What About the Endgame?

As you know, not every game is decided by a tactical shot in the middlegame, or an opening trap! I believe there is great value in players of all levels learning to play fundamental, level appropriate endgames. It helps with confidence during the games, it helps students understand what they’re aiming for, and it helps them better understand the properties of each individual piece. I want to talk about some of the tools that are available for children to improve their endgame skill.

If you have a child rated 0-1500 who likes to study independently, I strongly recommend the programs Chess Tutor Step 1, Chess Tutor Step 2, and Chess Tutor Step 3. If you google chess tutor EU (European Union, I think) you will find it. These are designed to complement the Steps workbooks, but they also have some fantastic endgame positions for the student to play out against the computer. We are not talking about learning endgame theory, rather learning how to apply the principles in practice: One piece dominating another one, activating the king, creating a passed pawn, etc. You can find examples in all three Chess Tutors (1, 2, and 3) under the “play” section.

If your child likes to read chess books, either independently or with a parent, I recommend Jeff Coakley’s green book, Winning Chess Strategy for Kids. In addition to some useful endgame theory (Rook vs. Pawn, King and Pawn Endings, Fundamental King and Rook Endings) there are great examples of endgame strategy. There is one lesson called “Super King” that really memorably demonstrates the power of king activity in an otherwise normal endgame. I’ve noticed that when students study these lessons, they are able to apply the concepts themselves in tournament games.

On the topic of Jeff Coakley’s books, Winning Chess Exercises has some great endgame puzzles. After an IS318k student won a nice rook endgame to clich K-8 Nationals many years ago, he mentioned he remembered it from one of the puzzles Elizabeth showed him from that book!

For something a step up in difficulty, but still organized in a kid-friendly manner, check out Silman’s Complete Endgame Course. Organizing material by rating level makes a lot of sense; maybe more instructional books should follow this model. Early on, there is a lot of focus on ‘non theoretical’ endgames that kids benefit from learning, like how to win with a queen vs. a knight, queen vs. bishop, etc. A student who is passionate about endgames can study this book as deeply as they would like because of the clear, instructive explanations. Other useful books, pitched at a somewhat higher level, are Essential Chess Endings by James Howell, 100 Endgames You Must Know, by Jose De La Villa, and the thin Chess Stars book on the endgame by Makarov. I think it’s called “Library for Practical Players: The Endgame”.

I should mention that I once had a student who really loved endgames, and got totally absorbed in studying Endgame Strategy by Shereshevsky! It was never intended as a kids book, but he took detailed notes and made a massive leap in playing strength after studying the book. The book itself is indeed a timeless classic. Another good reminder - mindful, independent work on chess always pays off. And of course, the best endgame book is the one you will read!

Addendum: Artur Yusupov’s 9 book series from Quality Chess is fantastic. The early books are amazingly useful for intermediate tournament players, and the later books are challenging for practically anyone! These books have high quality training material on every single topic I have touched on: Tactics, Strategy, Positional Play, Openings, and Endgames.