Understanding Pawn Endgames

Understanding pawn endgames: a leading ukrainian trainer explains fundamental endgame principles and why players make mistakes

Understanding Pawn Endgames

Author: IM Valentin Bogdanov
159 pages. Gambit Publications, 2022
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I was sent a copy of this book by Gambit for my honest review.


The Hand of an Experienced Trainer

When studying to improve our playing ability in pawn endings, it’s very easy to get lost. I believe this is because many books sacrifice clarity for completeness, as the authors are often very strong players or theoreticians who don’t teach chess to “regular” players.

A good coach wants his or her students to learn and remember the important stuff. Books that bombard readers with endless examples containing lots of tricky analysis and little explanation isn’t very helpful to most players.

The blurb notes that Bogdanov has been coaching pupils in Odesa for 50 years — this book can be considered a series of lessons that will improve your pawn endgame play a lot.

The text is divided into 10 chapters:

    1. Obvious Errors
    2. Breakthrough
    3. Zugzwang
    4. Opposition and Corresponding Squares
    5. Spare Tempi
    6. The Fight to Promote
    7. Changing the Pawn Structure
    8. Calculation
    9. Evaluating the Resulting Queen Endings
    10. Positional Play

This may be the best book on pawn endgames I have yet come across, simply because of how it’s structured: relatively short, self-contained chapters with plenty of examples, a healthy amount of prose, and not too variation-packed. Within chapters, he progresses from easier to more difficult game fragments.

Again, ask yourself: how much study material can you learn, remember, and use?

How many impressive-looking books have helped you improve an area of your chess a great deal? Probably not that many — too much information.


Striking Examples

Presenting surprising, memorable examples to students can make a world of difference in getting them to incorporate important ideas into their play. Clear explanations help a great deal, too.

Bogdanov shows many apparently simple positions that teach you what to think about in critical moments. Let’s take a look at Example 125 on page 66, from Chapter 6: The Fight to Promote.

Understanding Pawn Endgames is filled with examples like this one…


Who Should Buy It?

First and foremost, chess teachers! You can bet I will incorporate many of these examples, including the Tihonov—Kurnosov game referenced above, into my classes and lessons.

As for tournament players? I think 1400 is a safe minimum. Bogdanov does not start from scratch, but his commentary is so good that ambitious rising players will greatly benefit from it.

I can tell you personally, players rated 2000+ will also benefit from going through this excellent volume. For example, Chapter 4 made me much more confident with a long-standing bugaboo of mine: Corresponding Squares!


The Verdict

If you love endgames or, especially, if you hate them…spend some time with Understanding Pawn Endgames. You won’t regret it.