21 March 2012

Chess Endings for Beginners

Joseph Henry Blake, the winner of one of the miniatures presented Monday in "My First Chess Book," was also the author of a highly regarded endgame text more than a century ago. Chess Endings for Beginners (1900) describes Blake as "compiler" rather than author, explaining:
Beyond the mode in which this collection of End Studies is presented to players, little originality is claimed by the compiler, as most of the positions are found in larger works on the royal game.
He acknowledges two major sources: Stratégie Raisonnée des Fins de Partie du Jeu d'Echecs by Philippe Ambroise Durand and Jean Louis Preti, and Theorie und Praxis der Endspiele by Johann Berger. These texts as well as Blake's are available as free ebooks through Google Books, as well as in various print editions through a range of outlets.

The book contains 124 positions divided into two groups: "Pawn Endings" and "Miscellaneous Endings." Several diagrams represent two positions. For instance, the second diagram presents position No. 2, "White to move; Black to draw" and position No. 3, "Black to move; White to win." My second diagram in "GM-RAM: Essential Knowledge" is similar, except that Blake's diagram shifts the White pieces one square to the right, and the Black king two squares. Slight variations of this essential position are in many endgame texts, and should be in every chess player's memory. Blake's third diagram (positions 4 and 5) corresponds to my first diagram in the referenced post. His fifth diagram is one that I employ testing pupils on their knowledge of opposition and critical squares (my third diagram in "Opposition and Outflanking").

The term "chess endings" evokes studies in technique, such as one might expect to find in Reuben Fine, Basic Chess Endings or Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual. Indeed, many of the positions in this text are of that sort. Blake presents the position and the desired result, and in the back of the book presents the solutions. There is not a discussion of the ideas--opposition, breakthrough, triangulation, under-promotion. The book is small (75 pages of content).

Some positions fit more into the class of chess puzzles than that of chess endings. No. 6 is a case in point.

White to move and mate in two

No. 11 took me a few minutes, and I was delighted by the clever solution.

White to move and mate in three

In the Miscellaneous Endings section, there are positions calling for checkmate in a set number of moves. But unlike the two puzzles above, these strike me as elementary mating patterns that are part of learning to checkmate with certain combinations of pieces. These sorts of ideas are found also in Jose Capablanca, Chess Fundamentals; Fine, Basic Chess Endings; Jeremy Silman, Silman's Complete Endgame Course; and many other basic texts.

No. 72, for instance, resembles a position that I have been using with young players since finding the same relationship among the pieces in a lesson in Pandolfini's Endgame Course.

White to move and mate in two

Chess Endings for Beginners is a useful little book for beginning players, and a quick refresher for tournament players who may find a gap or two in their knowledge. It is one of those texts that renders the Google Play Reader iPad app a useful tool.


Blake No. 6: 1.a8N+ Kb8 2.h8Q# or h8R#

Blake No. 11: 1.f8R, and then
if 1...Kxf8 2.h8Q#
if 1...Kxh7 2.Kf6 Kh6 3.h8#
if 1...Kg6! 2.h8R Kg7 3.Rfg8#

Blake No. 72: 1.Rf1 Kd8 2.Rf8#

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