28 March 2024

Cutting Off

Young chess players are quick to attack pieces directly. Learning to anticipate the opponent's plans and prevent them does not come naturally. In my experience, young beginning players must be shown this simple mate in two many times before the idea of cutting off sinks in.

White to move
It is an ancient exercise that I first recall seeing and beginning to use with students while perusing Bruce Pandolfini, Pandolfini's Endgame Course. With a group of students who are finishing the Pawn Award and beginning to work towards the Knight Award, I prefaced this position with two others from this week's online play.

These positions are more difficult for beginners, so we spent some time on them.

Black to move
Facing a threat to my a-pawn that would upset the material equilibrium, I confined White's king to the first rank with a checkmate threat.


White failed to find the most stubborn defense, played 44.Rd6? and resigned while I was contemplating how to remove the rook. After 44.Re8+ Kh7 45.Rf8, there is no checkmate threat. Nonetheless, Black is winning a pawn after 45...Rd3 46.Kf1 (46.Rf3 Rxf3 47.gxf3 Be5 is worse, and White's a-pawn still falls) 46...Rxa3.

The second illustration shows the same cutting off idea with a piece on g3, although Black had many ways of winning.

Black to move
24...Qg3 (24...f4 is best) 25.Rf1 Re1 26.Qc4 Rxf1 27.Qxf1 Re1 and White resigned.

My intent was to show these two positions from recent online play, then have the students solve the mate in two from Pandolfini. Hopefully, the idea of restricting the opponent's choices, rather than direct and often futile checks, will sink in.

Continuing the theme of cutting off, I found several instructive exercises in László Polgár, Chess Endgames. This study by Nikolai Antonovich Kopaev was the first.

White to move
White must find a sequence of "only" moves. Alternatives draw. This exercise and those that follow in Polgár's massive book build endgame technique.

27 March 2024

64 Endgame Books

It has been a goal of mine to acquire 64 endgame books before I reach the age of 64. That birthday comes soon and I need one more. What shall I add to my existing collection? Will it gather dust on the shelf, or will it be one that I read?
The main shelf

The category of "endgame books" is not perfectly clear. Do works on checkmate patterns fall into this group? I keep those books separate, although checkmate exercises were called "end-games" in nineteenth century chess periodicals and books. I do include studies, although some would put these in a separate category.

There are some classics on my shelves and some books published in the past two months. Most are paperbacks, but there are a few hardcover. Missing from my shelves are four of the five volumes of Encyclopedia of Chess Endings published by Chess Informant. Last summer, seven of the eight volume series edited by Yuri Averbakh were added. I have had the volume on rook endings for several years. In the months since, I've spent some time working through the early chapters on bishop endings.
Part of a second shelf is needed

For decades, the only endgame book in my possession was Irving Chernev, Practical Chess Endings, which I purchased at B. Dalton in downtown Spokane in the 1970s as a high school student. In the mid-1990s, as I was getting back into chess with some seriousness of purpose, I bought a copy of Jenö Bán, The Tactics of Endgames. Even then, my study focus remained largely openings and tactics.

In the twenty-first century, two books provoked serious study of endgames on my part. First, Karsten Mūller and Frank Lamprecht, Fundamental Chess Endings, published in 2001 and acquired that year. Then with purchase of Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual shortly after it was published in 2003, I began to both work on and enjoy endgame study. When I started studying Dvoretsky, I was USCF C Class. Today, it is often suggested that Dvoretsky is too hard for a class player, who should begin with Silman's Complete Endgame Course. Waiting four years for Silman would have deprived me of many hours of productive study. In any case, I rarely read a chess book cover-to-cover. Dvoretsky improved my game (see "Ten Books to Achieve 1800+").

Sometime before then, I had acquired Reuben Fine, Basic Chess Endings, but I always found this book difficult to use with too few diagrams and small print lacking sufficient paragraph breaks. Even so, it was a reference I turned to often when a specific question arose.

As the number of volumes slowly increased, I became a collector, still favoring those that I think I'll read.

The newest book in my collection was published this year and is a reprint, edited with a light hand, of one of the oldest endgame books in existence. Carsten Hansen brought Horwitz and Kling, Chess Studies and Endgames (1851) back into print as part of his Alexander Game Books Classics series.

Endgame Bibliography

Aagaard, Jacob. Excelling At Technical Chess: Learn to Identify and Exploit Small Advantages. London: Gloucester Publishers, 2004.

_______. A Matter of Endgame Technique. Grandmaster Knowledge. Glasgow: Quality Chess, 2022.

_______. Conceptual Rook Endgames. Grandmaster Knowledge. Glasgow: Quality Chess, 2023.

Averbakh, Yuri, and I. Maizelis. Pawn Endings, trans. Mary Lasher. Dallas: Chess Digest, 1974.

Averbakh, Yuri. Queen and Pawn Endings, trans. K. P. Neat. London: Batsford, 1975.

_______. Bishop v. Knight Endings, trans. K. P. Neat. London: Batsford, 1976.

_______. Bishop Endings, trans. Mary Lasher. London: Batsford, 1977.

_______, and Vitaly Chekhover. Knight Endings, trans. Mary Lasher. London: Batsford, 1977.

Averbakh, Yuri. Rook v. Minor Piece Endings, trans. K. P. Neat. London: Batsford, 1978.

_______, V. Chekhover, and V. Henkin. Queen v. Rook/Minor Piece Endings, trans. K. P. Neat. London: Batsford, 1978.

Averbakh, Yuri. Chess Endings: Essential Knowledge, new algebraic edition. London: Everyman Chess, [1971] 1993.

Bán, Jenö. The Tactics of Endgames. Mineola: Dover, [1963] 1997.

Barden, Leonard. How to Play the Endgame in Chess. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1975.

Bezgodov, Alexey. Opposite-Colored Bishop Endings: 174 Master Classes. Elk and Ruby, 2024.

Missing from the shelves because I’m reading it

Chernev, Irving. Practical Chess Endings. New York: Dover, 1961.

_______. Capablanca’s Best Chess Endings: 60 Complete Games.  New York: Dover, 1978.

_______. 200 Brilliant Endgames.  New York: Fireside, 1989.

Donaldson, John. Essential Chess Endings for Advanced Players. Dallas: Chess Digest, 1995.

De la Villa, Jesus. 100 Endgames You Must Know: Vital Lessons for Every Chess Player. 4th ed. Alkmaar: New in Chess, 2015.

_______. The 100 Endgames You Must Know Workbook: Practical Endgame Lessons for Every Chess Player. Alkmaar: New in Chess, 2019.

_______. 100 Endgame Patterns You Must Know: Recognize Key Moves & Motifs and Avoid Typical Errors. Alkmaar: New in Chess, 2021.

Dvoretsky, Mark. Dvoretsky’s Endgame Manual. Milford: Russell Enterprises, 2003.

_______. Dvoretsky’s Endgame Manual, 5th ed. Rev. by Karsten Mūller. Milford: Russell Enterprises, 2020.

Emms, John. Starting Out: Minor Piece Endgames. London: Gloucester Publishers, 2004.

Fine, Reuben. Basic Chess Endings. New York: David McKay, [1941] 1969.

Fishbein, Alex. King and Pawn Endings. Macon, GA: American Chess Promotions, 1993.

Three on pawns

Flear, Glenn. Improve Your Endgame Play. London: Everyman Chess, 2000.

_______. Mastering the Endgame. London: Everyman Chess, 2001.

_______. Test Your Endgame Thinking. London: Everyman Chess, 2002.

Guliev, Sarhan. The Manual of Chess Endings, vol. 4 of Chess School. Moscow: Russian Chess House, 2021.

Horwitz, Bernhard, and Josef Kling. Chess Studies and Endgames, updated and ed. Carsten Hansen. Bayonne, NJ: Alexander Game Books, 2024.

Karolyi, Tibor, and Nick Aplin. Endgame Virtuoso Anatoly Karpov. Alkmaar: New in Chess, 2007.

Kasparyan, Ghenrikh M. Domination in 2,545 Endgame Studies, trans. A. Krivoviaz. Moscow: Progress Pubishers, 1980.

_______. 888 Miniature Studies. Belgrade: BeoSing, 2010.

Keres, Paul. Practical Chess Endings, with modern chess notation. London: Batsford [1974] 2018.

Lakdawala, Cyrus. Tactical Training in the Endgame. London: Gloucester Publishers, 2021.

_______, and Carsten Hansen. The Chess Wizardry of Wotawa. Bayonne, NJ: CarstenChess, 2022.

_______. Beyond Chess Basics: Endgame Planning. Bayonne, NJ: CarstenChess, 2023.

Levenfish, Grigory, and Vasily Smyslov. Rook Endings, trans. Philip J. Booth. Dallas: Chess Digest, 1971.

Matanović, Aleksandar, et al. Encyclopedia of Chess Endings, vol. 4. Belgrade: Chess Informant, 1989.

Mednis, Edmar. Practical Rook Endings. Coraopolis, PA: Chess Enterprises, 1982.

_______. Practical Knight Endings. Moon Township, PA: Chess Enterprises, 1993.

Mieses, Jacques. Modern Endgame Studies: Selected for the Purpose of Practical Play, trans., updated, and ed. by Carsten Hansen. Bayonne, NJ: Alexander Game Books, 2023.

Minev, Nikolay. A Practical Guide to Rook Endgames. Milford: Russell Enterprises, 2004.

Mūller, Karsten, and Frank Lamprecht. Fundamental Chess Endings: A New Endgame Encyclopedia for the 21st Century. London: Gambit Publications, 2001.

Nunn, John. Nunn’s Chess Endings, 2 vols. London: Gambit Publications, 2010.

Pandolfini, Bruce. Pandolfini’s Endgame Course. New York: Fireside, 1988.

Polgár, László. Chess Endgames. Köln: Könemann, 1999.

Rabinovich, Ilya. The Russian Endgame Handbook, trans. James Marfia. Newton Highlands, MA: Mongoose Press, 2012.

Roycraft, A. J. The Chess Endgame Study: A Comprehensive Introduction, 2nd ed. Garden City: Dover, 1981.

Shankland, Sam. Small Steps to Giant Improvement: Master Pawn Play in Chess. Glasgow: Quality Chess, 2018.

_______. Theoretical Rook Endgames. Glasgow: Quality Chess, 2023.

Shereshevsky, Mikhail. Endgame Strategy, trans. K.P. Neat. London: Cadogan, [1985] 1994.

Silman, Jeremy. Silman’s Complete Endgame Course: From Beginner to Master. Los Angeles: Siles Press, 2007.

Speelman, Jonathan. Analysing the Endgame. London: Batsford, 1981.

_______. Endgame Preparation. London: Batsford, 1981.

Smyslov, Vasily. Vasily Smyslov: Endgame Virtuoso, trans. Ken Neat. London: Gloucester Publishers, [1977] 2003.

Van Perlo, G. C. Van Perlo’s Endgame Tactics: A Comprehensive Guide to the Sunny Side of Chess Endgames, new, improved and expanded edition. Alkmaar: New in Chess, 2014.

Znosko-Borovsky, Eugene. How to Play Chess Endings, trans. J. Du Mont. New York: Dover, [1940] 1974.

Edit: 13 April

Two days ago, the 64th book arrived. C.J.S. Purdy, On the Endgame. Davenport, IA: Thinkers Press, 2003.





24 March 2024


White played 42.Kb2 and offered a draw. White's remaining time is 2:11; Black has 5:57. This is a ten minute Arena game and White is higher rated by nearly 200.

Black to move
Black is on bottom
Would you accept the draw offer? If not, what would you play?

23 March 2024

From a Youth Tournament

As tournament director for my city’s youth events, I see a lot of examples of basic skills not yet learned.

In one game today, I spent quite a bit of time watching a player with several pieces endlessly checking a lone king. The stronger side had a queen, bishop, and knight. Shortly after I began watching, he missed a mate in one. Thirty or forty checks later, his opponent captured the knight. Checks continued. Occasionally, I noticed that he seemed to be reaching for his king, but then grabbed the queen and checked again. After the bishop was captured, I began counting moves, thinking I might intervene at 50. As my counting got into the late 20s, there was a move of the king. The defending player did not try to stay in the middle of the board. When he was confined to the back rank, I could see a light come on in the mind of the player with the queen. He had some faint memory of lessons on how to checkmate with king and queen against lone king. With his opponent’s king confined to three squares on the eighth rank, he moved his king in closer. Although the king did not take the shortest route, he went in the correct direction. At the 35th move after the bishop was captured, checkmate was delivered.
Another game reached a somewhat more sophisticated ending after Black had thrown away a clear advantage.

White to move
With my phone, I took a photo of the position so that I could remember it. The young girl playing White thought for a few minutes and then played Bxf3. A few moves later, the game was drawn by insufficient material as White had only a bishop and Black only a knight.

From the diagram, I would have played Bc5. For young children, the direct attack (check, check, check,…) is easier to fathom than preventing the opponent’s plan by controlling the squares they want to use.
Another lopsided game reached this position.

White to move
White missed Qf1#, instead playing Kh3. After Kf2 and Qd1, the player of Black said that she could not find a move. After a few moments, they realized that Black was in stalemate.
The longest game was on the top board in round three. Two moves after offering a draw that was refused, Black captured White’s queen. 

White to move
Capturing with the pawn allows Ke4 and a trebuchet. White played Kxd4 and offered a draw, which was accepted.

22 March 2024

Poor Decisions

Drawing a lower rated player can be frustrating. This morning, I was forced to make my peace with such a fate. My opponent's rating was 400 below mine.

Black to move
54....Qg3+ 55.Kg1 Qe1+ 56.Kh2

I considered playing Qf1, but Black has a winning pawn ending. A draw is less damaging than a loss.


Now, it is my turn to show that I can force a draw.

57.Qe8+ Kf5 58.Qd7+ Kf4??

Black made a poor decision in an effort to escape the draw.


In the very next game, my opponent was rated 200 higher than me and allowed us to reach a drawn opposite colored bishop ending. We had been shuffling our bishops about for several moves.

White to move

Inexplicable that a 2000+ rapid player would make such an error, but perhaps there was some frustration with the inevitable draw against me.

52...d3+ 53.Ke1 Ba5+ 54.Kd1 Ke3??

In my excitement, I misplayed the win. 54...Kf3 55.cxd3 e3 was the winning line.

White to move

55.cxd3 exd3 and neither player can make progress.

55...Kd4 56.c5 e3

A moment's calculation assured me that I would be promoting a pawn with check before White's c-pawn went very far.

57.b6 e2+ 58.Kc1 e1Q+

My opponent played until checkmate.

Today, I was the beneficiary of some poor decisions by my opponents. Another day, I will be giving such gifts to my opponents.

13 March 2024

Vulnerable King

An entertaining game from P. H. Clarke, 100 Soviet Chess Miniatures (1963) offers a lesson in vulnerability. White’s king appears more exposed, but Black’s king is in mortal danger on its starting square.

Black to move
The game is Barshauskas — Chesnauskas, Championship of Lithuania 1955. Black’s problems stem from the greater mobility and coordination of White’s forces. As Clarke notes, “It is worth remarking that while the position of the Black king in the centre is of the utmost import, the comparatively exposed state (i.e. to the normal castled position) of the White monarch is of lesser significance. The reason lies, of course, in White’s lead in development” (31).

The game continued 17…Bc5
Clarke notes that 17…Be7 would at least “admit the danger”.
18.Bxe6 Bxe6 19.Nxe6 maintains the advantage.
18…Bxe6 19.Bxe6

Black to move
What would you play as Black? After making the wrong choice, Black resigned four moves later.

05 March 2024

Tactics Binge

This morning I became obsessed with solving puzzles on chess.com. For some of them, I spent a few minutes calculating. For others, I moved almost instantly, believing the puzzle was simple pattern recognition. Errors were frequent. When I failed a puzzle, I tried again, working it until I found the answer. One puzzle was ridiculously easy. As it came after failing four of the previous five, I had the sense that the site’s programming is designed to poke fun at me.

White to move
At this point, I had solved six correctly and failed eight. My tactics rating had dropped 35 points.

As the session continued, my rating kept going down, then up a bit, then down again.
When I finally quit, I had attempted 169 puzzles. My rating rose three points from 3036 to 3039. At one point, I had dropped as low as 2939.

03 March 2024


During a blitz game this afternoon, I constructed what I hoped was a fortress. The time control was 5 minutes plus a three second delay. I was playing on the increment with 17 seconds left for a long time. My opponent was burning time trying to find a winning idea. When he was down to 3 seconds and I still had 7, I suggested a draw. He wasn’t convinced it was a fortress, but accepted the draw.

White to move
How can White break down Black’s defense?

02 March 2024


Chess is a drug. Joseph Blackburne called it, "mental alcohol". In moderation, the game can enrich a balanced life. A well-played game offers pleasure not only during and immediately after play, but often for many years.

For long-term pleasure, for example, there is my fifth round game that led to second place in the 2012 Collyer Memorial. I was playing not to lose. My opponent took the game down a path where a draw was extremely unlikely. We both thought I was worse, but I soldiered on, playing strong moves to keep myself in the fight. Then, after spending substantial time calculating some endgame possibilities, I discovered that I had the better game (see “Pawn Wars”). This ending has become a staple in my teaching and still challenges me while examining a testing alternative that my opponent could have played. Had he played that move, my necessary response to maintain the advantage tests my calculation skills. A single error shifts the advantage to my opponent. Such is the pleasure of the game.

On the other hand, chess can become an obsession where winning is all that matters. To be pulled from the game may cause anxiety, attention impairment, headache, high blood pressure, insomnia, and other symptoms. Losing also provokes some of these symptoms. For instance, while writing this post, I had a morning where I managed to outplay an opponent 200 points higher rated, only to drop my rook unprovoked in a rook vs. bishop endgame. The likely win became a sudden loss. The very next game, I was a pawn down, but my rooks and queen were more active. Then I gave away my queen for nothing. My fury with myself suggested an elevation in blood pressure.

A chess playing binge followed and after more substandard play, I began to focus better and won a sequence of games. There was not much pleasure in the wins, but it was easier to stop playing.

Binges usually leave me tired, but so does tournament chess. Binges in search of redemption after poor play leaves me in a sour mood. My wife notices because I’m less fun to be near. Tournament chess leaves me with memories to cherish and games worthy of study.

Losing sometimes motivates me to play better, as it should. But losing can fuel obsession, and then substituting quantity for quality becomes a danger. When the play becomes a long session of just playing for wins, rather than enjoying the struggle, chess lacks the pleasure that is gained from solving problems against a difficult and talented opponent. One Friday, I was tired due to responsibilities in the first week with a new puppy. In such a state, I was playing chess online with little pleasure and much frustration. I was not well focused. It was the Friday before the Spokane Chess Club’s premier event. IM John Donaldson gave a lecture and simul that evening. I had pulled myself away from an online binge in a sour mood, but my disposition improved once I was among chess playing friends for Donaldson’s event.

During the weekend, I played in the tournament. Losing my first-round game to a much lower rated talented junior was not disheartening, even though it meant weaker opponents for the duration of the weekend and certain rating loss. The play, analysis, and camaraderie of a chess tournament lifts the spirits. My longest game was in the last round against an opponent from Tacoma. It was a battle. My play was far from perfect, but I enjoyed the struggle. Such contests are at the heart of chess’s appeal. Winning was quite satisfying, especially because of challenges my opponent threw in my way. The game lasted more than three hours and I spent another five or six analyzing the game in subsequent days.

Sometimes a string of losses is nothing but pain and obsession, especially when the first loss made clear that I am not prepared to play. For instance, I lost five of six games one night recently because I was playing late at night when I was too tired to continue my reading of Theodore Roosevelt, The Rough Riders (1899). Moreover, I had consumed two or three glasses of Scotch. One glass never has a detrimental effect on my play. A second glass can go either way. The third should not be consumed prior to or during a chess playing session. If I recall correctly, that third glass came after some losses and after my wife retired for the evening. As the clock moved toward midnight, I was drinking Scotch without tasting it and playing chess without enjoyment.

It is better to practice moderation in chess, in drinking, and in combining the two.

Most often, my chess playing binges are in the middle of the day. I am awake, alert, and sober. Perhaps sobriety is open to question, however, because the behavior of playing one game after another without reflection is reminiscent of the way I drank beer in college, one after another until I could take no more. Then, quantity was the means to a goal: inebriation. I don’t live that way now.

The worst part of chess binges are my attitude. I regret the waste of time. I could have gone for a walk, done some chores, or read a book. I have unfinished writing projects that interest me. Frustration with my lack of self-control can lead to depression. Rating loss can provoke repetition of the behavior.

After a quarter century of online chess play, I’m coming to terms with binges as an element of my life. I am okay. Binges happen. Going forward, I will accept these moments of obsession as a by-product of my love for chess. 

When my chess obsession interferes with other aspects of life, it becomes a problem. Jenna Ostria has some useful tips for curbing this obsession. My health is my top priority. While accepting myself even when I binge, I also work to keep chess in balance with other areas of life. Each day I make time for chess, household responsibilities, and reading. My new puppy also demands attention! She also brings joy.