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On Chess: Improve your endgame play

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 8, 2011 - Finishing a chess game can be a difficult task. Both players are usually tired at the end of a long game, and as a result, many players, both beginner and advanced, see their endgame play suffer.

Luckily, you have the benefit of reading this informative article, so hopefully you can begin improving your endgame play today!

Playing quickly at the end of the game is a typical mistake of the inexperienced player. Just because there are fewer pieces on the board, this does not mean things are simple. Accuracy is more important in the endgame, as even one slip can turn the game from a win to a draw or a draw to a loss -- or even worse, a win to a loss -- but let's not even talk about that.

The first way to improve your endgame skills is to learn basic checkmates, for example, checkmating with a King and Queen versus King, or a King and Rook versus King. It is an essential part of making the transition from a beginner to an advanced player.

This past Sunday, at our monthly beginners' tournament at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis, one young player actually had to win with a King and Queen versus King in two consecutive games and was able to do so successfully both times. Perhaps he benefited from my lecture beforehand, which explained how to win these types of endgames.

Another important aspect of the endgame is the fact that certain pieces go up in value. This reminds me of baseball, where the regular season is a grind, and the post-season is typically a battle of the teams' best pitchers. Having a 1-2 punch on the mound can win any short series, and knowing what is important in the endgame also can help you win positions that may be inferior.

Typically, the King, Rook and Pawns each go up in value in the endgame. The King should be active in the endgame, as the risk of getting checkmated is low. Rooks are also more active in the endgame. They typically start out the opening and middle game in the corner, and come to life when fewer pieces are on the board. Pawns are also important, as your chances to promote to a queen are much higher with fewer pieces on the board. Often, advanced pawns are more valuable than a bishop or knight, due to the likelihood of pawn promotion.

Keeping all of the above in mind will greatly strengthen your endgame and win valuable points. Most of the great chess teachers throughout history insisted that endgame lessons were the most valuable.

Opening theory changes and tactics come and go, but essential endgame knowledge can be the key to long-lasting chess success.

Ben Finegold is the grandmaster in residence at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis.

Ben Finegold
Grandmaster Ben Finegold learned the rules of chess at age 5 and was dubbed “The 40-year-old GM” after receiving the title in 2009. In between, Finegold was a U.S. Junior champion in 1989, a recipient of the prestigious Samford Chess Fellowship in 1993 and a competitor in nine U.S. Championships. He is a popular scholastic coach and commentator for elite events.

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