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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Endgames


             In order to improve your game, you must study the endgame before everything else. For whereas the endings can be studied and mastered by themselves, the middle game and end game must be studied in relation to the end game. - Jose Capablanca

In my own experience, the main benefits are often realized when the endgames you have studied never make it onto the board. Endgames often arise in variations, and it's important to develop a good 'feel' for which ones are likely to pose practical problems for the opponent. Likewise, the confidence to simplify into an inferior but tenable endgame safe in the knowledge that you know how to handle it is invaluable. - Luke McShane

      Good advice, but few follow it.  Most average players think they should wait until they are 1800, or 2000, or some other elevated rating before they tackle endgame study, but that approach is, according to Capa, wrong. 
      Endgames are boring…leftovers! For most players it is more fun to study openings and tactics. The merit of studying openings is often the result of unscrupulous authors who sell the idea that if you play a certain opening, you will win more games.  Of course what usually happens is once your opening knowledge runs out (sometimes at move 1) then you will play to your rating.
      Tactics study is the in thing now because most games, especially between amateurs, are decided by tactics.  Unfortunately a major shortcoming with this is that you usually know beforehand that there is a tactical solution and sometimes, even what the end result is supposed to be…win of material, mate, etc. Other that CJS Purdy I am not aware of any writer that emphasizes the points that 1) most positions will not have a sound combination available and 2) what the telltale signs that there may be a combination hiding in a position. Of course, tactics are aesthetically pleasing and that makes them fun.
      Knowledge of the endgame can score points because if you have a good middlegame position and there are no sound tactical solutions or promising plans, reaching a favorable ending may be the best solution.  This is especially true if you have a decent understanding of endings because most lower rated players don’t and like many things in life, just a little more knowledge than your peers is often all you need for success.
      Another benefit of endgame study is that it helps your calculating ability and endings often involve things that are sometimes regarded as ‘minor details’ in the middlegame…weak squares, tempo, and such like, but you can really appreciate them in the ending.
      One of the best endgame authors is Dvoretsky but his encyclopedic works are aimed at masters and above. Books are good, but there also exists plenty of other ways to study endings.  Chessvideos for example.   Also, good endgame DVDs are available.  You should know basic checkmates, King and single pawn endings, for example. Silman’s Complete Endgame Course is a good place to start.
       Watching videos and playing endings with the help of an engine are easy and fun, but don’t require much effort and it’s easy to just passively watch or mindlessly play through an ending without giving much thought to the whole process. When playing through endings with an engine it has been recommended that you should first let the engine play the side that is to win or draw then switch sides. This is a good method because it allows you to be interactive and try out different ideas.

Here are some helpful sites on endings:

Shredder endgame database -  you can setup any position with 6 men or less to get the result for that position.  The results for all legal moves are shown and you can step forward and backward through the analysis.

Chessending is a site with 400 endgames for study.  Even though it has not been updated for several years, it still is a good place to find instructive endings. Editor Brian G. E. Gosling summarizes endings as follows:

Basic Endings. These are theoretical positions where the correct result with optimum play by both sides is known.
Practical Endings. These occur in over-the-board play where usually more pawns are present. Endgame strategy is very different from the middlegame and has its own set of rules and exceptions.
Endgame Studies. These are positions which have been composed and will contain elements of one or both of the above types of endings. But there are important differences between these types and the study, such as artistic form and economy of construction. An endgame study has to follow strict rules of composition, especially if it is entered into a composing competition. One of these rules states there should only be one solution.

All these are interrelated and important and you cannot understand (b) or (c) without a knowledge of (a).

      

      If you’re really ambitious this is an endgame tablebase generator for Windows.  Unlike Nalimov tablebases, FinalGen is able to solve chess positions with 7 or more pieces. Unlike chess programs, FinalGen produces the theoretical value (win, loss, or draw) rather than a mere evaluation.
       You can pause and resume the generation process at any time. It displays statistic information such as the estimated time remaining, the required hard disk space and the number of positions calculated.
       It is absolutely free and is available in English, French, Spanish, Russian, German and Italian.

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