Understanding When to Go Into an Endgame

Sometimes it’s hard to assess when the right time to go into an endgame may be.

You’re opponent has given you the opportunity to liquidate everything (all minor and major pieces) and go to a king and pawn only endgame.

The question is, should you do it?

It’s hard to come up with the answer right away, but here’s a game I played against a high rated player (1950 elo) on lichess.

22. Nd4?? 

starting position heading into endgame

Understanding When to Exchange and Go Into a King Pawn Endgame

From this position, here’s the specific outcome I saw in my head a few moves later, if all moves were played the way I thought.

heading into an endgame
I imagined the board on the right in my mind before moving forward with my plan.

I knew I had some wiggle room and had to get my king to the right spot, but this is how I saw it first before my first move.

At this point I knew my opponent had made a mistake.

What I noticed right away was that if I traded my rook for his pawn on e3, I could pin his rook to his king and win it back.

If he didn’t take my rook, my bishop had been unleashed by the discover attack.

22…Rxe3

discovered attack

The ensuing trade of material would give me a slight edge with an extra 2 pawns (since I was already up one).

Maintain the Pin Until You Are Forced to Exchange Pieces

23. Rxe3 Bxd4

pinned rook to king

More importantly, we were both running out of pieces besides pawns on the board.

What I had to think about here was whether or not I should enter that endgame.

Usually a pawn endgame where you’re up 2 pawns can be an easy win, but to make sure, I had to calculate.

Sideline: Activate Your King in the Endgame

Let’s say I traded right away by 24 Kf2 Bxe3+ 25. Qxe3 Qxe3 26. Kxe3

activated king in the endgame

Notice how my king is out of place and away from the pawn.

If I traded right away, his king would win my pawn on d5.  It may have been a win either way, but it felt riskier to me to play this way.

What I decided to do instead was activate my king with kf8 (kg7 also works)

24. Kf2 Kf8

king is active in the endgame

Notice how the rook is still pinned.  I’m planning to recapture once his king unpins itself.

The key is to make sure my king can reach my d pawn in time.

Once his king moves and releases the pinned rook, I liquidate everything.

25. Ke2? Bxe3 26. Qxe3? Qxe3+ 27. Kxe3 

activate your king in the endgame

Now we’ve reached the same situation as the sideline discussed earlier, but now my king is 2 tempi away from the d pawn.

Even better, if his king occupies d4, I am in time to get to d6.

Because I have more pawns, I automatically have more tempi to waste.

The more moves I have, the more likely my opponent will be put into zugzwang (unable to move).

Try to Force Zugswang on your Opponent in the Endgame

27…Ke7 28. Kd4?! Kd6 

zugzwang soon

My opponent made it easy on my by giving me opposition right away.

Let’s see what else they might have been able to do.

Sideline: 

28. g3 a5

My goal is to grab space and reduce my opponent’s pawn moves (a5 prevents b4 right away)

29. a3 Ke6 30. Kd4 g5 31. Kd3 f5

Notice how my opponent’s pawns don’t have much movement and the king can never penetrate my queenside to try to grab my b pawn.  It is stuck blocking the d pawn’s advance.

Freeze Your Opponent’s Pawns to Take Away Tempi

29. b4?? b5 

lock down the pawn on the queenside

I immediately grab space and take away pawn moves.  The reason b5 is so strong is that it freezes the a pawn and takes away the a4 square.  Now there are only 2 tempi on the queenside in total (a3 and a6).

30. g3 f6 31. g4? hxg4 32. hxg4 f5 

trade pawns in endgame

My kingside pawn movement just forces more trading.

Remember that when you’re ahead in a king pawn endgame, you want to trade pawns to simplify things (usually).  There are always exceptions to the rule.

33. g5?! f4 34. a3?! a6 { White resigns. } 0-1

zugzwang and the king must move

Thus, by calculating my endgame chances, I knew that it was a safe endgame for me to enter.

I have continued to hear that Grandmasters and other strong chess players don’t need to calculate 20 moves deep.  Instead, they can understand the position and know which type of game they’d like to pursue.

It’s a nice bonus to continue to see this in my play as I get stronger.

If you want to see the entire game, here’s the notation on Lichess starting from the point in the game.