Pawn endgames are one of the most difficult chess endgames to master.
Rook endgames are the most common in OTB tournament games, but they can transpose into winning pawn endames if you understand the fundamentals of these types of endgames.
This article is meant to help you understand every aspect of pawn endgames and all of the secrets and invisible moves that arise.
Let’s get started.
Table of Contents
- Rule of the Square
- Key Squares
- King and Pawn vs King
- How to Promote Doubled Pawns vs a King
- Promoting Connected and Split Pawns
- Mined Squares
- Shouldering and Outflanking
- Studies (Reti and Grigoriev)
- Pawn Breakthroughs
- Bahr’s Rule
- Corresponding Squares
- Miscellaneous Pawn Endings
Before we talk about anything advanced, it’s important to touch base on the rule of the square. The square tells you at a glance whether or not the pawn will queen, or if the king can catch the pawn in time on its own.
Count the number of squares your pawn is away from the queening square (in this case 4 squares). Then count 4 squares to the right from the queening square, then down 4 squares, then 4 squares back to the pawn itself. You will always be able to make a square with all four sides being the number of squares from the queening square.
If the black king can step into the square before the pawn moves, then the king is in time to stop the pawn from queening.
If the king steps outside of the square in our more advanced pawn studies, we will be able to determine that the attacking side (with the pawn) will win.
This topic was written about more in depth in this article I wrote
What is a Key Square?
In pawn endgames, key squares are squares that, when occupied by your king, the game can be won because a pawn will be captured.
There are key squares in other types of endgames, but for the purposes of this guide, this will be our definition.
There are some instances where capturing the pawn doesn’t win as we will see, but the defender must play perfectly in these cases to draw.
Some of the more advanced puzzles you’ll see in this article may seem hard to understand the goal at first, but if we think about the key square we are trying to occupy, it becomes easier to understand.
If you just have one pawn, the key squares are two ranks ahead of your own pawn. The white king must reach the key squares to win.
The reason these are key squares is because you will be able to take the opposition, or force zugzwang, because of the spare tempo.
Here white has occupied a keysquare and has the opposition. If black is to move, the opposition must be given up. If white is to move, then the opposition is maintained because white has a spare tempo of d4.
In this example, black just needs to stay ahead of the pawn to either force the white pawn to advance (thus advancing the key squares by another rank) or maintaining opposition.
White needs to occupy any one of the key squares. In this example, the only way to win is to outflank your opponent. We take the furthest route in order to achieve this
This is the only winning move because white is aiming for b5, which will take 4 moves. Black will not be able to occupy it as white will take the diagonal opposition, followed by the opposition, and win the key square.
Key Squares for Rook pawns
With less space on the edge of the board, there are less opportunities to win for white. The key squares for white in this instance are g7 and g8, because we need to stop black from getting to g8 and h8 in front of the pawn.
Key Squares for the defender
A key square must also be reached for a defender to secure a draw.
In the case of the rook (h) pawn, black can always draw if the king makes it to f8. That’s because the king can either keep the white king trapped, or oscillate back and forth on g8 and h8 until the pawn advances too far and the game is drawn.
Key Squares for Blocked Pawns
In order to win the pawn in front of your own pawn, you must reach any of the key squares.
Note that if the kings were on the king side, the key squares would be f5, g5, and h5. Since white cannot go backwards without a counter attack against his own pawn to reach those squares, they are not key squares in this example. They may be in other examples, however.
In order to win the e5 pawn, white can occupy one of the key squares. However, with proper play from black, obtaining the key squares is not enough to win, but it is enough to win the pawn, which is in line with our definition.
Taking the opposition right away with Kc5 seems to work, but as long as black is able to move to the corresponding square of e5 (more on this later) then the game is drawn.
1. Kc5 Kd7 2. Kd5 Ke8 3. Kxe5 Ke7 =
The rest of this article will have some assumptions and possibly abrupt ends. This is because I will assume you have mastered king and pawn vs king.
I have covered every facet in this article where I explain how to promote a pawn against a lone king
I’ll be adding more about this topic shortly.
I wrote more about this topic here
I wrote more about this topic here
I wrote more about this topic here
Mines squares occur when a square cannot be occupied without hurting your own position.
White to play to win is kc6, not kc5, that square is mined. This means that whoever steps on the mined square loses.
Since white is attacking the pawn, black is forced to protect it, or else it is lost anyway. Black’s king position does not allow access to get in front of the pawn and potentially draw.
1. Kc5 Ke4
Whoever reaches this form of zugswang, called a trebuchet, and must move to lose the pawn.
2. Kb4 Kxd4 3. Kb3 Kd3
A slight change in the starting king positions makes all the difference.
Black to move can draw the game by avoiding e4. The drawing move is ke6. Black gives up the pawn and gets in front of it with opposition.
1… Ke6 2. Kc5 Ke7 3. Kxd5 Kd7
Gaining the Opposition and drawing if white takes the pawn.
White must make the long journey around the mined square. e4 is mined because if white steps into e4, black draws with the immediate d5.
(1. Ke4 d5+
2. cxd5+ Kd6 3. Kf4 Kxd5)
If white takes or ignores the threat, his pawn on d4 is ahead of the king and white can never win.
1. Ke3 1… Kd7
The square is still mined and white must go around.
2. Kf4 Ke6 3. Kg5
Shouldering the king from the side as the moves are limited
3… Kf7 4. Kf5 Ke7 5. Kg6 Ke6 6. d5+
Ke7 7. Kg7 Kd7 8. Kf7 Kc7 9. Ke7 Kb6 10. Kxd6
This amazing pawn endgame study by the famous Reti shows just how quickly a king can move up the board in the endgame.
It’s important to know the king can cover the same amount of ground in multiple ways. Moving to h2 can be accomplished in 6 moves no matter whether the king moves in a straight line or diagonally.
White’s king is well outside of the square of the h pawn, but by taking a step in two directions, the king can make up ground. on the h pawn, while threatening to queen his own pawn. }
1. Kg7 h4 2. Kf6 h3
If the pawn tries to run away, the king alters the plan and goes towards its own pawn. By taking the flexible path, white can react whichever way black does to keep the draw. } (2… Kb6
If white decides to capture the c pawn, then black is amazingly within the square of the h pawn.
3. Ke5 h3 (3… Kxc6 4. Kf4) 4. Kd6 h2 5. c7 Kb7 6. Kd7
The pawn again queens with check and we have a drawn queen king vs queen king ending.
A common theme, white queens with check and the draw is assured.
3… h2 4. c7 Kb7 5. Kd7
Black’s king movement does nothing to stop the pawn from queening as the king is in time to support its own pawn.
5… h1=Q 6. c8=Q+
Similar to the Reti study in the previous segment. Amazingly, white is able to capture two of the pawns, be outside of the square, and still draw.
1. Kg6 Kb6 2. Kxg7 h5
It doesn’t matter which pawn moves forward, the idea is the same. We’ll look at the h pawn and see now that the idea is the same as the previous reti study.
3. Kxf6 h4 4. Ke5 h3 5. Kd6
Pawn breakthroughs are one of the best themes to understand in the endgame. They often appear as if out of nowhere, and you should always look out for them.
This is a famous example of just how strong pawn breakthroughs can be.
Note, there is only one correct move to win as white. If it were black to play, there is only one way to draw.
1. g6 (1…g6 draws for black)
The key to the breakthrough. The king is too far away to stop the pawns so they must fend for themselves. Black must recapture the pawn because the g pawn can capture either the f or h pawn and queen if black does nothing. }
Pushing either the f or h pawn does not win, and might even lose depending on the location of the kings.
1… gxf6 2. g6
The only way white would win with this idea is if the h pawn recaptured, but it is not forced.
Since black has two options, it changes how white reacts. The key is to divert the g7 pawn so the f pawn can move forward.
The same does not work if the f pawn tries to deflect the g pawn because the h pawn cannot walk straight to queening.
(1… hxg6 2. f6 gxf6 3. h6)
3. f6 Kb7
Let’s add another pawn on each side to the equation. Again, there is only one answer to the problem.
It might not seem like it just yet, but the key pawn that needs to progress is the f pawn.
Why? Because of the square it queens on. It queens on f8 with check and allows white to win by 1 tempo
1… gxh5 2. e5
Again the only move. Remember the pawn we want to queen. If black queens first, then it’s checkmate.
2… fxe5 3. f5 hxg4 4. f6
It may be more obvious now. White is two tempi away from queening while black is three, but if black queens it’s checkmate. There isn’t time to move the king.
4… g3 5. f7 g2 6. f8=Q+ Kb3 7. Qf3+
And white will gobble up the rest of the pawns.
Another unique pawn structure you might find yourself in.
(1. g5 hxg5 2. fxg5 Kb4 also wins)
1… exf5 2. gxf5
In this case, it doesn’t matter which pawn queens because there is no threat of checkmate against white. In fact, either of the two legal pawn moves would have won.
2… Kb4 3. e6 fxe6 4. fxe6 Kc5 5. e7 Kd6 6. e8=Q
Pawn breakthroughs often come in seemingly lost positions. White’s king is far out of play and black can just swing around to win the pawns.
In fact, black is safe because the king is in the square already and can stop the pawns if they get too far.
At least, that’s what it seems like.
The only winning move. Notice how black’s king cannot move within the square to prevent the pawns from queening.
(1. g6 hxg6 2. h6 Kf6)
Black tries to get within the square of the h pawn, which has just shrunk. However, this loses to:
Amazingly the king cannot move into the square, or else a smaller square is created. One that the king cannot step into.
(2… hxg6 3. h7)
And the pawn has broken through.
The king cannot move closer.
White looks like everything is under control. The kings are in opposition, and black cannot advance the a pawn.
However, out of necessity comes innovation.
1… g5!! 2. hxg5
(2. gxh5 gxh4 3. h6 Kf7
Black’s king is able to step back and stay in the square. Meanwhile, whites c pawn blocks its path to the h pawn. If white decides to head to f5 to go around the pawn, the black king is outside of the square and the h pawn queens.
4. Ke3 (4. Kf5 h3) 4… Kg6 5. Kf2 Kxh6 6. Kg2 Kg5
Black now has a passed pawn and more active king. White has no breakthroughs.
The pawn has broken through. However, the white king is in the square, but it’s own pawn blocks the way so it has to go around.
Meanwhile, the g pawn is weak and will be captured.
3. Ke3 Kf7 4. Kf2 Kg6 5. Kg2 Kxg5 6. Kh3
Now white is in Zugzwang and forced to stay in front of the h pawn and capture it. White’s passed pawn will queen, but with devastation
6… Kf4 7. Kxh4 Kxf3
Each pawn is 4 moves away, but black queens with check. What’s worse is the predicament the white king is forced into.
8. g5 e4 9. g6 e3 10. g7 e2 11. g8=Q e1=Q+
The white king will be forced onto the g file where it will be skewered and the queen will be captured.
12. Kg5 Qg3+
The queen is lost.
It might be obvious since we’re looking at pawn breakthroughs, but white only has a few options on the board. Still, it’s hard to find the solution right away.
The pawn cannot be captured since black’s king is outside the square.
1… Ke5 2. gxh6 Kf6
The king has made it within the square, but cannot progress further. Now, the king and pawn on f7 cannot move or else black is outside the square. Therefore, black’s pawns on the queenside are forced to move.
3. Kc2 c4 4. Kc1
The key move. With this, white is observing which pawn decides to move forward. This will cause a weakness to be created.
4… b3 5. Kb2 d3 6. Kc3
Now either of black’s moves give up one of the pawns.
6… b2 7. Kxb2 d2 8. Kc2 c3 9. Kd1 c2+ 10. Kxd2 c1=Q+ 11. Kxc1 Kg5 12. h7
And white queens the pawn.
Bahr’s rule occurs when counting whether or not the king is able to capture an outside passed pawn, and make it back in time to draw against a rook pawn.
1. The attacking rook pawn must not have crossed the middle of the board (5th rank or higher)
2. The attacking King must be standing directly beside the passed pawn
3. The defending King must be standing directly in front of either the passed pawn or the attacking King.
To make it easier to evaluate whether or not the king can make it back in time, you can think of an imaginary line that stems from the enemy pawn. This line is known as the “Border Line” from this study. http://www.fraserheightschess.com/Documents/Bahrs_Rule.pdf.
The border line is traced from the defending pawn to the second rank, and then back towards the opposing second rank.
If the passed pawn is within the line from the diagram, then it is a win. If the passed pawn outside the line, the position is drawn.
Once the enemy king captures the pawn, it must be determined if the king can either make it to the f8 square from this position, or whether the king can block the attacking king from escaping from the edge of the board in front of the pawn.
1. h5+ Kh7 2. Kg5 Kg7 3. h6+ Kh8 4. Kf5 Kh7 5. Ke5 Kxh6 6. Kd5 Kg7 7. Kc6 Kf6 8. Kb5 Ke7 9. Kxa5 Kd7 10. Kb6 Kc8
The key square has been reached
The first rule of Bahr’s rule is met and therefore white wins. The pawn is on the 5th rank so black cannot make it to f8 in time,
Creating a border line shows the pawn is outside of the line, but it doesn’t matter. White can jettison the pawn right away and run right to the a file.
1. Kf4 Kh5 2. Ke5 Kxh4 3. Kd5 Kg5 4. Kc6 Kf6 5. Kb7 Ke7 6. Kxa6 Kd8 7. Kb7
Black cannot reach the f8 square.
White will win since the pawn is on the border line. White can go right after the pawn again.
If white tries to get some more time and push the pawn, it’s an immediate draw.
(1. e6 Ke8 2. Kd6 Kd8 3. e7+ Ke8 4. Kc6 Kxe7 5. Kb6 Kd8 6. Kxa5 Kc8
Black makes it to f8
1… Ke6 2. Kb5 Kxe5 3. Kxa5 Kd6 4. Kb6
Black will win this variation. Black doesn’t even need to worry about the a pawn as regular opposition applies
1. Ke3 Kg4 2. Kf2 Kf4 3. Ke2 *
White will draw.
1. Kc2 Ke3 2. Kc3 Kf4 3. Kxc4 Kg4 4. Kd3 Kxh4 5. Ke2 Kg3 6. Kf1
White has made it to f1.
Corresponding squares are tricky to understand, but the goal is to think about which squares you want to get to, and what squares your opponent needs to get to in order to stop you.
In this example, black to play only draws with Kf3. They are corresponding squares because white cannot make progress with black standing here. White wants to get to e2 or f2, but cannot while the black king stands on f3.
At the same time, white has another route, so black needs to be able to stop both plans.
White can penetrate on a2 to get to b3 or a3, so black needs to be able to stop this. Both sides reach the same squares in 4 moves, so it is a draw and white can either try on the queen side or the kingside.
2. Kd1 Ke3
Keep in mind that white has a passed pawn and the pawn must always be observed and the black king needs to stay in the square.
3. Kc1 Kd4
Staying in the square. White can continue to the queenside or to the king side.
4. Kb1 Kc5 5. Ka1
If white plays a tricky move, black needs to be respond properly with kb5.
Now white can take the corresponding square of a2 if black goes to b4 too early.
6. Ka2 Ka4
Now black’s king needs to keep the king from infiltrating on b3, so he must move to a4, however, this allows white to gain the 1 tempo needed and continue the plan on the kingside.
(7. d4 Kb4 8. d5 Kc5 9. Kb3 Kxd5
White cannot capture the pawn or the king takes the opposition and draws.
7… Kb4 8. Kc1 Kc5 9. Kd1 Kd4 10. Ke2
And white has made it to the desired square. Black was one tempo too slow to get to e3, the corresponding square to d1.
10… Kd5 11. Ke3 Kc5 12. d4+ Kd5 13. Kd3 Kc6 14. Kxc3
If it is black’s move, then he is lost.
There are corresponding squares in f4 and f6 because if white occupies f4, black must occupy f6 or the game is over and the f5 pawn is lost.
H4 corresponds to g6. If black doesn’t occupy this square, then white can infiltrate the h5 square and black must stay in the square of the passed pawn.
g3 corresponds to g7 in the distant opposition. We will see why in a few more moves.
1. Kg3 Kg7 2. Kg2
(2. Kh4 Kg6
To understand corresponding squares, it’s important to know that if white’s king is on h4, then black’s king has to be on g6. If the king is on h6, then it is outside of the square and cannot stop the pawn.
If it’s black’s move, then black must move from the corresponding square and allow the white king to infiltrate. Therefore, it is Zugzwang.
This is similar to mined squares from Dveretsky.
If white moves to f4, black must answer with f6. If white moves to h4, black must answer with g6, therefore, white must triangulate to get black to make a choice to the square he doesn’t want to go to.
Black needs to remain in the square of the pawn.
3. Kf3 Kg7 4. Kg3
Now white has reached the corresponding squares but it is black to move. White has effectively triangulated the position to make it black’s move.
4… Kg6 5. Kh4
The last corresponding square has been reached and black must let white into a key square.
5… Kf6 6. Kh5 Kg7 7. Kg5 Kf8 8. Kxf5 Ke7 9. Kg6 Ke8 10. Kf6 Kf8 11. Kg6 Ke7 12. Kg7 Ke8 13. e7 Kxe7 14. Kg6 Kd8 15. Kf6 Kd7 16. Kf7
This study from Grigoriev shows how white can win with a passed pawn that is on the third rank. It continues the idea of corresponding squares. If black is to move, then white can win easily.
We know that white wants to be able to get to e3 to make progress. If white can get to e2, then he can also force his way into e3. If black ever moves below the third rank, white’s passed pawn will be decisive.
1… Kf4 2. Ke2 Ke5 3. Ke3
This is easy to see if we notice the opposition. What is tougher to see is how to continue to make progress.
3… Kd5 4. d4
At first, d4 may be hard to calculate, but it’s the only way to move forward.
We know we are giving the c4 square away, but we need to think about what pawn black has. Since it’s a b pawn, if we can queen our pawn first, then we know that no matter where the king is position, the queen will be able to stop the pawn b pawn from queening on the 7.
4… Kc4 5. Ke4
We should calculate out from here before making this move. White queens in 4 moves. Black queens in 5, so we will have the ideal situation of queen vs b pawn on the 7th rank.
5… Kxb4 6. d5 Ka3
Black can also decide to pursue the pawn and make a draw, but white gains the opposition and can continue pushing the pawn. Any king moves by black delay pawn moves, and white can support the pawn to queen.
7. Ke5 Kb6 8. d6 Kb7 9. Ke6 Kc8 10. Ke7)
7. d6 b4 8. d7 b3 9. d8=Q b2 10. Qa5+ Kb3 11. Qb5+ Ka2 12. Qa4+
Kb1 13. Kd3 Kc1 14. Qc2#
The previous game showed black to move, but what if white is to move. Black occupies the corresponding square of f3 to d2. White needs to be able to get to either d4, where he can move to capture the b pawn and win, or get to e2 or e3 as we saw in the previous game. This makes d4, e2, and e3 key squares that white wants to get to.
Therefore, to start looking for corresponding squares, we want to first think of what the key squares are that would win for white.
So identifying d2’s corresponding squares as f3 can be done because it’s the only square black can stop e2 and e3 at the same time. White can’t move to e1 since black will take the opposition, so white begins moving towards d4, the other key square. At the same time, we want keep an eye on the way back to possibly get into e2 and e3 at the same time. }
1. Kc2 Kf4
The easiest corresponding square to see is c3 and e3, because we know that if white moves to c3, black must move to e3 to prevent white from coming to d4.
Because we know c3 and e3 are corresponding squares, then we want to think about the squares that can reach c3 for white. They are b2, b3, and c2.
Thinking about the goal of white to go to c3 or d2 from c2, the corresponding square for black is f4 because black is able to stop both plans of white from this square.
Therefore our goal is to triangulate and transfer the move to black so that he occupies a corresponding square while it is his own move. This forces a Zugzwang as black must vacate the right square. }
Beginning the triangulation because black white has more squares available to enter either c3 or c2.
2… Kf5 3. Kb2 Ke5
Kc1 is the right move because now if black moves to d4, white takes the opposition. If black moves to f4, then white jumps into the corresponding square of c2.
4. Kc1 Kf4 5. Kc2 Ke5
A hard move to find, but if you know the progress you’re trying to make then it makes sense. The only other thought is d2, but black will take the opposition.
6. Kd1 Kd5 7. Ke2 Kd4 8. Kd2
White takes the opposition and is able to jump into e3 in which white wins because black has a b pawn.
If this were shifted over to the left, the game would be a draw as black has a rook pawn against a queen.
8… Ke5 9. Ke3 Kd5 10. d4 Kc4 11. Ke4
Kxb4 12. d5 Ka3 13. d6 b4 14. d7 b3 15. d8=Q b2 16. Qd3+ Ka2 17. Qc2 Ka1 18. Qa4+ Kb1 19. Kd3 Kc1 20. Qc2#
1-0 White wins by checkmate.
This is an amazing scenario where white has three extra pawns and doesn’t win.
Black’s first move makes sense, but now how can white make progress.
2. Kb3 Kb5
Black takes the opposition and neither pawn can move forward without being captured.
If the pawns were on the same rank, then they would be able to queen without the assistance of the white king, as seen in the split pawns vs connected pawns article.
3. a4+ Kc5 4. a5 Kxd5 5. Kb4
With a rook pawn, black is able to make it back in time.
Having a g and h pawn vs an h pawn seems like an easy victory, but if white propels the pawns too quickly up the board, then there are stalemate threats having to do with the rook pawn, but also the king is unable to get into the ideal position two squares ahead of the pawn.
This is the ideal position to reach with it being your move.
White needs to begin by getting the king into a better position before deciding which pawns to push. The key here is that white has extra tempo to be gained by pushing the g pawn one square or two, depending where the black king is.
1. Kf4 Kf6 2. Kg4 Kg6 3. h4
White wastes a move, but makes progress, with the h pawn first to maintain the flexibility of the g pawn. Black has a few options, but let’s see what happens if the king moves.
(3… h6 4. Kf4 Kf6 5. Ke4 Ke6 6. Kf4 Kf6 7. Ke4 Kg6 8. g4 Kf6 9. Kd5 Kg7 10. Ke6 Kg6 11. h5+ Kg5 12. Kf7 Kxg4 13. Kg6)
4. Kh5 Kg7 5. Kg5 Kf7
(5… Kh8 6. Kh6 Kg8
From this position, you want to count the number of tempo to determine if you need to push the g pawn one or two squares.
To reach the ideal position, the king can move three times. So we need our pawns to move three times.
7. g3 Kh8 8. g4 Kg8 9. g5 Kh8 10. h5
If we pushed g3, it took four moves, and now our kings are in opposition, but it’s black’s move.
10… Kg8 11. g6 hxg6 12. hxg6
The pawn has been pushed too far and it is a draw
12… Kh8 13. g7+ Kg8 14. Kg6)
It makes no difference if the black pawn is pushed with h6. White will be able to trade the pawn away at the right time because of the tempo gained from the g pawn.
6… Kg8 7. g4
White now must propel the g pawn 2 squares. You can determine this by counting how many times black moves back and forth.
The goal is to have the kings in opposition when g6 is played. Since black can move back and forth between g8 and h8 3 times to reach h8, we must play g4. If black started on h8, we would play g3.
7… Kh8 8. g5 Kg8 9. h5 Kh8
This is the ideal position white needs to be in before pushing the g pawn. The king placement is important. To make it easy to remember, note how the kings are in opposition.
10. g6 hxg6 11. hxg6 Kg8 12. g7 *
This ending can be tricky, but there is a common theme. Avoid stalemates, and be ready to sacrifice the rook pawn.
Limiting the king’s moves to two squares.
(2… Kh8 3. Kf6 Kg8 4. g7
Now there is only one square and the white king achieves the dream square to promote the pawn.
4… Kh7 5. Kf7 Kxh6 6. g8=Q Kh5 7. Qg3 Kh6 8. Qg6#
This leads into the same example as before to win the dream square.
It seems like black can stalemate. If the white king tries to move and a player doesn’t know they need to jettison the h pawn, then it may seem like no progress can be made.
The black king will forever stay in front of the pawns and the game will seem drawn.
4. h8=Q+ Kxh8 5. Kf6
The point is that the white king takes the diagonal opposition and can queen the pawn.
5… Kg8 6. g7
6… Kh7 7. Kf7 Kh6 8. g8=Q Kh5 9. Qg3
Always take the shortest mate possible.
9… Kh6 10. Qg6# *
I hope you enjoyed this article.
There are tons of pawn endgames to study, and the list is definitely endless, but hopefully this helped you to understand when to enter a pawn endgame and the theories behind them better.
If there is anything missing you’d like me to add, please let me know in the comments.