Endgame Series 21 - Simplifications in Difficult Endgames



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After learning how to build fortresses, the reader can further improve his endgame defensive skills by reading the latest article of GM Davorin Kuljasevic - Simplifications in Difficult Endgames.

Let's see how the author himself introduces the current topic.

Simplification is a method of reducing the number of pieces on the board with a certain purpose. In the endgame, simplification can serve two purposes:

1) defensive strategy (i.e. achieving a draw)

2) winning strategy (i.e. winning the game)

In this issue of Endgame series, we will explore simplification as a defensive strategy, while in the next one, we will focus on simplification as a winning strategy. The goal of simplification as a defensive strategy is to reduce the number of opponent’s fighting units, and thus his winning chances. Usually, this is done by exchanging our own pieces/pawns for opponent’s, but it can also be accomplished by sacrificing material for opponent’s important assets, such as a far advanced passed pawn. Considering the importance of pawns in endgames, simplification by reducing the number of pawns on the board usually increases drawing chances. The primary reason for that is the fact that many pawnless endgames are drawn either due to insufficient mating material (K+N/B vs K) or theoretically drawn (e.g. R+B/ N vs R are the most common ones). The secondary reason is that reducing the number of defender’s own pawns reduces the number of potential targets that the stronger side could exploit (e.g. backward or isolated pawn).

Besides drawing scenarios mentioned above, there are several other ways a draw can be reached in a chess game, and I list them below:

Draw by: 

  • Stalemate 
  • Threefold repetition 
  • Perpetual check 
  • Insufficient mating material 
  • Theoretical draw (well-known positions with limited material in which defending side needs to know the correct drawing method or sequence; e.g. Philidor defence in R+p vs R or Cochrane defence in R+B vs R) ·
  • Positional draw (e.g. blockade, fortress, wrong color bishop etc.) ·
  • Fifty-move rule ·
  • Mutual agreement

Simplification, if done wisely, can help us achieve many of these drawn outcomes while defending a worse endgame. Now, let us see some examples from grandmaster practice, in which simplification as a drawing method played the key role in the endgame.

Draw due to insufficient mating material

We start with a simple example, from an 1841 study by Walker.

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The material balance that we have on the board is often sufficient for White to win the game. The usual plan is to send the king toward d6-square and outflank the opponent's king or provoke Black into pushing his pawns when it becomes easier to pick them up. However, in this particular case, Black can achieve a draw by permanently threatening to trade off white c-pawn with a timely ...c6-c5, followed by ...Kc(a)6 and ...b6-b5.

In this article, you will find 10 extensively annotated games which cover all the important aspects of the simplification.

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