Karsten Müller: Topical Endgames

by Karsten Müller
9/7/2022 – Our ineffable Karsten Mueller brings this lovely set of endgames for both your entertainment and enjoyment as well as one more learning lesson. Be sure to check out how to beat a 2800 in a rook endgame, not to mention scary positions you should not be afraid of, and when sending a knight to a corner can be a saving maneuver. The last position has some aesthetic ideas that serve as the cherry on top.

Chess Endgames 14 - The golden guidelines of endgame play Chess Endgames 14 - The golden guidelines of endgame play

Rules of thumb are the key to everything when you are having to set the correct course in a complex endgame. In this final DVD of his series on the endgame, our endgame specialist introduces you to the most important of these rules of thumb.


Using the active notation

You might be inclined to believe the game notations below are either to be just looked at and the moves played through in your mind. But as most of you know you can click on the moves to get a separate replay board, which you can resize and move to the best place on your screen. The popup board has full controls, and you can use the navigation buttons to advance the moves, as well as use an engine or save the game or position to your computer. In the engine window you can ask for multiple lines, or what the threat is, or see the positional evaluation of the position. 

Punishing passiveness

They say all rook endgames are drawn, but this truism is put to the test day in and day out by even the best players in the world. In the following quite equal endgame, Nepomniachtchi punishes Firouzja's passive approach to the position with merciless strokes that become a masterclass in rook endgame play.


Don't judge a book by its cover

Visually, the opening diagram for the endgame has to look not a little frightening for Black. White has two advanced connected passed pawns, the king next to them for support, and Black's king is in the crosshairs, but appearances can be deceiving as both GM Sadhwani and Karsten Mueller demonstrate. 


Magical Chess Endgames

In over 4 hours in front of the camera, Karsten Müller presents to you sensations from the world of endgames - partly reaching far beyond standard techniques and rules of thumb - and rounds off with some cases of with own examples.


The classic fight between knight and bishop should have ended in a draw with more than one path to equality. Perhaps the most astonishing analysis is how a trip to the corner by the knight was also a possibility, but the magic is in how it pulls this trick off. The real lesson here: any move can be possible so long as there is a solid plan behind it.


Battle of the Zwischenzugs

This cute finale starts with black and white trying to outfinesse each other, but the deciding zwischenzugs by each player end in Black's favor. A very pretty sequence to wrap things up.



Here are all the above endgames in our traditional player:



Karsten Müller is considered to be one of the greatest endgame experts in the world. His books on the endgame - among them "Fundamentals of Chess Endings", co-authored with Frank Lamprecht, that helped to improve Magnus Carlsen's endgame knowledge - and his endgame columns for the ChessCafe website and the ChessBase Magazine helped to establish and to confirm this reputation. Karsten's Fritztrainer DVDs on the endgame are bestsellers. The mathematician with a PhD lives in Hamburg, and for more than 25 years he has been scoring points for the Hamburger Schachklub (HSK) in the Bundesliga.
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JoshuaVGreen JoshuaVGreen 9/8/2022 01:50

I thought about this more and decided that my claim of contradiction was too harsh. "Still, Black should be careful, because he has more weak pawns" was presumably meant to qualify "we have an approximately even rook endgame" rather than as a separate statement. I now take the combined meaning as something like "The position is objectively equal, but Black has more weak pawns and hence needs to be particularly careful." That seems like a fair assessment, so please accept my apology for my criticism of this point.

With respect to 29. ... Rc6, it's calling it dubious that I'm still struggling with. If the position was objectively drawn before 29. ... Rc6 and it's objectively drawn after 29. ... Rc6 then it's not an objective mistake, but maybe it creates practical difficulties. The problem is that to choose 29 ... Rc2 over it one must see the lines from each and decide that 29. ... Rc2 yields better chances. Firouzja could analyze his way through to 41. ... Kg7, he could suspect that the position is objectively drawn, but how sure could he be in that evaluation or in his ability to hold it? I used tablebase access as a shorthand for "ability to play perfectly," and I'm sorry if that was confusing, but my point was that humans are human. I'm not immediately seeing any examples of this pawn structure in "Fundamental Chess Endings," but "The Survival Guide to Rook Endings" gives Adams - Ki. Georgiev, Tilburg 1992, in which Black (with the extra pawn) had good winning chances.
In short, I think Firouzja could have seen that position, assessed it as likely drawn based on the idea that 3v2 on one side often is, and still decided that he'd have better chances in a position in which he wasn't yet down a pawn. It didn't work out for him, but maybe 29. ... Rc2 wouldn't have worked out for him either. I find it hard to consider 29. ... Rc6 dubious without taking the actual result of the game into account, but that just seems like ex post facto reasoning.
zoranp zoranp 9/7/2022 07:23

I still don't understand the problem. The move 26...Rb4 is a clear mistake because misses a relatively easy draw after 26...fxg3. After his move, although he can equalize, it is hard to do that. So hard that Black - lost this game. "Only mad brain when he has two choices, an easy one and a complex one, decides a complex one - as Lasker had written. Move 26...Rb4 is a mistake - at least to me because misses an easy way to make a draw. So, this move is criticized from a practical point of view. That is my opinion, and what is wrong with it?

The move 29...Rc6 is dubious, and bad because it misses a draw that was possible after Rc2. Tablebases cannot help, because, as far as I know, there are TBS with a maximum of 7 pieces, and at the board, we have much more. In my opinion, the theoretical position is the position in which we should know the result. A different story is will the weaker side be able to make a draw. So, one story is the game, and another story is analyze. In the analysis, we can give categorical opinions which I did, and don't see anything wrong. I didn't write "he will make a draw"I have written that the position is drawn. That's all.
The game is over and we can analyze it. I did that, and I am able to tell if a move is "Active" or "pseudo active" - at least that's my opinion. Again, I don't see anything wrong with it.

Again, I don't understand your statement: I NEVER have written that Black will make a draw, I have written that THE POSITION is a DRAW, and this is a BIG DIFFERENCE.
JoshuaVGreen JoshuaVGreen 9/7/2022 06:27

The contradiction is that "even" must be taking on multiple meanings. If "objectively equal" is the only criterion then presumably only 30. ... Kf7 deserves any scorn. However, other moves are criticized, so practical considerations are clearly at play, and in that respect "Black should be careful, because he has more weak pawns" already suggests that Black has greater practical difficulties.

29. ... Rc6 is adorned with "?!" and the comment "One more bad idea: this move is passive." That seems like it's being evaluated as a bad move, at least in the practical sense. Maybe not in the objective sense, but the player lacks access to tablebases and must guess which lines are likely to give the best practical chances. Calling something a theoretical position doesn't mean that it will be easily held, as practice confirms and the text acknowledges. I can't fault Firouzija for choosing a line where he wasn't down a pawn over one that he was, given that the latter wasn't entirely trivial.

And my overall point is that "pseudo active" isn't defined here, and I see no heuristic way to distinguish a "pseudo active" move from an "active" move other than with concrete analysis to show that an active-looking move doesn't actually work. The "active/pseudo active" dichotomy isn't a useful concept in practice without some way to distinguish them short of "concretely analyzing everything."

I'd expect any grandmaster to draw Ke5 Pe6 vs. Ke7 with ease. I would not be surprised to see grandmasters regularly losing the position at the end of the 29. ... Rc2 line.
zoranp zoranp 9/7/2022 05:45

If you have noticed, the move 29..Rc6 isn't evaluated as a bad one. He is evaluated as a dubious one and at the end of subline 29...Rc2 it is told that draw isn't easy at all. Still, it is a theoretical position, and player 2800 should know it (in fact, every +2400 elo player should know it). The next move, 30.... Kf7? is a losing mistake. Instead, the last Firouzija's chance to make a draw is to reach THE SAME type of position as in 29.th move. So, where is the problem? No, it isn't clear that 29...Rc2 is better than 30...Re6, but just to clarify things - Firouzija didn't play this move and lost relatively easy.
zoranp zoranp 9/7/2022 05:15
What is contradictory in the statement that the position is even (it is even), but Black should play carefully because he has more weak pawns (a6, c7, e5 against a2, c4). If he plays in a proper way (see the analysis below the move), things should be completely clear. If we want to talk trivial, The position of King and pawn vs King (e.g. Ke5, Pe6, Ke7), The position is even but Black should be careful. what isn't logical?

I am talking about the CONCRETE POSITION in which active 26...Rb4 gives a lot of trouble to Black. Stronger 26...exf4 (see the lines), gives a relatively easy draw. It is true that there are positions in which there are different conclusions, but, just to repeat, I am talking about the concrete position.

You have given an explanation: This move is active, but it is PSEUDO active, simply because it causes a lot of trouble to Black.

The move 26...Rb6 is A C T I VE. However, it causes problems, that's why it is PSEUDO ACTIVE.
JoshuaVGreen JoshuaVGreen 9/7/2022 04:40
I'll add that the position at the end of the 29. ... Rc2 line doesn't look pleasant for Black at all. Maybe it's drawn, but I can fully understand that Firouzja may have preferred to avoid it, choosing another line that he felt was less dangerous. Is it so clear that 29. ... Rc2 is safer than the line following 30. ... Re6?
JoshuaVGreen JoshuaVGreen 9/7/2022 04:35
I don't doubt the analysis of Nepomniachtachi vs. Firouzja, but the explanations are leaving me scratching my head.
First, "we have an approximately even rook endgame" and "Still, Black should be careful, because he has more weak pawns" seem contradictory.
Second, in these endgames I consider it far too easy to recommend active play after-the-fact when passive defense has failed. It's also easy to do the opposite and criticize active play that failed when a more passive defense would have sufficed.
Finally, 26. ... Rb4 seems just as active as alternatives. What makes it "pseudo active" other than that it turned out not to work?