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Elementary endgames (Part 4)
Piece plus Pawn vs. equivalent piece without Pawn.

The game has been fought hard, both players attacking and defending on every move. At the critical moment, one player made a small mistake and lost a Pawn.

Both players then followed the textbook strategies for the material imbalance. The player with the extra Pawn exchanged pieces, playing for a win, while the opponent exchanged Pawns, playing for a draw.

Finally, the armies have been reduced to the bare minimum. Both players have single pieces of equal value, while the extra Pawn is the only Pawn on the board. What now?

This scenario occurs in many games. Endgames where one side has an extra pawn are nearly always played out to a clear result -- no lazy draws here.

Weak King in front of Pawn

The most important positional factor is the placement of the King with the Pawn minus. When it is between the Pawn and the Pawn's promotion square, the result in most cases is a draw. This is because if the last pieces are exchanged, the position is a King and Pawn endgame like the following.

BCE 10

Black uses the opposition to force White to advance the Pawn before the White King advances.

1.d5+ Kd6 2.Kd4 Kd7 3.Ke5 Ke7 4.d6+ Kd7 5.Kd5 Kd8 This is the key move. Black keeps the opposition.

6.Ke6 Ke8 7.d7+ Kd8 8.Kd6 1/2-1/2 Stalemate!

In endgames with minor pieces, the strong side can neither force the exchange of pieces nor force the other King to move. Here are two examples.

BCE 170

After 1.Kd5 Bd8 2.Kd6 Bh4 3.Kd5 Bg3, White can make no progress. Black just moves the Bishop from one safe square to another.

BCE 216a

White would like to play 1.Kd5, but this allows 1...Nf6+ followed by 2...Nxe4 with a draw. If White takes the f6 square from the Knight by 1.Bg5, Black plays 1...Ke6. White can never force the King to leave the e6 square.

Minor pieces

There was nothing particularly difficult in any of those positions. Let's look at a few more complicated examples, where the weak King is behind the Pawn or to its side. These are typical positions, not likely to arrive in any single game, but which show the concepts used in similar minor piece endgames.

BCE 125

The Black Knight on d7 prevents the Pawn from promoting. If White can force it to move, White wins.

1.Nb4 Kc7 Other King moves also lose. For example, after 1...Kc5 2.Nd3+ Kd6 3.Nf4 Ke7 4.Nd5+ Ke6 5.Nb6 Ne5, White plays 6.Ka8 Nc6 7.Nc8 and wins.

Returning to 1...Kc7, White wins after 2.Nd5+ Kd6 3.Nb6 Ne5 4.b8=Q+.

BCE 171

In this position, White forces the Black Bishop on to shorter and shorter diagonals. Finally, it runs out of room to maneuver.

1.Bc6 Be2 2.Bd5 Bb5 3.Be6 Ke3 4.Bd7 Bf1 5.c6 Kd4 6.c7 Ba6 7.Kc6 Kc3 8.Kb6 and wins.

BCE 217

In this position, the Knight prevents the Pawn from advancing. If the White King captures the Knight, the Black King captures the Pawn. White plays to force the Black King away from the Pawn.

1.Bc3 Kb6 2.Ba5+ Kb5 3.Bd8 Kc5 4.Bh4 Kb5 5.Bg5 Kc5 6.Be3+ Kd5 7.Bd4 Nd6 8.c7 and wins.

BCE 220

At first glance, it looks like Black can defend this position, but it's an illusion. By offering a sacrifice which must be refused, White first advances the King and Pawn to their most dangerous squares.

1.Ke7 Kh7 2.f7 Ba3+ 3.Ke8 Kg7. The Bishop is confined to the a3-f8 diagonal. Now White maneuvers the Knight to block it.

4.Nc4 Bb4 5.Ne3 Ba3 6.Nd5 Bf8 7.Ne7 and wins.

Major pieces

In positions with major pieces, sacrificial drawing themes are not possible. The defense is based instead on checking the unprotected King. If the strong side can stop the checks, the win usually follows.

Major piece endgames often result in complicated play. Why are they classified as elementary endgames? Elementary doesn't mean easy; it means basic, in the sense that more complicated positions reduce to these positions.

BCE 307

Rook and Pawn vs. Rook is an appropriate subject for an entire article or a series of articles. Here we see an important idea known as the Lucena position, named after an Italian player who lived in the 16th century.

The White King is protected from checks by its Pawn. Watch how the Rook takes over the job, at the same time keeping the Black King at a safe distance.

1...Rh3 2.Rf4 Rh1 3.Re4+ Kd7 4.Kf7 Rf1+ 5.Kg6 Rg1+ 6.Kf6 Rf1+ 7.Kg5 Rg1+ 8.Rg4 and wins.

This technique is also known as 'building a bridge', and works only because the chessboard is eight squares by eight.

BCE 558

Finally, here's an example of Queen and Pawn vs. Queen. It's remarkable how the White Queen can protect its King from checks on so many different lines at the same time. This is done by threatening to exchange itself for the other Queen.

1...Qc5+ 2.Ke8 Qb5 3.Qe6+ Kh2 4.Kf7 Qh5+ 5.Kg7 Qg5+ 6.Kh7 Qd8 7.Kg6 Kh1 8.Kf7 Kh2 9.Qe7 and wins.

The same technique applies wherever the Black King happens to be on the board. There is no safe haven


The positions on this page are all taken from Reuben Fine's Basic Chess Endings (BCE) and are numbered accordingly.

 Related Resources
• Part 1 - Elementary endgames
• Part 2 - Pieces in combat, no Pawns
• Part 3a - Major piece without Pawns vs. Pawn without pieces
• Part 3b - Minor piece without Pawns vs. Pawn without pieces
• Part 4 - Piece plus Pawn vs. equivalent piece without Pawn
• Part 5 - King and Pawn
Part 6 - Rook's Pawn
• Part 7 - Outside Passed Pawn
• Part 8 - Rook plus a lone Pawn vs. a Rook
• Part 9 - Strengths and weaknesses of the minor pieces
• Part 10 - Endgame Studies