Daniel King: Test Your Rook Endgames

by Moshe Rachmuth
4/15/2015 – To know endgames is good, to know rook endgames is even better. After all, they occur more often than any other endgame. But how to play the notoriously tricky rook endgames better? Daniel King has an answer. In volume 16 of his Power Play series he helps you to understand the nature of this endgame better. Moshe Rachmuth felt his game improve immediately.

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Daniel King: "Power Play 16: Test Your Rook Endgames": A Review

It was a rainy Saturday night at the Portland Chess club. The game between A. Patzer (that’s me!) and his nemesis N. Otherpatzer was nearing its climax. With each player having less than five minutes Patzer was pressing. Against his opponent’s rook and two pawns, Patzer had a rook and four foot soldiers, two of them passed and connected. A few spectators gathered around the board as they knew that a game between the two veterans always promised a good tragi-comedy.

Tonight was not an exception. Otherpatzer managed to exchange his pair of pawns against three of his archrival’s and was now defending a rook and pawn versus rook endgame. But Patzer had no intention of sharing the point with the sweaty man on the other side of the board. A. had worked hard enough to deserve that win. He pushed his last pawn to the seventh and all that he had to do in order to clinch the victory was to somehow take his own king out of the way without being perpetually checked by Otherpatzer’s ugly rook. A. Patzer just started the winning maneuver when his opponent said, “I am sorry.” And moved his rook back to his own first rank.

Before Patzer could understand why Otherpatzer had apologized he heard everyone laughing and realized he had been mated. Patzer, desperate, held his head in hands while Otherpatzer jumped out of his seat and held his feasts up high, proud of his traitorous little swindle. He left the board surrounded by his newly acquired fans while Patzer stayed glued to his chair, unable to move a muscle. Only one spectator, a man of many years with a long white beard stayed behind to console the loser.

It was K. Bitzer, the Portland Chess Club human encyclopedia of good advice. K. moved the pieces a few moves back and then A. Patzer heard the legend ask, “Have you considered Bridge?”

“I tried Bridge,” Patzer said, “but I was even weaker at bridge than I am at chess, if you can believe it.”

“Not the game of Bridge,” K. Bitzer smiled, “the bridge maneuver coming out of the Lucena position.”

“Oh, the Lucena position,” Patzer mumbled, his eyes getting foggy. How many times had Patzer heard that cursed name “Lucena” and how many times had he tried to construct that mysterious “bridge.” Truly, There had been an evening, in March of 1989, when Patzer was sure he had mastered the Lucena position and how to win from it but the next morning, when he had tried to win it against himself he could no longer do it and like Pierre de Fermat’s elegantly short proof of his last theorem, Patzer’s achievement was lost forever.

The famous Lucena position. White wins with 1.Rf4 or 1.Ra1

Fortunately enough, A. Patzer forgets the pain of his losses almost as quickly as he forgets his home preparation and a few days later he was again walking tall and optimistic about his capability of mastering the rook endgames if only he had the right teacher. For this reason, it should not surprise anyone that Patzer was excited to try GM Daniel King’s DVD on rook endgames.

The DVD is made of twenty lessons, averaging around fifteen minutes per lesson and twenty three test positions with videos of solutions. This comes to a total of thirty three videos. As always you also get the Fritz kibitzer so you can stop a video at any point and play a little against the computer to make sure you understand how to win or draw from a given position.

Starting with the introduction, there seems to be a lot to wait for in this product. GM Daniel King is his own usual friendly and charismatic self (If you don’t know his work just google him and find many videos where he annotates top players’ games).

Daniel King

The introduction is both clear and stimulating. First, King explains his three goals with the DVD: to teach basic positions (Philidor, Lasker, Lucena…), then typical motifs and then typical endgames. That is good: the roadmap is completely clear and you know what you are about to learn and the order. But what comes next is the extra that Patzer needs and it comes in the form of a rook endgame between Carlsen and Hracek.

At this point, I am afraid, I have a shocking confession: Patzer has no idea what is going on in Carlsen’s games. Not that Patzer understands any of the other elite grandmasters but when Patzer sees a game by Jobava or Rapport, for example, he can at least relate: they lose a piece in the opening and then they throw many pieces to the middle, open some lines and finally, hocus pocus, they mate their opponent! OK, you got me, Patzer does not understand Jobava’s chess either but at least this is entertaining: fireworks, fantasy, Neverland chess! In Carlsen’s games on the other hand, your common woodpusher is presented with a boring equal opening which turns into a queenless middlegame and ends with an opposite colored bishops endgame that Magnus wins. Am I exaggerating, really? Do you remember the sixth game of the first world championship match between Carlsen and Anand? Tell me you did not fall asleep as soon as the rook endgame started only to wake up and find out that the world championship was practically over with Carlsen winning a second game in a row!

Magnus Carlsen is famous for his deadly endgame skills (Photo: Nadja Wittmann)

You now understand why Patzer was curious to see whether King can make a Carlsen endgame into something your average Mikhail Tal fan could appreciate. And, boy, he can! Wow. Once this endgame is explained, Patzer can finally see what creative art work it is, what a mix of threats, double-threats and counter threats. What Patzer thought was a boring game of pawn counting turned out to be a sophisticated drama. Patzer was ready to jump into the action and learn how to do stuff like that in his own games.

But wait, said King, before you jump into the lessons look at the test positions and see what you hope to solve at the end of the DVD. Patzer liked the idea of looking at the puzzles before looking at the lessons. This would later give him a sense of how much progress he made thanks to the instruction. Who knows, maybe Patzer was so good to begin with he would not need the instructions at all? So Patzer tried his strength with the twenty three test positions and here are the results: in eighteen positions he had no idea what would be the correct move or plan in the position, in four of the others Patzer thought he knew the solution and in another one he felt like he had the right idea but the tactics did not work. Still Patzer felt he should be credited something for the idea and determined his grade as 4.5 out of 23. Surely, it looks like Patzer needed to watch the rest of the DVD but remember that, scientifically speaking, we don’t know how useful the DVD was for A. Patzer until we find his score at the end.

But before we know if it was useful ( Useful?! Is chess useful? Isn’t it, well, a game?) we can tell if it is joyous and to this patzer answers with a strong “yes!” Patzer is not a professional chess player and has no intention to be one. All that A. wants is to enjoy a good interactive chess lecture in front of his computer with his cup of chamomile tea and salted almond dark chocolate. If it will give him a better chance of revenge against Otherpatzer that is even better but this is not the main goal. The main goal is to enjoy high culture (admit it, you did not imagine anyone still uses the term “high culture”) and this goal is fully achieved by watching Daniel King’s DVD. King is so pleasant, friendly, clear and humble. It is really like having a cup of tea and dark chocolate (or beer and chips, if that’s your preference) with a grandmaster, and little by little seeing the charms of rook endgame being revealed in front of you. For example, in one of the endgames, just before losing a pawn but entering a drawn pawn endgame, King says, “we lose the pawn but we lose it with dignity” and he smiles to you as if he knew you had just zipped from your tea cup.

Focused: Daniel King

Not that it is going to be easy to make rook endgames your cup of tea. As you progress through the DVD and see more and more endgames by the luminaries of chess (such as Karpov, Anand and Aronian) the more you understand that in order to master rook endgames one needs to acquire a combination of proficiencies from other types of endgames: first, like pawn endgames, rook endgames have a set of positions (Lucena, Philidor…) one just has to know how to play from both sides; second, like queen endgames there are always  checkmate tricks and stalemate tricks that pop out of nowhere; third, like in bishop endgames, one also has to know a set of positional rules that have to be followed (but not to a point in which you get mated!) This is not going to be easy and you would probably want to see each of the lessons a few times to let the specific features of rook endgames sink in. And, as King puts it, when you play the endgame you need to know when there is no danger and when you need to stay “switched on,” ready for those tactics to raise their ugly heads.

Patzer is trying, but it is not that easy, going into the test positions after watching all lessons, he still missed basic tactics on two of the first three puzzles he tried to solve. His only consolation was that he repeated the mistakes made in the actual games by the masters who had played them, proving again that rook endgames are super tricky, especially because one has to have both positional vision and tactical alertness switched on.

So Patzer switched himself on (no illegal drugs were involved) and look and behold. He got fifteen (15) tests correct out of the remaining twenty (20)! Interestingly enough he got a wrong answer in one of the four and a half tests he originally got right. On the other hand Patzer also found that two of the four and a half he thought he had solved before watching the lessons he actually got wrong! (This may also explain why he did not trust himself on the one he got right and changed his move on the second time.) This way or the other, Patzer had improved from 2 ½ / 23 to 16/23 and this, in my humble view is a great success to both Patzer and GM King.

Was this DVD a good use of Patzer’s time? Very much so, without doubt. Although the four competitive games I have played since starting this review did not get to rook endgames (unless you count the one I played with a knight against a rook and the one I played with a bishop against a rook, losing both) but I have a strong sense that the knowledge gathered in this DVD will serve me in many games, as the positions are similar to positions I have played before, the only difference being that from now on I can play them with success. I feel confident that if I have to defend rook and two versus rook and three or attack with an extra a pawn, I will know what to do. But more than the practical value that this product has, what Daniel King did for me in this DVD is that he showed me the beauty and drama that are embedded in rook endings.  Learning something useful is good but learning something both useful and inspiring reminds me that patzer or not, what I am and what I love being is an admirer of chess.

Sample video


Daniel King: Power Play 16:
Test Your Rook Endgames

€25.13 without VAT (for Customers outside the EU)
$26.57 (without VAT)

This DVD can be be downloaded directly from the Internet, that way sparing you the few days needed for it to arrive by post.

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Dr. Moshe Rachmuth has a Ph.D. in Comparative literature from the University of Oregon and is a senior instructor at Portland State University, where he has worked since 2012. His teaching and life interests include Modern Hebrew, Biblical Studies, creative writing, humor and chess.


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