When trying to learn the endgame, we are inevitably pointed towards endgame books like Silman’s Endgame Course or Dvoretsky’s Endgame Manual. I was pointed towards Reuben Fine’s Basic Chess Endings, which has universal positive comments. I tried studying it one summer many years ago … and I found 70 pages of King and Pawn endgames to start, all like the following:
I’ll be honest, I never finished the book. I don’t think I got through the pawn section, and I don’t know the answer to the above position. (I’m hopeful I can figure it out ingame.) In the end, despite studying for a solid month, I felt no stronger at the endgame, and none of those positions ever came up in my games.
THESE are the positions I struggle with. After trying to several different endgames at several different times, none have helped address this problem, and I think I know why.
In a recent YouTube video, I divided the endgame into two stages, the early endgame and the late endgame. The late endgame is my first example above, the kind we see in most endgame books. It’s basically theoretically positions. The early endgame consists of things like my second example: pieces traded, but still lots of play.
The early endgame, in other words, the type of endgames we are most likely to reach, and it appears to be the least taught.
The best way to learn the early endgame appears to be studying complete master games. This is, of course, the answer to almost any chess improvement question. When people say learn endgames by studying Capablanca or Karpov, this is exactly what they mean.
Actually, this is perhaps the best argument for my thesis. When we say that Capablanca was the best endgame player ever, we typically don’t mean he was the best at the Lucena position, or that he could play two pawns versus one pawn positions better than anyone. We mean Capa could take normal, simple, early endgame positions and completely outplay everyone, until he finally reaches a won theoretical position.
My endgame skills, so much as they are, come from the above method. I know very few theoretical positions: the basic mates, how to Queen a pawn, the Lucena position and maybe a small handful of others. The question I don’t know is how much this is hindering my endgame abilities.
My plan is to fix this. My next chess progress, probably starting in March, will be to go through a modern classic, ‘100 Endgames You Need to Know.’ Even with my busy schedule, I can probably do at least one position a day, more on the weekend, and get done in three months. I can then compare my endgame skill before and after.
I’m looking forward to improving my endgame skills and fixing my biggest chess weakness. Or at least, that’s what I’m saying right now. Endgame positions are, well, dull, but I can do 100 of them. I think. Probably. We’ll see.