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LCB, Issue #005 -- Avoid the Pitfalls and Win King and Pawn Endings
October 01, 2011

King and Pawn Endings

Lapoc Chess Board, Issue #005 -- Choppy Waters of King and Pawn Endings

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Last month we covered what material we needed to mate the enemy king. We considered the likely outcomes in endgames involving a king and queen up against a king and a minor piece. And we wrapped up with a discussion on the strengths of the king and how you should use him in the endgame.

This month we will sail the dangerous waters of king and pawn endgames. We start with a king and pawn vs king scenario. We find out what you need to do to get that pawn promoted and how you should go about defending if you end up as the weaker king in this endgame. We also look at 'Fox in the Chicken Coup' and 'Deep Freeze' strategies you can employ when there are several pawns on the board. Then we take a first glance at the added complexities that rook pawns bring to proceedings.

The final segments center around battles between pawns and pieces. First we find out how a pawn gets on when up against one minor piece or another. We then finish off this month by examining a rook and pawn endgame.

King and Pawn vs King

This is the classic King and Pawn Endgame. How do you force the promotion of your pawn if you wind up with the only remaining pawn at the end of it all? How do you defend such a position? The player with the extra pawn must use a combination of opposition and outflanking to push the enemy king back and promote his pawn.

The first thing to do is to get the king in front of the pawn. This must be done before the pawn reaches the sixth rank. The king must reach it first. You also need to have opposition. A waiting move from the pawn if available may or may not be necessary. If the defending king can use opposition to prevent this he will secure a draw. If you're defending and your opponent gets in front of the pawn you can still draw with opposition. You are lost without it.

As soon as you get ahead of the pawn and you've got opposition you are ready to start eating into your opponent's position. You will do this using a technique called outflanking. You momentarily give up opposition in exchange for territory. Your opponent must hand the opposition back with his next move or be swept aside. When your king reaches the sixth rank he will use this technique one final time to gain access to the queening square. Then the pawn will march unchallenged to the final rank and victory will be assured.

Outside Passed Pawns

Passed pawns are like gold dust in the endgame. These are pawns that have no enemy pawns on adjacent files between them and the final rank. Outside passed pawns are even more valuable. There is a trick known as the Fox in the Chicken Coup that you can use in King and Pawn Endgames to win the game. It goes like this.

Both sides have two or three pawns blocking each other on one side of the board. Your king and your opponent's king are in close proximity to the pawns and are facing each other down. The king that has opposition will push his counterpart back and eventually win the pawns. If you have another pawn on the other side of the board, suddenly it doesn't matter who has opposition.

This pawn, an outside passed pawn will prove decisive. Now the enemy king must race over to stop this pawn from promoting. Meanwhile your king does not try to save the passed pawn. Instead he will move in on the enemy pawns from the rear while his adversary is away dealing with the problem on the other side of the board. Your king now becomes the Fox in the Chicken Coup, feasting on the unprotected pawns. After that you just have the simple task of promoting your pawns and closing out the win.

Deep Freeze

A big part of chess is trying to create pawn majorities that you can utilize to win in the endgame. You want situations where you have 2 pawns against 1 or maybe 3 pawns against 2. Then you can force a break-through and queen one of your pawns. You have to avoid being careless though or the smaller force may freeze your pawn majority preventing progress.

This trick is something you should always remember and try to implement when you find yourself on the wrong side of a pawn majority. When you manage to stop a larger force of pawns from advancing we call it a deep freeze. Make sure you don't allow the larger pawn chain to roll down the board. Advance your minority chain to meet the enemy in their half of the board. It's critical that your pawns are closer to promotion.

If you get the chance meet the leading pawn head on with your own pawn taking control of both squares on either side of it. Now it cannot progress and if any of it's comrades do you can take and win the race to promotion. All of which means none of these pawns can move. You've put the pawn majority in a deep freeze. If you have the majority do not lead with the pawn on the same file as the enemy pawn. You can avoid getting frozen in this way.

Rook Pawns

If the last remaining pawn is a rook pawn, drawing chances for the defending king dramatically increase. If the weaker king can get his king into the corner in front of the pawn he cannot be dislodged.

The reason for this is simple. If the pawn was on any other file the defending king would be forced to vacate the queening square when the pawn reaches the seventh rank. This would allow the stronger king to move on to the seventh rank supporting the pawn's advance to promotion.

However with a rook pawn there is no outside file to force the defending king on to. The net result is that the stronger side is faced with the less than appetizing choice of giving up the pawn or stalemating the king in the corner. Eventually it is a draw one way or the other.

Minor Piece vs Lone Pawn

In this endgame the minor piece is playing for a draw and the pawn is playing for a win. This is because a king and minor piece cannot force mate but a pawn can promote to queen and easily overpower the minor piece. So the minor piece must sacrifice itself for the pawn in order to draw.

The bishop can draw easily thanks to it's long range power. It does not even require any help from it's king. All you have to do is place your bishop on a diagonal that controls a square in front of the pawn. You can shuffle your bishop back and forth along this diagonal if your opponent plays waiting moves with his king. A rook pawn can even blunder to defeat if it's king is trapped in front of it. But only careless play can lead to a smother mate. Yet another instance that shows that rook pawns are less desirable than any other pawn.

A knight can also draw but must be close to the pawn. The knight must take control of the square directly in front of the pawn. If it can do this the enemy king will not be able to chase it away. The knight will simply dance around the pawn leaving the hapless king to chase around in circle after it. It is a futile exercise as the pawn will never be able to advance.

Rook vs Lone Pawn

In this endgame the rook is playing for a win and the pawn is playing for a draw. The rook can win because unlike the minor piece it can mate the enemy king working with it's own king. The pawn cannot win because from any conceivable position the rook can take it ultimately if promotion is forced.

In order for the rook to win it's king must be close to the action. The stronger king must be in position to assist the rook in taking the pawn free of charge. A pawn that is not well advanced has little chance if the enemy king can get over to support the rook as it intercepts. When the pawn falls the simple king and rook vs king checkmate will follow by way of the shrinking box technique.

The pawn is playing to force the stronger side to sacrifice the rook in exchange for it earning a draw. This is possible if the pawn is well advanced and the enemy king is far away. The pawn reaches the final rank and promotes. Then the rook will have to take it and be captured itself leaving us with two bare kings. All of the ideas discussed are available in the game viewer. You will get a rock solid understanding by playing through the moves.

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Play through the king and pawn endings.
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