A Foundation for Beginners Thirty Eight

Before we can finish our student game, we have to look at an extremely important part of the middle-game, the transition into the endgame. For this reason, I am going to delay the finish of our game until the week after next because I want to go over this transition in detail. It is very important to consider the concepts we are about to explore because employing them correctly could turn a losing position into a winning position. This week, we’ll briefly look at some key concepts and next week, we’ll explore them in detail. Let’s dig in!

While the game of chess is divided into three phases – the opening, middle and endgame – the transition between each phase isn’t instantaneous. In other words, it’s not like flipping a switch and going from off to on immediately. There is an overlapping transition that takes place. It’s for this reason that it is often difficult to say on what move a game went from one phase to the next. Thankfully, we can approximate when one phase begins and another ends. Take the transition from middle to endgame. There’s no exact amount of material that needs to be removed from the board to declare the start of the endgame. Chess players don’t say “alright, each of us has fifteen points of material left in play which means the endgame has started.” So how do we know we’re in the endgame phase.

Generally speaking, you can claim the endgame has started when each player is down to a few pieces and pawns (as well as their Kings) each. The number of pawns and pieces left in play varies but this will serve as a general beginner’s guide for determining the start of the endgame. During the endgame, every pawn and piece counts. The fewer pawns and pieces left, the more valuable they become. I don’t mean their relative value suddenly increases. What I mean is this: If you have two pawns and your King and your opponent has one pawn and his or her King, you have twice as much material in play. If you lose one pawn, you and your opponent are equal in material and your goal of winning becomes more difficult.

Endgames more often than not come down to pawn structure or how each players pawns are supported by their other pawns, pieces and their King. In an endgame, the player with better pawn structure has a greater advantage ( better chance of winning). Have the majority of material, more pawns and pieces than your opponent, also makes a big difference in the endgames outcome. What does this have to do with the transition between the middle and endgame? Everything!

Barring being mated early in the game, the majority of games played by those with an intermediate skill set go on to the endgame. This means you will end up in a position that defines the endgame. Therefore, you need to start preparing yourself, actually your pawns and pieces, for endgame play early. Beginners often end up with a messy position during the middle-game – poor pawn structure, pieces on the edge of the board, Rooks still on their starting squares, etc. Of course, this will change over time as the beginner improves their chess skills. However, until they improve, the above mentioned problems typically exist.

Let’s say that you’re a beginner with a messy position, such as the one I just described. The first thing you want to do is a pawn and piece count. You do this to see exactly where the balance of material lies. Does your opponent have more pawns and pieces than you? Are you even in material or do you have more? This is your starting point because it tells you what you have to do. If you’re ahead in material, then it’s a question of getting your pawns and pieces coordinated. If your pieces are all over the board, you need to start by move them to active endgame squares? Where are such squares? Any place that allows them to safely attack the enemy King while working with one another in a coordinated effort to do so!

If your opponent has more material, then you need to consider your opponent’s pawns and pieces carefully. The first step is to compare the power of your opponent’s pieces to yours. If you have two Knights, a Bishop and a Rook and your opponent has two Rooks and two Bishops, your opponent has an advantage because he or she has four long distance pieces. This means it’s going to be difficult to fend off attacks by those pieces. You have to completely coordinate your pawns and pieces to make it difficult for your opponent to win material. What do I mean by coordinate?

Pawns and pieces that are coordinated work together. One pawn protects another pawn or a pawn protects a piece. Every member of your army is working together rather than alone. You need to get all of your remaining middle-game pawns and pieces working together. You cannot have any pawns or pieces left unprotected. The idea here is to make it so difficult to capture any of your pawns and pieces that your opponent has to trade down, trading material of greater value (theirs) for material of lesser value (yours). Force your opponent to have to trade down, trading a piece of greater value (either relative or positional value) for a piece of lesser value and the position will greatly change. Often, you’ll face a great deal of pressure from your opponent’s forces. As we discussed in a previous article, you also want to trade down, removing some of your opponent’s pieces that are creating the pressure. Doing so makes it harder for your opponent launch successful attacks. What if you and your opponent have roughly the same amount of material?

Look at your pawn structure. What you’re looking for are pawns that have other friendly pawns on adjacent squares that can protect one another should they have to. Pawns that are isolated, having no friendly pawns on adjacent files, pawns that have moved too far up the board by themselves, or doubled pawns, pawns sitting on top of each other on the same file are liabilities. Why? Because it will require that you use one of your remaining pieces to protect that pawn. We’ll get into improving your pawn structure during the transition next week. For now, know that the types of pawns I just described are a big liability. In a situation where the material balance is equal, you need to work on your pawn structure, strengthening it.

Another factor to consider is pawn majorities or who has more pawns on either King-side or Queen-side. Ideally, you want to have more pawns than your opponent on either the King-side or Queen-side. At least try to go into the endgame with an equal number of pawns. If you have three pawns on the Queen-side and your opponent has two, you have the majority. That three to two majority makes a big difference. If you have a minority (fewer pawns), you need to work towards either evening the number or gaining an advantage that equalizes the number of enemy pawns. If you have more pieces than your opponent but a pawn minority, you could sacrifice a piece to reduce your opponent’s pawn majority. Well grouped pawns are dangerous and can lead to a pawn promotion. We’ll examine this when we study the endgame.

I always tell my students to leave the pawns in front of their castled King in place. In other words, don’t move them until you enter the endgame phase. While this isn’t always possible, it’s a good goal to aim for. We’re going to really dig into pawn structure in the endgame articles of this series. Today and next week, I’m simply introducing you to some of the ideas that will come into play when we finish our student game the week after next.

The things you need to consider during the transition from middle to endgame are pawn and piece coordination, trading material to relieve positional pressure and pawn structure. In reality, you always need to consider your pawn structure. When you make moves early in the game, such as the opening, ask yourself if those moves will damage your pawn structure before committing to them. How your position stands when going from middle-game to endgame depends on what you do early in the game. Each game phase is a foundation for the following game phase. The opening is the foundation for the middle-game and the middle-game is the foundation for the endgame. We will examine the above mentioned ideas in detail next week with some game examples. We’ll also look at a number of tactics than can aid in reaching your middle-game goals. Speaking of games, here’s one to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson

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Hugh Patterson

Author: Hugh Patterson

Prior to teaching chess, Hugh Patterson was a professional guitarist for nearly three decades, playing in a number of well known San Francisco bands including KGB, The Offs, No Alternative, The Swinging Possums and The Watchmen. After recording a number of albums and CDs he retired from music to teach chess. He currently teaches ten chess classes a week through Academic Chess. He also created and runs a chess program for at-risk teenagers incarcerated in juvenile correctional facilities. In addition to writing a weekly column for The Chess Improver, Hugh also writes a weekly blog for the United States Chess League team, The Seattle Sluggers. He teaches chess privately as well, giving instruction to many well known musicians who are only now discovering the joys of chess. Hugh is an Correspondence Chess player with the ICCF (International Correspondence Chess Federation). He studied chemistry in college but has worked in fields ranging from Investment Banking and commodities trading to Plastics design and fabrication. However, Hugh prefers chess to all else (except Mrs. Patterson and his beloved dog and cat). View all posts by Hugh Patterson

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