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King and Pawn Endgame Lessons

Endings that involve a king and pawn against a lone king are very common. A thorough knowledge of king and pawn endgame positions will increase your tournament scores.

A king is often the focus of intense attack in the opening and middle game phases of a chess game. It must hide for protection behind pawns and heavy pieces. However, the king is a fighting piece in its own right. It not only can, but should, enter the endgame after all or most of the heavy pieces have been removed from the board. The king can enter the endgame because the board is a much safer place after the heavy pieces have gone to the elephant grave yard. The king should enter the endgame because every fighting resource is usually required to push a pawn to promotion. (Pawn promotion is important because checkmate is difficult to force without at least one heavy piece.) The king should support his remaining forces and lead his pawns to their ultimate destiny; a win or a draw.

Speaking of draws; there is no dishonor in holding a draw expecially against a much higher rated opponent. In fact, many king and pawn endgame positions are studies of drawing technique. Many tournaments have been won by half a point!

Note: Diagram positions like the ones in these lessons are displayed with the white side of the board on the bottom. So, if a white pawn is near the top of the diagram, then that pawn is close to promoting on its eighth rank. You must be familiar with algebraic notation to benefit from these lessons.

Select a Lesson
  • Chasing Down a Pesky Pawn

    Key Learning Objective(s)

    • The Square Concept
      The Square Concept
      The Square Concept

      The Square Concept is a mental tool employed to easily determine whether the side on the move can stop the advance of an opponent's pawn as it tries to race to its 8th rank for promotion. The effort to calculate whether the white King can chase down the black pawn in the above lesson diagram is tedious and error prone. Kicking off one's shoes to count moves on fingers and toes is considered poor technique at the very best, and may be grounds for expulsion from the tournament hall if the aroma disturbs play. Therefore, endgame players have developed the Square Concept.

  • An Exception to the Square Concept

    Key Learning Objective(s)

    • An Exception For Every Rule
      This lesson presents the first of many exceptions to the general rules and secrets of endgame play. The famous Alekhine once said, "The most inflexible rule in chess is the exception." Fortunately, the exceptions are rare and can usually be discovered by alert calculations during play.

  • The Shortest Route...

    Key Learning Objective(s)

    • Advantages of King Movement Along a Diagonal
      A king can move along the a diagonal, and can approach two goals at once. In this way a king can threaten two actions. A double threat is a big advantage in chess play.
    • Fight for the Draw
      An odd truth in chess is that a draw can often be forced from seemingly hopeless positions. That is the case in this lesson. If you cannot win, then fight for a draw.

  • A Pawn Lusts for Promotion

    Key Learning Objective(s)

    • Pawn Promotion is Often Decisive
      In case it is not obvious, allow me to point out a simple common truth in all endgame play. Minor material advantages have no significance if the other side can safely promote a pawn to a major piece (usually a queen).
    • The Value of Sacrifice
      Smart players often sacrifice significant material to force a pawn promotion as this lesson demonstrates. You should look for similar opportunities in your games.

  • A King and Two Connected Passed Pawns

    Key Learning Objective(s)

    • Passed Pawns
      A pawn whose path is not directly opposed or guarded by an opposing pawn is known as a passed pawn or passer. Passers must be watched by other pieces lest they realize their royal ambitions.
    • The Value of Connected Passers
      Two unassisted, connected, and passed pawns effectively counter-balance the power of an opposing king.

  • A King and Two Separated Passed Pawns

    Key Learning Objective(s)

    • The Value of Separated Passed Pawns
      Two unassisted, separated, and passed pawns effectively counter-balance, and in some cases overcome the power of an opposing king. The defending king can only stop their progress unless both pawns are as far along as the 6th rank. Unlike connected passers, separated passers on the 6th rank can force one to promotion.

  • Eye Ball to Eye Ball, Toe to Toe

    Key Learning Objective(s)

    • Opposition
      When kings are symmetrically separated by only one square then they are said to be in direct opposition. If a king must move while in direct opposition, then he must give ground. This fact may often be used to force favorable endgame positions.
    • Blockade
      A piece in front of a pawn blocks the forward progress of the pawn. Such a blockade can be used to prevent a pawn's progress toward its promotion rank
    • Stalemate
      When a player on the move is unable to make a legal move, then the player and game is in stalemate. A stalemated game result is the same as a draw.
    • Zugzwang
      The compulsion to move. When a player would rather maintain the current position, but must move in turn. The cumplusion to move is often used in endgames to force a player into an inferior position.

  • Distant Opposition

    Key Learning Objective(s)

    • Distant Opposition
      When kings are symmetrically separated by more than one odd number of squares then they are said to be in distant opposition. Distant opposition may often be used by one or both sides to gain space to maneuver. Kings in distant opposition will often maneuver to a more simple position of direct opposition. Such maneuvering often requires careful calculation.
    • The Trouble with Doubled Pawns
      Two pawns of the same color (on one player's side) on the same file are said to be doubled. A doubled pawn cannot provide protection to its comrade. They stumble over one another just to move forward. They are pathetic and weak. Therefore, doubled pawns are usually of little value in endgame play.

  • Outside Passers

    Key Learning Objective(s)

    • Outside Passer Winning Technique
      A passer far removed from the center is a terrible threat known as an outside passer. Outside passers require immediate attention in king and pawn endgames. A slow moving king must usually abandon all other interests to hunt down an outside passer. The side with an outside passer advantage can often ravage an opponent whose king is drawn away to deal with the outside passer.
    • Over Extended Pawns
      A pawn moved beyond the protection of like-colored pieces is over extended. Such pawns often become easy targets. Pawns cannot move backward. So we must be careful not to push them too far forward.

  • My Kingdom for a Tempo

    Key Learning Objective(s)

    • Tempo
      A tempo is a turn at move. Sometimes called a ply or half-move in computer chess terminology. The characteristic rate or rhythm of the game of chess.
    • Triangulation
      Triangulation is a king maneuver designed to achieve the same position as when the maneuver began except with one's opponent compelled to move. Triangulation does nothing more than consume a tempo or half-move.
    • A Check Gains Tempo
      You can often gain a tempo when you check your opponent because your opponent must consume a move responding to your check. You can often use such a tempo gained for an advantage.

  • When Pawns are Locked

    Key Learning Objective(s)

    • The Three-Square Position
      When pawns of opposite color are locked one in front of the other, then the Three-Square Position will often determine the outcome of the game. The first king able to reach any of the three squares beside his opponent's locked pawn can win that pawn.
    • A King on the Sixth Row Ahead of His Pawn Wins
      A king on any of the three squares of the sixth row ahead of his own pawn can win regardless of who moves first.

  • Rook Pawn Exception Part 1

    Key Learning Objective(s)

    • Rook Pawn Exceptions
      You will discover that positions involving a rook pawn provide the most common exceptions to the general secrets of endgame play. The edge of the board provides many opportunities for stalemate.

  • Rook Pawn Exception Part 2

    Key Learning Objective(s)

    • Rook Pawn Exceptions
      Yet another Rook pawn exception to the general secrets of endgame play.

  • Pawn Mate

    Key Learning Objective(s)

    • Pawns Can Checkmate Too
      The weak pawn is rarely able to win a game by its own power. However, endgames provide many opportunities for an alert player to trap and checkmate an enemy king.

Passed pawns must be pushed.