The Golden Guidelines of Endgame Play

by Albert Silver
6/18/2014 – Karsten Mueller's Chess Endgames series on DVD changed endgame study for many, by making a subject often considered dull into something dynamic and pleasant to learn. However, every good thing has an end, and volume 14 represents the last in the series. Don't despair, since the good doctor has left the best for last with these golden guidelines spread out over 65 bite-sized videos.

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Unless you are reading the pages of ChessBase for the very first time, Karsten Mueller's name almost dispenses an introduction. The German grandmaster has become an important fixture in the world of chess as an instructor of the endgame, with a considerable body of work, and above all: a passion for the subject matter. This passion is present and palpable in his works, from the attention to detail, to the choice of examples that tickled him, prompting him to want to share it with us: his audience and students.

I was familiar with his epitomic "Fundamental Chess Endings", co-authored with Frank Lamprecht, a magnificent work that preceded his first collaboration with ChessBase, and owned it. However (there had to be a 'however'), I like to think that I am not alone, nor even part of a minority, in admitting I own many vast works of chess erudition that dazzle with the comprehensive coverage, but that I am unable to study much further than the first couple of chapters. Let's face it: it is daunting. And that is where his first ChessBase DVDs: Chess Endgames, volumes 1-4, come in.

This wonderful work, that first came out in 2006, promised accessibility, conciseness, and results. And it delivered. I bought it at the time, having read very enthusiastic reviews, and hoping this would be something I could stick with and patch up my disastrous endgame play. It was a success, and I was a convert, grateful for his instruction, and for being that teacher who connected.

For years, these first four volumes were also the only ones, and in time, as Mueller explains it, he came to understand there was plenty of room to develop more. This led to volumes five to seven covering general principles, such as zugzwang, domination, 'do not rush' (of Shereshevsky fame) and more. Wishing to elaborate further on more complex rook endgames, volume eight was dedicated to precisely that. Where and how to continue without rehashing what had been said? Was this the final volume?

The answer is no, and the inspiration came from the masterpiece by GM Glenn Flear, "Practical Endgame Play - Beyond the Basics", which studied exclusively and exhaustively all king and two-piece combinations that arise, such as the rook and knight versus rook and bishop endgame, AKA the Fischer Endgame. Volumes nine to thirteen followed this concept and developed them with his own examples and analysis, finally bringing us to the current and last volume: Chess Endgames 14 - The Golden Guidelines of Endgame Play.

Mueller was in good form and gave his typically high-energy presentations

The title alone is promising, since who doesn't like a set of rules and guidelines to help navigate through positions where our chess compass has gone astray? Mueller warns, with a certain tongue-in-cheek humor, "All guidelines have their exceptions. Following guidelines too automatically is a big mistake... This is another good guideline."

The DVD is divided into two main parts: General Rules of Thumb and Principles of Special Endgames. General Rules of Thumb covers rules that are not restricted to any particular type of endgame, and discusses topics as vast and generic as Flexibility, Prophylaxis, The Principle of Two Weaknesses, to more specific ones such as 'If you dominate one colour complex, the decisive breakthrough takes place on the other colour complex'.

There are two pages with dozens of guidelines to help make endgames manageable

The examples used last anywhere from three to ten minutes on average, and are presented from game excerpts to illustrate the rule of thumb. The sources range from classics such as Rubinstein-Duras (1911) to modern games like Yifan-Anand (2013). As is typical of all his previous works, it is highly recommended the short videos be viewed the first time using the Training tab, since Karsten Mueller presents it so as to encourage you to try to solve the problem before you first. There is a short introduction to the topic and the position, and he then asks you what you think should be played, and why. There is no obligation of course, and you can just view the video watching the notation. Still, before skipping to the easy path, it should be added that the solution is already half given to you via the title. After all, solving a problem that just says "Black to play and win" without any further ado, is considerably more challenging than one that is described as "It doesn't matter what disappears from the board but what remains" (hint, hint).

Presenting Rubinstein-Duras (1911), the author gives a pause, encouraging us to first try
to solve it on our own

Part two, Principles of Special Endgames, deals with guidelines that apply to specific types of endgames such as The Square Rule for pawn endgames, Capablanca's rule for same-colored bishop endgames, the Philidor, Lucena and Vancura positions for rook endgames, and many more. You will find no fewer than 46 videos in this section, covering any major rule of engagement that is known for a given endgame type. Want to watch Carlsen's endgame magic without an engine and feel as if you have an idea as to what is going on? This DVD is a quick and painless way to start. In fact, even though it is theoretically the last volume of a long series, if you don't know any of them, just soaking up these rules of thumb should go a long way into shedding some light into those mysterious simplified positions. If you feel that a particular aspect could do with some better development, you can then track down the DVD that covers it.


Karsten Mueller discusses 'The Principle of Two Weaknesses', illustrated by Carlsen-Caruana (2012)

After viewing this last volume that summarizes the most important rules and guidelines, it is safe to say this is a fitting conclusion to a great series. I cannot claim to have seen every one in the series, but Mueller had never let me down before with his interesting choices, precise and pertinent explanations, and general enthusiasm for his subject matter, and this is no exception. Some of the guidelines were known to me, while others gave me pause to think, and I learned from. If you are looking for endgame wisdom in bite-size video lessons, this DVD is for you.

The Golden Guidelines of Endgame Play can be purchased in the ChessBase Shop

Born in the US, he grew up in Paris, France, where he completed his Baccalaureat, and after college moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He had a peak rating of 2240 FIDE, and was a key designer of Chess Assistant 6. In 2010 he joined the ChessBase family as an editor and writer at ChessBase News. He is also a passionate photographer with work appearing in numerous publications, and the content creator of the YouTube channel, Chess & Tech.


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