Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The endgame is hard

I no longer lose all my games because of tactical blunders in the middlegame. In fact, I have started to fairly consistently out-tactic my similarly-rated opponents. On the other hand, because my opponents are getting better, my material advantage (and mating prowess) is usually not enough to mate before the endgame, so we wind up in the damned endgame. The endgame is my new Official Weakest Area. I typically proceed to blow it, often losing theoretically won games.

Because of this I've starting to study some endgame material, starting with Pandolfini's Endgame Course. This book is typical Pandolfini: he doesn't provide a coherent, clearly articulated, conceptual framework for the endgame or any aspect thereof. He is generally a lazy writer. For instance, he doesn't name key positions like the Lucena (which is in there I think), and what he calls the Philidor position is not what other people call it.

But like his other lazy, unsystematic books, in practice it seems pretty helpful. It consists simply of two hundred thirty-seven positions, one per page, that he thinks are important for beginners to know. His treatment of the BNK vs K mate is quite nice. He builds up to the key position (Position 24) after providing eight useful intermediate positions. It took me about an hour to master this mate using his book, as opposed to about ten hours the first time I learned it using a slightly different pattern.

I am presently working on QK vs RK mates, and have spent about a half hour on the following position which he calls the Philidor Position (white to move and win):

For this position, we get the following from Pandolfini: 1. Qe4+ Kg8 2. Qa8+ Kh7 3. Qe8 (1-0). The evaluation is because we are now back at the original position, but with black to move, and there is nothing good for him here. Pandolfini examines a couple of possibilities: If 3....Kh6, then Qf8; if 3...Rg8 4. Qh5 mate; if 3...Rg1, then 4. Qe4+ Kg8 5. Qa8+ Kh7 6. Qa7+. And then Pandolfini says "Whatever else black tries leads to a similarly dismal result." While this may be true, I am finding even this apparently trivial problem challenging. After a half hour, I still don't feel I have fully mastered it, much less the more general problem of QK vs RK, which apparently is quite difficult in theory.

The endgame is all about slowing down and thinking through concrete variations, and that's what Pandolfini's book is aimed at. The book will be a good complement to a more wordy, explanation-heavy book that provides general principles in addition to concrete examples.

One bit of advice for other patzers embarking on endgame competence: enter the positions in Fritz and play them out there. Fritz has found many errors in my thinking that I don't find on my board: I'm just not good enough at the endgame to trust my intuitions. Also, this lets you slightly tweak the positions to determine how different the board can look for the general solution to still work (e.g., in the above position what if the king is not at f6? What if black doesn't play one of Pandolfini's moves: he acts like the solution is trivial, but you might be surprised: e.g., what if black plays 3...Ra7 or Rc7?). Also, it helps to practice the same position at different locations on the board, to try to see the pattern regardless of where it is on the board.

Note the above position received a nice discussion from Scirius here.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

KQ vs KR is a draw (usually). Once was thought that it was won because you can always reach the Philidor position. Recent analysis with endgame tablebases showed that this is not the case. The KR-side has much more resources than once thought. There are probably not much people who can play it correct though.

12/26/2006 11:50:00 AM  
Blogger Zweiblumen said...

I both love and hate Pandolfini's book. It is much less a manual than I'd hoped for, but as you go through it you start to realize that he is covering some key positions, and that a lot of what you need is there. His KPvK stuff is pretty reasonable, if you can wade through the needlessly pithy writing.

My plan for a while has been, when I finally pick up Fritz, to put all the positions in that book into them and play them against the computer. Also, while bored I sometimes go through the positions and try to decide whether they'd be losing or drawing if the side to play were reversed. Pretty simple on a lot of them, but a reasonable exercise.

I could do with a better "intro to the endgame" book, though. Silman has one coming out soon, though I haven't heard anything about its quality. Some people say that the Lev Alburt "Just the Facts" series endgame book is good. Znozko-Borovsky's is good but dense, and Muller and Lamprecht is a bit weighty to be used as a course, I feel.

Anyone have good endgame course book recs?

12/26/2006 01:07:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Zweiblumen: I have ordered Silman's book. I'll put up a mini-review as soon as I get it. My hope is high.

Seirewan's book 'Winning Chess Endings' looks pretty good, but I haven't worked through it.

As a first endgame book, Pandolfini definitely needs to be supplemented with something that explains things in terms of more general principles, and from a more explanation-heavy perspective.

12/26/2006 01:57:00 PM  
Anonymous Sciurus said...

I just re-started working through Pandolfini's Endgame Course again, too, after I put it to the side earlier this year. I agree with zweiblumen that the KP vs. K stuff is nice and for me as a novice it is still suprising how many drawing chances a lone king has. However, the general principles like "critical squares" are scattered through the examples forcing me to take notes for myself - I simply cannot keep things in my memory...

Something more wordy would be nice. Looking forward to your mini-review of Silman's new book.

12/26/2006 02:48:00 PM  
Blogger funkyfantom said...

"Essential Chess Endings" by James Howell is a very highly esteemed book-

It's pretty much the next step after graduating from Pandolfini.

And don't forget the totally unique endgame experience - Van Perlo's endgame tactics book!

The vast majority of my wins against similarly-rated opposition occur in the ending, against people whose endgame technique is relatively poor compared with their opening and middlegame skills.

12/26/2006 05:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Chessbuzz said...

Lev Alburt "Just the Facts" endgame series is excellent...highly recommended.

12/26/2006 05:13:00 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

KQ vs KR is always a win (except for degenerate cases such as an immediate stalemate). For example, see Mueller & Lamprecht, FUNDAMENTAL CHESS ENDINGS, section 10.2A (p. 331). It is true that it is harder than people used to think, but it is still a win.

12/26/2006 05:36:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

sorry, you are right. My memory tricked me again. What I mean is that I couldn't win it from the computer with the usual suggested approach.

12/26/2006 06:06:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I found the Chessmaster 9000 Josh Waitzkin endgame course (and other lectures) to be extremely helpful for endgames, although the calculation there are probably 1500+ tactically.

12/27/2006 05:01:00 PM  
Blogger BlunderProne said...

I have Pandolfini's "Endgame Course" as well as Lev alburt's "Just the facts". I like Lev Alburt's ( and Dzindi'z) book MUCH better. I also have Dvortskey's Endgame CD I use when I am too lazy to open a book ;)

12/27/2006 10:41:00 PM  
Blogger GM- Grande Merda said...

I too am finding the endgame very hard to learn. It is indeed a completely different area of chess. I'm using the Müller book and also the Manual by Dvoretsky.

12/28/2006 06:42:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Josh Waitzkin's CM9000 lessons are pure gold.

He doesn't cover a lot of stuff like Q and P, Q vs. R, N and P...

but he DOES cover the most common and most essential endings. Particularly thorough is the stuff on bishop endings-- same color, opposite color, B vs N....

12/29/2006 04:47:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another good book, an alternative to Alburt-Just the facts, is Flear-Improve your endgame. I read it long ago and forgot most of it since. But my games usually dont go to the endgame.

12/29/2006 04:49:00 AM  

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