Chess Endgame Strategy: Active Rooks & Faster Pawns!

Readers of this blog will know how much I emphasise attacking chess and being aggressive in  your chess playing style, so some might find it surprising that in this article I highly recommend a deep study of chess endgame strategy.

Throughout my life playing chess I have had so many times in tournaments where I made a mistake or was outplayed somewhere (probably as a result of not knowing the opening theory or something), and when it came time to “finish me off” in the endgame, my opponent drifted horribly.

One particularly memorable time was at an open tournament, I was playing black against some booked up junior and in a Najdorf Sicilian (English Attack!).

I was in terrible form during this tournament and to make it worse, I wasn’t familiar with the line he’d prepared so I was in big trouble.

I’d think for 10 minutes and then move and he’d respond immediately before banging the clock and glaring at me.

And thats how we’d go.

I was lost in about 20 moves and he was acting super confident (read: arrogant little shit).

Luckily, I was only lost and not mated, because that meant I could still throw up some obstacles for him.

So I spent a long time with head in my hands thinking and after 30 or so minutes I came up with an idea.

The idea was to leave open a forcing sequence (which juniors love) and tempt him into “winning” material, thus going into an “easy” endgame.

He went for it. Chess psychology in action.

He confidently and swiftly made the necessary exchanges and when the dust settled, I was the exchange down but with improved pawn structure and no weaknesses.

Do you think he could convert with an extra rook against my bishop and active king (there were also other other pieces on the board and pawns rolling around, but these pieces mentioned are the key actors in this drama)? Nope. I almost won and he was lucky to “save” his won position!

Easy draw.

Another case in point was a tournament game from 2008 against an old mate of mine named Jason Hu.

Jason is a 2200ish player who is pretty erratic in his results.

Sometimes he’ll beat GMs and IMs and sometimes he’ll lose or draw against 1600 players.

It depends on the day, the position and the mood I guess.

So… I played against Jason and we got some innocuous opening where he was basically doing nothing as white and I rewarded him by giving him a free pawn which was soon followed by a queen swap.

I heard from some other friends that between moves he’d already told somebody as he grabbed a glass of water, “Yeah, I’m already beating Brendan, he popped a pawn”.

Again we are back in the realm of “beating but not mated”, right?

Once we got into the endgame I was quickly able to reach a position where despite being down the pawn, my pawns were “faster” (a very important concept) and my rook/s was more active.

Another strong friend told me that he thought I might actually win the game, but in reality Jason was never really in trouble. I did get an easy draw though.

I’ll post the game below for your amusement.

And yes! When playing 14…Nf6 I completely overlooked that he could just take my pawn on b7!

Such a genius. 🙂

So clearly having a lot of extra endgame knowledge up our sleeve can help to save many a lost position and what is even better, allow us to completely outplay even masters when they overpress.

The following video lesson will highlight some of the themes (including the defeat of a master!) I’ve spoken about in this post and promises to be very instructive.

I hope you get a lot from it.