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King and Pawn Endgames 1

The Rule of the Square

This rule states that if the defending King is in the pawn’s promotion square or, if it is the defender to move, can step into the square, then the King will catch the pawn and draw. If he can’t, then the pawn promotes.
The square is drawn from the pawn to the promotion square (here b4 to b8) and the same number of squares (here 5) along the pawn’s rank in the direction of the defending King (here b4 to f4).
In this example, Black to move draws with 1…Kf4!
White to move wins with 1.b5! making a new, smaller square (b5-e5-e8-b8) which the Black King cannot enter.
Note that if the Black King was on g7 and had the move, he could draw by playing any of Kf6, Kf7 or Kf8 as all of these moves enter the pawn’s promotions square.

If the pawn is on the 2nd rank, then the square is drawn as though the pawn was on the 3rd as the pawn can move 2 squares straight to the 4th rank.
In this example, the square would be a3-f3-f8-a8 and Black to move draws with Kf4 or Kf3.
White to move plays a4 and wins as Black cannot enter the a4-e4-e8-a8 square. 1…Kf3 2.a4 Ke4 3.a5 Kd5 4.a6 Kc6

The Opposition

The opposition is a very important concept in endgames. It refers to positions like this, where the Kings oppose each other. As Kings cannot stand next to one another, whoever has the move has to step to the side. In this position, it is White to move and so we say that Black has the opposition.

The Opposition (Diagonal)

In the diagram above, Black has the diagonal opposition. Note that wherever White moves, Black keeps the opposition, diagonal or regular: 1.Ke4 Ke6!

The Opposition (Distant)
Here, Black to move plays 1…Ke8! and claims the distant opposition, which is when the Kings are on the same file or rank and separated by an odd number of squares (the Kings will be on the same colour). If they keep approaching one another, Black will gain the regular opposition. 2.Ke3 Ke7 3.Ke4 Ke6

Winning with the Opposition

In this, very common, ending, if White has the opposition (Black to move) he wins, as Black must give way. 1…Kf6 2.Kd5! Kf7 3.Kd6 Kf8 4.e4 Ke8 5.Ke6 Kd8 6.Kf7 Kd7 7.e5 and the pawn promotes. Note that when White’s King has advanced, he can allow Black to take the opposition as a pawn move will force Black to give it up.

Defending with the Opposition

Now we’ll see how Black defends the position when he has the opposition. With a single pawn (except for a Rook’s pawn), there are 3 key squares which are the square 2 in front of the pawn (e5 in this example) and the squares either side of this square (so, d5 and f5). If White gets his King to one of these squares, then he will win so Black must prevent this.

1.Kd4 Kd6! [1…Kf6? 2.Kd5! wins]
2.Ke4 Ke6! 3.Kf4 Kf6!
White isn’t making any progress so advances the pawn.

4.e4 note that the key squares change to d6, e6 and f6.

4…Ke6! White’s pawn obstructs his King from taking the opposition.

5.e5 Ke7! Black must take the opposition or move a square back staying on the same file as the pawn.

6.Kf5 Kf7! 7.e6+ Ke7 8.Ke5

White has the opposition but the placement of his pawn stops him from keeping it.
8…Ke8! the other moves allow White the opposition and lose.

9.Kf6 Kf8! 10.e7+ Ke8 11.Ke6 Draw by stalemate.

Study: The Opposition and Key Squares

Even seemingly simple K+P endgames can hold traps. The key squares in this example are b5, c5 and d5. White needs to find a way to control one of them. Heading straight for d5 doesn’t work:

1.Kd2? Ke7 2.Kd3 Kd7! Black has the opposition 3.c4 Kc6 and White cannot make progress.

Instead 1.Kc2! Ke7 2.Kb3 Kd6 [2…Kd7 3.Kb4 aiming for b5 3…Kc6 4.Kc4]
3.Kb4 White has the opposition and looks to take key square b5 3…Kc6 4.Kc4 and White will take control of one of the key squares.

Key Squares of the Rook Pawns

Rook pawns generally give less winning chances as they only have one adjacent file meaning less squares around the pawn for either King to use and a higher chance of stalemate. The key squares are always b7 and b8 for an a-pawn and g7 and g8 for a h-pawn as these are the squares that protect the promotion square.
1.Kb5 Kc7 2.Ka6 Kc8 3.a4 Kc7 4.a5 Kc8 5.Ka7 Kc7 6.Ka6 Kc6 7.Ka7 Kc7 8.a6 Kc8 9.Kb6 [or 9.Ka8 Kc7 10.a7 Kc8 and White is stalemated.] 9…Kb8 10.a7+ Ka8 11.Ka6 stalemate

Promoting a Knight’s Pawn

Knight pawns also give some chance to go wrong and stalemate the defender. The key squares are as usual: a6, b6 and c6.
1…Ka7 2.Kc6 Kb8 3.Kb6 Ka8 4.Kc7?! takes longer. This natural looking move traps the defender and increases the likelihood of stalemate. [4.Ka6 is best, allowing the defending King out of the corner]

4…Ka7 5.b5 Ka8 6.Kb6 [6.b6?? stalemates.]

6…Kb8 7.Ka6 the White King makes it back to a6

7…Ka8 8.b6 Kb8 9.b7 and promotes.

Triangulation

Triangulation is the method of taking an extra move than is necessary to reach a position to change which side has the move when you get there. In this example, Black has to guard his pawn and keep an eye on the f-pawn. He cannot go after the base g4 pawn as the f-pawn would run to promotion. If it was Black to move, after Ke5 White would play g5 followed by f6 and Black would have to leave the defence of his pawn. However, it is White to move so he looks for a way of reaching this position again but with Black to move.

1.Kd2 Kf6 [1…Kd5 2.g5 Ke5 3.f6 Ke6 4.Kd3]
2.Ke2! the extra move
2…Ke5 3.Kd3 the same position as we began with but now Black must choose between his pawn and the f-pawn
3…Kd5 4.f6 Ke6 5.g5 winning.

White cannot play the natural Kg5? as Ke4! forces him to give up the protection of his pawn. Instead, White loses a move 1.Kg6! Ke4 the only move to protect the pawn 2.Kg5 winning.

Shouldering
‘Shouldering’ is the technique of forcing the opponent’s King away from where it wants to go by standing in the way with your own King.

Schlage – Ahues, 1921. This famous example comes from a drawn game which went:
1.Ke6 Kc3 2.Kd6? Kd4 3.Kc6 Ke5 4.Kb7 Kd6 5.Kxa7 Kc7 and White’s King finds himself caged.

Black’s defence relies on him getting to c7 to achieve this situation. White can prevent this with a more careful route:
2.Kd5! taking d4 away from Black and slowing his journey to c7
2…Kb4 3.Kc6 Ka5 4.Kb7 Kb5 5.Kxa7 Kc6 6.Kb8 winning.

The Reti Study

This very famous study by Richard Reti (a great player too) from 1921 is an excellent example of a way to use the King. Whilst not a ‘shouldering’ manoeuvre exactly, it involves the King taking an indirect path to accomplish his goal. It is White to move and draw. The h-pawn cannot be captured by the King and the b-pawn cannot be saved and at first glance the position appears resignable. Yet, Reti shows how to magically combine 2 ideas.

1.Kg7! necessary. White takes a step closer to both his and his opponent’s pawns.
1…h4 [1…Kb6 2.Kf6 transposes]

2.Kf6! Kb6 [2…h3 3.Ke7 h2 4.c7!]

3.Ke5!

3…h3 [3…Kxc6 4.Kf4 and White catches the pawn (or even 4.Ke4) ]

4.Kd6! h2 5.c7 h1Q 6.c8Q=

Breakthrough
A breakthrough is a pawn manoeuvre, often a pawn sacrifice, to allow another pawn to promote.

This classic study by Cozio, way back in 1766, illustrates the idea of a breakthrough. White will give up 2 pawns to promote the third.

1.b6! axb6 clearly the pawn needs to be captured. [1…cxb6 2.a6! bxa6 3.c6!]

2.c6! threatening cxb7 and b8Q

2…bxc6 3.a6! and the a-pawn promotes.

Breakthrough 2

1.f5 Kb4 [1…exf5 2.gxf5 Kb4 3.e6 and Black is outside the 3×3 square]
2.f6! gxf6 3.exf6 e5 4.g5! (diagram)

4…e4 [4…hxg5 5.h6! and White promotes first.] 5.g6 e3 6.gxf7 e2 7.f8Q+

[Also 2.g5 exf5 (2…hxg5 3.f6! gxf6 4.h6! wins; 2…Kc5 3.f6 gxf6 4.gxh6) 3.g6! fxg6 4.e6!]
Breakthrough 3

A simple breakthrough for speed. Capturing the g7 pawn and pushing the f-pawn to f8 will take 4 moves whilst the c-pawn is going to Queen in 2.

1.f6! gxf6 2.g7! c2 3.g8Q c1Q 4.Qb8+ and White can either take a draw with perpetual check on b8 and a8 or play for more by capturing 2 pawns after 4…Ka6 5.Qb5+

Breakthrough 4

This great example is from a Kasparov game played in 1980. The opening was a Caro-Kann with the typical h4-h5 push and here we can see how that move can be a factor in the endgame. Kasparov realises that he can simplify into a won K+P endgame. 1.Bxf6! gxf6 2.Rd1! the Rook cannot escape the d-file. Here, Kasparov’s opponent resigned but let’s see the breakthrough

2…Rxd1 3.Kxd1 Kd7 4.g5!

4…fxg5 5.fxg5 Ke7 [5…hxg5? 6.h6] 6.gxh6 Kf8 and now, with Black’s King tied up dealing with the h-pawns, White can turn his attention to the other side of the board. Many moves win but

7.b4! follows the breakthrough theme.

One thought on “King & Pawn Endgames”

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