Nunn’s Chess Endings Volume One

5/28/2010 – Last year we reviewed John Nunn’s new endgame book Understanding Chess Endgames. At the time the author had abandoned his plan to write a detailed endgame book and instead turned the original introductory chapter into an endgame primer. Now, eight months later, the first advanced book on the endgame has appeared (with volume two to follow in the autumn). Review with sampler.

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Nunn’s Chess Endings Volume 1

(Gambit Publications, 320 pages)

Last year we reviewed John Nunn’s new endgame book Understanding Chess Endgames. That review explained how the author had decided to write a detailed endgame book, but soon ran into a problem: “The idea was," he wrote, "that an introductory chapter would give a brief survey of this ‘presumed knowledge’ so that I would not have to explain it in the main body of the book. However, it quickly became clear that this ‘introductory chapter’ would be more like a book in itself, so I put the main project to one side and started to think about how this introductory chapter could be turned into a useful book.”

The earlier book out of the way, John continued work on the main project, and now we have the first of two volumes of Nunn’s Chess Endings. The second volume, containing an even chunkier 352 pages, is scheduled to appear in the autumn. The two volumes are divided by material, with the first containing all endings without rooks and the second covering those with rooks.

The book starts with two introductory chapters, the first an introduction explaining the philosophy behind the book and the second an essay on the qualities required for successful endgame play. There are then 114 pages on pawn endings, 149 pages on minor-piece endings and 27 pages on queen endings.

Nunn explains right at the start that he is assuming readers possess a certain level of endgame knowledge (that which can be obtained by reading Understanding Chess Endgames or another book aimed at a similar level). He is therefore able to omit much elementary material in the present book, which allows him to start at a more advanced point and cover topics in a depth which is not normally possible. It follows that this book is not aimed at beginners, and readers should be of club standard or above to appreciate it.

Nunn’s Chess Endgames is not an encyclopaedia which covers the endgame on a case by case basis, but an instructional text which seeks to explain general unifying concepts which apply in many endgame situations. To be sure, some of these concepts apply mainly in one particular type of endgame (reserve tempi, for example, are usually only relevant in king and pawn endings), but there are linking threads which run through his treatment.

A book of a particular size can contain a large number of positions with shallow analysis or a smaller number of positions with detailed analysis. Nunn’s book definitely falls into the latter category, with each position being explored in great detail. He is at pains to explain the concepts in each example using words, but then goes on to back this up with concrete variations. As he points out in the introduction, it is easy to be seduced by a superficially convincing explanation which concrete analysis shows to be totally false.

Each chapter of the book is divided into a number of sections and subsections, with a summary at the end of each. This divides up the material into manageable chunks and a dedicated reader would probably go through one section each day. Nunn makes the point that theoretical examples are specifically designed to be clear-cut, with all the pieces optimally placed, but in actual play one often encounters difficulties which are rarely covered in theoretical works. His exclusive use of genuine practical examples allows him to present a more realistic view of many endgame themes.

Understanding Chess Endgames proved disappointing in only one respect: the lack of reciprocal zugzwangs. I am delighted to report that this is remedied in Nunn’s Chess Endgames. This is all the more surprising in that Nunn’s Chess Endgames contains only examples from practical play (over-the-board or correspondence) and includes no studies or composed positions. Nunn himself seemed surprised at the frequency with which such zugzwangs appear in ordinary positions and it may well be that he is correct when he hints that tactical ideas occur in the endgame more often than most players suspect – it’s just that they are often overlooked.

This reviewer is not equipped to comment on the accuracy of Nunn’s analysis, but the Doctor is generally regarded as an accurate analyst and I have no reason to suspect that this book does not match his usual standard. The contents of Nunn’s Chess Endgames are firmly aimed at improving the reader’s endgame play, and although one sometimes suspects that he would have liked to explore some more esoteric by-ways, in this book he remains focussed on purely practical instruction and advice.

Frederic Friedel

Here’s an extract from the section entitled ‘Active King vs Outside Passed Pawn’.

It often happens that the players have competing advantages and a common combination is the struggle of an active king against an outside passed pawn. Situations like this are quite interesting because it sometimes isn’t even clear who has the advantage, and small differences can have a big impact on the result. In the first example, while there is little doubt who stands better, the position was complicated enough to baffle the players and annotator Cvetkovic.

B. Maksimovic - Cabrilo
Yugoslavia 1974

In this position White has the outside passed pawn(s), but Black’s more active king position means that only he has winning chances.

1...Kf3? In Informator 18, Cvetkovic gives this move an exclamation mark, but it throws away the win. The correct plan is simply to play the king to g5: 1...Kf5! (it’s also good to start with 1...b4!) 2 Kf2 (after 2 b4 Kg5 3 Kf2 Kh4 4 Kg2 f3+ 5 Kxf3 Kxh3 Black wins as it’s a long way to take the f7-pawn) 2...Kg5 3 Kf3 b4! (an important move, gaining a tempo when the kings rush to the queenside; the immediate 3...Kh4? leads to a draw after 4 Kxf4 Kxh3 5 Kf5 Kxh2 6 Kf6 Kg3 7 Kxf7 Kf4 8 Ke6 Ke4 9 Kd6 Kd4 10 Kc6 Kc3 11 Kb6 Kxb3 12 Kxa6 b4 13 Kb7) 4 Ke4 Kh4 5 Kxf4 Kxh3 6 Kf5 Kxh2 7 Kf6 Kg3 8 Kxf7 Kf4 9 Ke6 Ke4 10 Kd6 Kd4 11 Kc6 Kc3 12 Kb6 Kxb3 13 Kxa6 (now we see the importance of the preliminary ...b4: Black has gained a crucial tempo) 13...Kc4 14 Kb7 b3 15 a6 b2 16 a7 b1Q+ (Black’s king is close enough to win this position) 17 Kc7 Qe4 18 Kb8 Qe8+ 19 Kb7 Kb5 20 a8Q Qd7+ 21 Kb8 Kb6 with a quick mate.

2 b4! This is actually a position of reciprocal zugzwang. It is Black to play and he has nothing better than to push his rear f-pawn; however, this means that White’s king can take it one move more quickly. 2...f6 3 h4 Kg4 4 Kf2 Kxh4 5 Kf3

5...Kh3. 5...Kg5 is also a draw after 6 h3! Kf5 7 h4 Ke5 8 Ke2! Ke4 9 Kf2 Kf5 (not 9...f3? 10 h5 Kf5 11 Kxf3 Kg5 12 Ke4 f5+ 13 Ke5 f4 14 h6 f3 15 h7 f2 16 h8Q f1Q 17 Qg7+ Kh5 18 Kd6 and White has a very favourable queen ending) 10 Kf3 and neither side can make progress.

6 Kxf4 Kxh2 7 Kf5 Kg3 8 Kxf6 Kf4 9 Ke6 Ke4 10 Kd6 Kd4 11 Kc6 Kc4 12 Kb6 Kxb4 13 Kxa6 Kc5. Relatively the best chance, but it should not be enough to win. 14 Kb7 b4 15 a6 b3 16 a7 b2 17 a8Q b1Q+

18 Kc7?? A losing blunder, which is made quite often in practice. After 18 Kc8! Qf5+ 19 Kb8! Qe5+ 20 Ka7! Black is unable to win. The key point is that White must never play his king to b7. 18...Qh7+ 19 Kc8. White loses at once in the case of 19 Kb8 Kb6. 19...Qg8+ 20 Kb7 Qf7+ 21 Ka6 Qe6+ 0-1. After 22 Kb7 Qd7+ 23 Kb8 (23 Ka6 Qb5+ 24 Ka7 Qb6#) 23...Kb6, mate is inevitable. [Click to replay]

In summary, Nunn’s Chess Endings is a very worthwhile addition to endgame literature. It explores many topics relevant to practical play and contains a wealth of useful information presented in an attractive format.

The recommended price is £17.99 in the UK and $29.95 in the US, but it’s currently available at £13.66 (including delivery to the UK) The Book Depository; the London Chess Center, Chess4Less and for $19.77 from Amazon.

A PDF sample of the book can be downloaded here.


The second volume of Nunn’s Chess Endings contains 352 pages and is scheduled to appear in the autumn. The two volumes are divided by material, with the first containing all endings without rooks and the second covering those with rooks.

Incidentally both book covers – and especially the second one – were created by the author. John Nunn, as you might suspect,

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