonly known that rules are made to be broken and chess doesn’t make an exception here. While thinking about your next move; you may need to circumvent a rule in order to get a substantial advantage or at least save a draw, exactly like in this endgame.
This ability to find the exception comes mostly with practice and experience. Contrary to what most chess players think, calculation in the final phase is at least as important as in the middlegame and must thus be worked on as well.
Take your time
One last word… As you will progress in the endings area, you will realize more and more that each position really needs to be evaluated independently.
So before any decision, never forget to take your time to reevaluate the position, calculate critical variations, and make sure that your position is well defended. From that good starting point, you will look for tiny improvements using the rules I just gave you.