20 March 2012

Pawn Endings Flash Cards

Regarding study of the endgame, Mark Dvoretsky states, "One should study relatively few positions, the most important and most probable, but study and understand them perfectly. ... The positions that I consider part of the basic endgame knowledge system are shown by diagrams and comments in blue print" (Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual, emphasis added). Such as level of understanding is advocated in GM-RAM: Essential Grandmaster Chess Knowledge (2000) by Rashid Ziyatdinov with Peter Dyson (see GM-RAM: Essential Knowledge).

I have the forty-eight blue diagrams from the first chapter of Dvoretsky's text on flash cards. I frequently carry these with me, along with an electronic edition of Dvoretsky's text on my iPad. From time to time I sit at the dining room table with these cards, a chess set, Dvoretsky's book, my iPad, and a notebook for recording my analysis.

Yesterday, I quickly went through the cards separating them into two piles. Those that I believed I knew thoroughly within a few seconds went into one pile (twenty-nine total), and those I believed required more analysis into the other. I began working through the "known" pile to test my belief. For each card, I set up the position to play against the Shredder iPad app. In the hour devoted to this exercise, I made it through nine cards. Several diagrams are two positions: with White on move, and with Black on move. One that I judged in my instant analysis to be a draw either way proved to be a win with White to move. In the notebook I recorded the diagram in FEN (Forsyth Edwards Notation), my analysis, the moves of my battle with Shredder, and in the case of this card, FAIL. Seven more cards were judged PASS, and then I came to one that I believed I had accidentally placed in the wrong pile.

White to move

Although this position resembled one that I had  faced in a recent tournament and played successfully (see Pawn Wars), I lacked confidence in my knowledge. My first efforts against Shredder were failures that proved my self-doubt; the card was in the wrong pile. Determined, I set up the position on the board and began serious calculation. An idea that I pursued in my OTB game with confidence, even though it was a slight inaccuracy in that instance, proved to be the only correct idea in this instance. Moreover, the king must move first.

When I finally succeeded against the iPad, I recorded the moves in my notebook.

1.Kf3 Ke5 2.h4 a5 3.h5 a4 4.h6 b5 5.a3 Ke6 6.Kxf4 Kf6 7.e5+ Kg6 8.Ke4 Kf7 9.Kd5 Ke7 10.e6 Ke8 11.Kd6 Kd8 12.e7+ Ke8 13.Kc5 Kxe7 14.Kxb5 1-0

Shredder deviated from Dvoretsky's analysis on move 4, but at that point I had found the key idea, and the rest was simple. The next task is to examine the same position with Black to move. Black should win by depriving White of this h-pawn advance.


  1. Those flash cards look great - how did you make them? Just a good printer?

    1. I create them in Word, then print on card stock and cut. I use ChessBase to create the diagrams.