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Elementary endgames (Part 5)
King and Pawn vs. King (and Pawn).

In our first article on Elementary endgames we presented a simple example of King and Pawn vs. King, shown again in the following diagram. White to move is a draw, while Black to move loses for Black.

You might be wondering, 'How am I ever going to remember the variations where one player to move wins and the other player to move draws?' The answer is that the player whose King has the opposition will get the most favorable result. If White has the opposition, meaning that the Black King must move, then White wins. If Black has the opposition, Black draws.

The opposition plays an important role in many King and Pawn endgames. Let's look at a few more examples.

BCE 011a

The White and Black Kings are in opposition and the result depends on who is to move. White on the move has no better than 1.Kd4 Kd6 2.e4 Ke6 3.e5 Ke7 4.Kd5 Kd7 5.e6+ Ke7 6.Ke5 Ke8 7.Kd6 Kd8, reaching the first diagram. Note how the Black King drops back one rank with 3...Ke7 in order to recapture the opposition on the next move.

Black on the move must give way to White. After 1...Kf6 2.Kd5 Ke7 3.Ke5 White again has the opposition, and after 3...Kf7 4.Kd6 Ke8 5.e4 Kd8 6.e5 Ke8 7.Ke6 Kd8 8.Kf7 and the Pawn marches to e8. (In chess literature, Pawns never walk or stroll to promotion. They always march!)

The next diagram is similar to the previous. The only difference is that the Pawn is on e2 instead of e3.

BCE 011

Black to move loses as already seen. White to move has 1.e3 reaching the previous diagram with the opposition. White wins.

One important exception to the rule of the opposition is shown in the following diagram. Here the White King has reached the sixth rank in front of the Pawn.

BCE 011a (note)

White wins here with or without the move. White to move has 1.Kd6 Kd8 2.e6 reaching the same position as in our first diagram. As we saw earlier Black must drop back one rank at the right moment to maintain the opposition. Here the edge of the board prevents the saving maneuver.

Black to move is a faster win for White. After 1...Kd8 2.Kf7 or 1...Kf8 2.Kd7, Black can resign.

Although all our examples have been on the e-file, the same principles apply to the b-, c-, d-, f-, and g-files. The exceptions all occur on the a- and h-files. If Black can reach the corner square or the square next to it, the opposition has no importance and the game is drawn.

BCE 012a

In this diagram Black shuttles between a8 and b8. White can't force Black to move away from these squares. If the Pawn advances to a7, White has the choice between stalemating the Black King on a8 or losing the Pawn.

Even when White can prevent the Black King from reaching the corner, Black has a defense. This is shown in the following diagram.

BCE 012b

Black to move plays 1...Kf7, trapping the White King in the corner. White to move can only escape from the trap with 1.Kg6, which lets Black into the corner with 1...Kg8.


The simple ideas in the previous examples help to understand more complicated endgames. In the following position, White to move can capture the Black Pawn in five moves. It looks like Black can also reach c7 in five moves, securing the type of corner draw that we just saw.

BCE 014b

White can take a path that approaches the Black Pawn and blocks the Black King at the same time. After 1.Ke6 Kc3 2.Kd5, White forces Black to lose a move in the race to reach c7. Now White wins with 2...Kb4 3.Kc6 Ka5 4.Kb7 Kb5 5.Kxa7 Kc6 6.Kb8.

Sometimes the opposition has no influence on a position. Consider the following diagram.

BCE 014c (Dobias 1926)

If White captures the opposition with the straightforward 1.Kd5, Black draws with 1...Kb4 2.Kd4 Kb3 3.f4 Kc2. White can't capture the g-Pawn and guard the f-Pawn at the same time.

White wins with 1.Kd4, forcing the Black King to waste a move. After 1...Kc6 2.Ke5 Kc5 3.f4 Kc4 4.Kf6 Kd4 5.Kxg6, White wins.

In the following diagram, White can't stop Black from winning the a-Pawn. The only hope after ...Kxa2 is to trap the Black King in the corner with Kc2.

BCE 014d (Grigorieff 1925)

This is done by the paradoxical idea of moving away from the Pawns. After 1.Kh8, Black has nothing better than 1...Kf5 2.Kg7 Ke4 3.Kf6 Kd3 4.Ke5 Kc2 5.Kd4 Kb2 6.Kd3 Kxa2 7.Kc2, achieving the draw. Note that if 1.Kf8, then 1...Kf6 wins.

The battle between the Kings often takes place around blocked Pawn structures. Here the opposition is also a factor. Let's look first at a model position. The following diagram has two Pawns preventing each other from advancing.

BCE 015a

White easily captures the Black Pawn and wins because the King reaches the sixth rank in front of the Pawn. After 1.Kc7 Ka8 2.Kxb6 Kb8, Black has the opposition, but can't hold the draw.

The following position is similar, but the White Pawns is only on the fifth rank. This lets Black save the half point.

BCE 015b (mirror)

After 1.Ka6 Kc7 2.Kxb5, White wins the Pawn. Now Black gains the opposition with 2...Kb7 and draws.

Black uses several elementary maneuvers in the following position.

BCE 015f

First, Black takes the opposition with 1...Kb4. Then, Black forces White back with 2.Kc2 Kc4 3.Kd2 Kb3 4.Ke2 Kc2 5.Kf2 Kd2 and wins the Pawn and the game.

'This is all simple!', you say, but chess is not often so simple. Consider the following position. It looks like White captures the Pawn and wins easily.

BCE 016 (Duclos 1904)

Black has a surprising defense with 1...e3 2.fxe3. Now 2...Kg6 gains the opposition and draws the game.


Most of the positions on this page are 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