Chess Endgames for Beginners

An important topic is chess endgames for beginners. Huge amounts of material have been written on the endgame, but how much of it does a beginner need to know? For players rated less than 800, not much. In most beginner games that reach the endgame, one side is way ahead and only has to give checkmate without allowing stalemate.

Which chess endgames for beginners, exactly?

The Ladder Mate is the most basic of the chess endgames for beginners
The Ladder Mate uses rooks and/or queens.

The must-know chess endgames for beginners include three mates: the Ladder Mate (two rooks), King and Queen vs. King, and King and Rook vs. King mates.

Don’t waste time learning the two bishops’ mate or the bishop and knight mate until you’re well over 1000. They happen too rarely to justify studying them. Other endgames are even rarer.

The other chess endgame to learn is King and Pawn vs. King. Know how to win when possible, and how to draw. Fortunately, I’m going to help you out.

The Key Winning Position

This position is winning for white no matter whose turn it is, unless this setup occurs on the edge of the board. That’s because white’s king can gain control of the queening square (here, e8) and escort his pawn to the end of the board.

First, with white to move.

Now, with black to move.

Getting there

Let’s start with this position:

To win, white needs to control the squares in front of the pawn with the king. Whenever white can’t control the pawn’s next square, the game will be a draw.

First, let’s see poor play from white that leads to a draw.

We have arrived at this position:

Don’t confuse it with The Key Winning Position! in that case, with the white king ahead of the pawn, the first player wins no matter whose turn it is. This position with the pawn in front is a draw no matter who moves first! Black to move would simply play …Ke8-e7. With white to play:

The winning method

As in most endgames, lead with your king. Do not advance the pawn until necessary. When is it necessary? The moment your king can’t make further progress on his own:

Notice that white controls the e4, e5, and e6 squares with the king. That’s why 5…Kd6-d5 would not work for black; white would just push the pawn and the king when given the chance.

The Weaker Defense

A Better Defense

Black should play the king to e7, but it doesn’t make a difference.

Chess endgames for beginners: conclusion

Endgame books show a variety of basic mates, but beginners only need to know three basic mates. Other than that, players should know some basics about the King and Pawn vs. King endgame: commit The Key Winning Position to memory and remember to lead with the king!

Author: Andre Harding

Since 2003 I've taught chess to thousands of students in public, private, and charter schools in the New York City area, and have given countless private lessons. I also direct USCF- and FIDE-rated chess tournaments.

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