Chess Endgames: Everything You Need To Know

The endgame is the last phase of a chess game, in which most of the pieces are already traded off. Before the endgame, the middlegame takes place. The exact transition from middlegame to endgame is often not clear. It might occur gradually, or even with a quick mass-exchange of pieces.

In this guide we’ll dive deep into chess endgames and help you with valuable strategies, tips and tactics for the last phase of a chess game. Let’s go!

8 Key Strategies For The Endgame in Chess

Beginners are often overwhelmed when closing in on the endgame. Especially when the position is balanced, the opportunity for game-ruining mistakes are seemingly endless.

1. Learn Basic Checkmating Patterns

You’ll never win a game of chess, if you don’t know how to checkmate. Especially in the endgame, it is crucial to be able to finish off a game with confidence. Make sure to learn the following basic checkmates, which we sorted by increasing difficulty:

  • King and two rooks against a king
  • King and queen against a king
  • King and rook against a king
  • King and two bishops against a king
  • King, bishop, and knight against a king

This, for example, is a forced checkmate with two bishops against a lone enemy king:

chess endgame - two bishops vs king
Two Bishops vs. a King in The Endgame

2. Advance Your Pawns

The main goal in a lot of endgames is to promote your pawns into another piece before your opponent can do so. But, in order to promote your pawns, they need to reach the other side of the board. Having said that, make sure to push your pawns forward!

In chess, the most valuable type of pawn is called a “passed pawn”. A pawn is “passed”, once it has no enemy pawn in its way, that could stop it from reaching the other side of the board. There is a famous saying in chess: “Passed pawns must(!) be pushed”.

This is a prime example of a passed pawn in the endgame, which is impossible to stop:

passed pawn in the chess endgame
Passed Pawns Are a Valuable Asset in The Engame – Push Them!

3. Activate Your Own King

While the king is a very weak game during the opening and mid-game, he can quickly become a powerful asset during the endgame. Once most pieces are traded off, the king – while still slow – is often the only piece that can freely move to any square on the board.

Having said that, make sure you activate your king in the endgame. That means, try bringing it to the center, where it is closer to the action. The king is said to be worth roughly 4 points in value during the endgame (even though the king usually doesn’t get a points-value assigned), so make sure to put them to good use!

4. Isolate Your Opponent’s King

The same principle of activating your own king should be applied to your opponent’s king, but in reverse, of course. You want to isolate the enemy king as much as possible, where he can do the least attacking and defending.

This is a good example of a king that is rendered almost completely useless:

the importance of an active king in the chess endgame
Active Kings Are Important in Endgames

Admittedly, this position is crazy on its own, but it illustrates well how a properly placed king (in this case White) can support an attack, while an isolated king (Black) is almost useless.

5. Play Slowly and Calculate Your Moves

A major advantage of endgames, compared to the middlegame and opening, is, that the amount of pieces is greatly reduced. The position is usually a lot simpler, with less time required to calculate possible moves. And still, endgames are often full of hasty play and unnecessary mistakes.

If you have enough time on your clock, make sure to put it to good use! Don’t blunder yourself into losing; it happens all to often to beginners and pros alike.

6. Attack Weak Pawns

As we’ve mentioned, pawns are almost always the driving forces in the endgame. While we want to have connected and passed pawns, as they are important strategic resources, there are other types of pawns we want to avoid:

  • Doubled pawns. Two pawns directly behind each other
  • Isolated pawns. Pawns that are completely on their own, not having any other pawns on adjacent files
  • Backward pawns. The last pawn in a pawn chain, meaning it is unprotected

Since we don’t want to have those types of pawns in our position, we should be happy if we see any of them in our opponents endgame:

chess endgame - attack weak pawns
Black’s Pawns on the g- and h-file Are Vulnerable

While the material in this example is almost identical (okay, White has one pawn more), the position is completely lost for Black. White can start attacking the weak pawns on h5 and g4, with Black having no chance of defending them.

After capturing, White is free to advance his own pawns onto the back rank, where they can be promoted into queens.

7. Build Up Multiple Attacks

Whenever an attack seems to be stalling or you just can’t seem to make any progress in the position, try to work out a way to build up a second attack. This could be on the other side of the board, or by targeting key defense pieces in the enemy position.

All to often we see players being frustrated by slow advances and rushing into mistakes as a consequence. If you can’t make any progress in a position, sit back, and take a good look at the board. Ask yourself: Where is the weakest point in the enemy position – and attack that point!

More often than not, your opponent will crumble under a double-attack as he struggles to defend both advances. Remember: Whenever a piece is used defensively, it is hardly useful in an attack!

8. Memorize and Train Endgames

The last point is less of a strategy and more of a general tip on how to improve your endgames in chess.

Lucky for us, chess endgames usually follow similar patterns we can learn by heart, increasing our confidence going into them. So, make sure you learn the most common types of chess endgames.

Our top 3 endgames you need to know by heart are:

  • Rook and king endgames
  • King and pawn endgames
  • Rook vs. two minor pieces