Chess endgames are an enigma for many beginning and even intermediate players. They practice tactics and strategy and go through numerous games analyses, but they ignore one important aspect of the game: the endgames.
Endgames are where games are won. If you are the kind of player that leaves endgame structures to a chance, you will have a hard time mastering chess. Or let’s say, you will have to hard time reaching the pinnacle of success you so desire.
In this article, we are going to talk about what makes the chess grandmasters different from the rest. If you play with a chess engine, you will find out that no matter what you do, the endgames you reach are always in favor of the engines. (You must have thought, “The game is rigged, dammit!”)
Well, the chess engines do it by brute force calculation―sometimes over 20 plies deep. How can you ever compete with them?
However, you will experience the same thing against a top-level chess grandmaster. Any endgame you reach is in favor of them. They somehow manage to win nonetheless.
Trust me, they don’t calculate more than 4-5 moves ahead.
So, how do they win endgames consistently?
GM Endgame Secret #1. They plan instead of calculating.
An average player would most probably start choosing candidate moves and then analyze them to choose the best one. Now, this is not the ideal approach. There’s nothing wrong with it but what nobody tells you is, there’s yet another step to the whole process.
Or, perhaps they do tell you but in a way that you do not understand. They call it evaluating the position. But what does evaluating the position even mean? It means understanding the “scope” of the current position and striving for a better future position.
Winning endgames depend on planning ahead. You have to figure out where your pieces should sit and then calculate to that ideal position.
GM Endgame Secret #2. They have a backup plan.
This might be the biggest mistake that ordinary chess players commit. They forget that chess is a game of possibilities. They look at a plan, think it is good enough and start proceeding with the moves.
What happens when the position changes and the plan do not fall into place, they panic and they make wrong choices. This usually happens because they do not calculate ‘widely’. They did not calculation all the variations and be ready for them. In chess, never be up for surprises, especially in endgames.
The best way to win endgames is to always have a plan ‘B’ that you can fall back on in case the original plan does not work out.
GM Endgame Secret #3. They understand endgame material imbalances
The interesting thing about endgames is that they are intrinsically different from the openings and the middle games. By that, I mean that the regular rules of material do not really apply in endgames. Forget that a knight and a bishop is worth 3 pawns each or that a queen is worth 9 pawns.
In peculiar endgames, a pawn pair might be even more powerful than a rook or even a pawn might beat a trapped bishop or a clumsy knight. And chess grandmasters understand these material and positional imbalances well. For an intermediate player, sacrificing a knight for two pawns might seem illogical while for a 2700+ grandmaster, it is absolutely logical.
If you want to win endgames by outwitting your opponent, you have to understand these nuances.
GM Endgame Secret #4. They go for familiar endgames.
Every sportsman understands “home field” advantage. You practice a particular endgame or a couple of them inside out. And in each of your games, you want to reach that endgame. Every exchange you make or every square you take…everything leads to that sort of endgame.
Can you really foresee 40 moves ahead? Yes, chess masters do it all the time. In fact, most grandmaster level games have the first 15-20 moves already prepared or rehashed, perhaps with a novelty here and there.
So, you plan for your favorite endgame from the middle game phase. Playing in your “home field” will immensely increase your endgame winning skills by over a few hundred points for sure.
GM Endgame Secret #5. They practice endgames.
This is a huge one that separates a chess professional from an amateur player. While an amateur might have a few tactics trainer apps on his smartphone or do 5-10 puzzles on chess24.com, a grandmaster will work through thousands of chess endgame puzzles.
After all, it is their career. They aim to perfect their endgame skills before they start on their opening theory or strategy training. If you ask me, only two areas need to be focused on during the early phases of the game, viz. tactics and endgame. Once you master these, your whole chess outlook will change.