Karsten Müller: Chess endgames

by Derek Grimmell
3/29/2015 – "In everything people do that is difficult enough to be interesting, there is a crunch time", the time of exercise and effort that decides about success or failure claims chess enthusiast Derek Grimmell. In chess he thinks this is the endgame. More than a good reason to practice this crucial phase of the game. Karsten Müller has excellent material to do so.

ChessBase 17 - Mega package - Edition 2024 ChessBase 17 - Mega package - Edition 2024

It is the program of choice for anyone who loves the game and wants to know more about it. Start your personal success story with ChessBase and enjoy the game even more.


Crunch Time

Motivation will almost always beat mere talent. – Norman Augustine

The summer between 5th and 6th grade I decided that I should exercise. We had a primitive Jungle Gym behind our farmhouse, which offered the needed tools for my equally primitive and asthmatic body. All summer long it was deep knee bends, jumping jacks, push ups, pull ups, sit ups, throw ups, the whole nine yards. When 6th grade began it brought us something called the President’s Council on Physical Fitness, where all the 6th-graders around the country would compete at various things and win badges for their relative level of physical fitness. It might have been a contest in some places, but in our school we all knew who would win:  Russell Outhoudt, the natural athlete whose prowess at almost everything we all envied. So we gathered in the gymnasium as the teacher raised his stopwatch for the push-up contest. “Go!” he said, and I started doing pushups. I remember wanting to measure myself, so I went as hard as I could, getting sweaty and dizzy as my spotter counted off the chest touches, until 30 seconds later the teacher yelled, “Stop!”

In one fluid motion, Russell Othoudt sprang to his feet. “28,” he barked, “who’s second?”

“Uh,” my spotter said, pointing at my heaving, asthmatic chest. “He did 29.”

Stupefied silence throughout the gymnasium.

There is a feeling which, if bottled, would kill the international drug trade dead as a tin can. I felt it then, as Russell Othoudt’s stunned visage broke into a grin. He surged over to me (ignoring the teacher’s protests), shook my hand, pronounced us friends. We even played chess after that, and you know?  He was good at that too.

Ah, me. It was a great feeling. But as most visitors to ChessBase already know, that kind of feeling can’t be bottled. It can only be earned, after a long, grueling stretch of crunch time. In everything people do that is difficult enough to be interesting, there is a crunch time. It is working the verb conjugations in Latin, extracting the vectors in mathematics, practicing draw and English in billiards, it is the thing that demands a total focus, a rigid determination. There are no halfway points, any more than one may pride oneself on speaking Latin in the present indicative only; those who demand total, relentless effort of themselves will succeed, and those who cannot will fail.

There is a crunch time in chess. It’s the endgame.

To make this point we could bring up the name of Magnus Carlsen, who has made complex endings the basis of his World Championship and #1 rating, but it’s not just him. It’s all the greats. I recall watching Hikaru Nakamura play blitz games against some “ordinary” titled opponents a while ago, and it impressed me greatly how often he ground foes to paste in complex endgames. They knew the openings as well as he did, adjusted and counterpunched in the middlegame with the best of them, but as the original seven pieces per side dropped to five, then four, then three, over and again they went from dead even to dead lost. In the multi-piece ending, Naka was death incarnate.

For those who are ready for crunch time, Karsten Müller has two DVD’s in his remarkable endgame series devoted to just these kinds of positions. Titled “Rook and minor piece” and “Rook and two minor pieces,” they are simply stuffed with information. In fact, the titles are a bit misleading; in both courses he includes the matching double-rook endgames, which easily simplify to the single rook types he explores so thoroughly. And “thorough” is the operative word; in addition to his well-known depth of analysis in the endgame, the reader should know that Müller has packed 15 hours of audio lessons into the two programs. And the viewing time is the very least of the content, for each of the positions he selects deserves careful study beyond what Müller presents.

For example, in the section on R+B+N v R+2Bs, he examines Carlsen-Short, London 2010:

Müller includes many principles for handling these difficult positions, but in this one he doesn’t even mention the rubric of not trading off active for passive pieces. The question facing White is whether to trade Knight for Bishop and play with an initiative in the endgame with Rooks and opposite-colored Bishops (which he covers extensively elsewhere). Admittedly, White will have the better position, but here he agrees that Carlsen’s 23. Rd5! is the better plan. Then Müller goes on to discuss a guiding principle for these kinds of three-piece endgames: the light-squared strategy and play against the unopposed Bishop. After 23. ...Be6  24. Rxa5 Rd8  25. Bd3 Bf6  26. e4 we start to see why Carlsen wanted to play against the two Bishops. With a Knight as well as a Bishop, White can double-up on the light squares, and dominate Black’s light-squared Bishop. Meanwhile, Black’s dark-squared Bishop is not bad so much because of the e5 pawn, although this does it no favors, but because White’s forces can set up on light squares and render the unopposed Bishop useless, without a target on the board.

26. ...Rd4  Müller considers ...Rd6, which leads to a quick loss via attack on the a7 pawn and advance of the Queenside. 27. Rb5  Ra7 also wins, as Müller shows in a variation. 27...g6  28. a5 Kg7  29. Ke2 Bg4+  30. Kf2 Be6  31. Kf3 h5  32. Nd5

The light-squared strategy complete. The unopposed Bishop does almost nothing while White dominates on the light squares. It is no surprise that Carlsen went on to win with a Queenside advance. Short tried ...Bd8 here, but if ...Bxd5  33. exd5 leads to a hopeless Rook and opposite Bishop endgame, where White’s passed pawns and more active Rook more than overcome the drawish tendencies of the Bishops.

Müller offers several guidelines involving several variations in less than five minutes of viewing time. But simply watching the lessons does the material scant justice. The most important gift a chess teacher can give to the student is a selection of high-quality examples for careful study. So after viewing Müller’s material (twice, to be sure I understood), I moved back several moves, to this position:

17. Ne5  the trade of Rooks obviously does White no harm, but this move actually plays to continue restraint of Black’s light-squared Bishop. The immediate threat is Bh5, but also any future attempt to free the Bishop by ...b6 leaves the c6 square available to the White Knight. For example, 17...b6  18. Nc6 Rxd1+  19. Rxd1 Bc5  20. Rd8+ Kh7  21. Bf3. Black is hobbled and without coordination.

17. ...Nf6  18. Nc4 Rxd1+  The other option is 18. ...Nd5  19. Nb6 Nxb6  20. Bb6 Rxd1+  21. Rxd1, and now expanding and opening up the passive Bishop with ...e5 runs into 22. Rd5, and a pawn falls. 19. Rxd1 Nd5  20. Nb6

Now, capturing the Knight with ...Nxb6 transposes to the previous variation, where Black is horribly passive, but winning the two Bishops leads into Müller’s starting position, where the two Bishops are more a handicap than an advantage – if, that is, the other player understands the strategy of playing to neutralize the unopposed Bishop (and can see that the position allows it, of course).

But there was still more to this example. As one, I took the position after White’s 32nd move, where Short fell back with ...Bd8.

32. ...Bxd5 deserves a look as well. After 33. exd5 g5  34. Rxb7 g4+  35. Ke2 e4 the Bishop can go to b5, not at all a difficult move to find, and the three passed pawns (after ...Rxd4) make Black’s task hopeless.

So the reader can see how much instructive value there is, in a single example lasting less than five minutes. But these two programs contain 15 hours of such instruction. In contrast to Carlsen – Short, where the Knight had all the fun, we find Timofeev – Pashikian, Khanty-Mansiysk 2010, in which the unopposed Bishop in a complex Berlin endgame could not be restrained, and Timofeev’s pawn weaknesses denied him the chance to double up on his own Bishop’s color complex. As a result the unopposed Bishop dominated play and led to a Black victory. Nakamura’s Knight dominates Nisipeanu’s Bishop, Bologan liquidates to a winning Fischer endgame, and all of this in just the R+2B v R+B+N complex.

The purchaser should understand that the value of these discs will come, not from simply viewing them, but rather from investing substantial extra time in studying each of the games, far beyond the variations that Müller includes. These two program contain a staggering amount of material – 71 lessons on Rook plus minor piece and 63 on Rook plus two pieces – but each of these contains at least as much homework as presentation. In my case, 40 hours invested in these 15 hours of presentations, and as much work remains.

It goes on and on:  Rozentalis shows Glek exactly how to exploit a space advantage with Rooks and same-colored Bishops; Grischuk shows Kramnik his defensive skills in the very same endgame; 14 lessons on the Fischer endgame (R+B v R+N with the Bishop better) and 11 on the Andersson endgame (R+B v R+N with the Knight better); and even some analysis of a possible K+2N v K+2P (!) endgame in which Carlsen could have given mate with the Knights within the 50-move rule – illustrating the technique in this endgame, and why Wang Yue avoided this line.

This is not easy material to absorb, but it is material well worth absorbing. The road to excellence for many years lay through opening theory, but today all of the information is too widely available. To my eye, more and more the difference between the top seeds and the also-rans in almost every tournament is the former’s superiority in the complex endgame. Those who would like to share this power, and are ready for crunch time, should seriously consider these two programs on an under-explored yet vital phase of the game.

Sample video


Karsten Müller: Chess Endgames 10 - Rook and two minor pieces


Languages: English, German
Level: Advanced,  Tournament player,  Professional

€25.20 without VAT (for Customers outside the EU)
$27.54 (without VAT)

This DVD can be purchased as a hard copy or it can be downloaded directly from the Internet.

Order this Fritztrainer in the ChessBase Shop


Sample video


Karsten Müller: Chess Endgames 9 - Rook and Minor Piece


Languages: English, German
Level: Advanced, Tournament Player, Professional

€25.20 without VAT (for Customers outside the EU)
$27.54 (without VAT)

This DVD can be purchased as a hard copy or it can be downloaded directly from the Internet.

Order this Fritztrainer in the ChessBase Shop



Derek Grimmell, Ph.D. is a club player and forensic psychologist who holds an enthusiasm for the saxophone music of Paul Desmond and the chess games of Vassily Smyslov, in which he sees remarkable similarities.


Rules for reader comments


Not registered yet? Register