Chess Endgames for Beginners

Chess endgames are one of the most crucial phases of the game. Once most of the pieces are off the board, it’s the endgame techniques that can make the difference between a win, a loss, or a draw. Mastering the endgame is often what separates the casual players from the more serious ones. For beginners, getting into the world of endgames can be challenging. In this post, we’ll explore the importance of endgames, the essential endgame concepts every beginner should be familiar with, and a few book recommendations from Forward Chess to help you on this journey.

Table of Contents


The Russian Endgame Handbook outlines the general process of these basic checkmates:

P.S There are a few different methods of doing these checkmates!

King and Queen vs. King


Get the King to the edge of the board, control the escape squares with your King, and give the checkmate with your Queen.


Use the Queen to corner the King to the side of the board, then bring your King in to execute the checkmate. An easy method is the “L-shape” method where your Queen pushes the King to the edge by always being an L-shape (or Knight’s move) away from the King.

King and Rook vs. King


Get the King to the edge of the board, control the escape squares with your King, and give the checkmate with your Rook.


This one is a little trickier, let’s do it in steps:

  1. Cut the King off with your Rook
  2. Bring your King toward the Opponent’s King for the Opposition
  3. When the King’s are in Opposition, give a check with the Rook

If your Rook is ever under attack, just take it far from the King while staying on the cut-off file/rank and if your opponent’s King is ever tricky and refuses opposition, make a waiting move with your Rook!

Positions taken from Russian Endgame Handbook

Pawn Endgames

King and pawn endgames can be deceptively simple, but they are the foundation of all other endgames. Understanding the concepts of ‘opposition’ and ‘the square of the pawn’ is crucial.

Opposition: When two kings stand on the same rank, file, or diagonal, and it’s the turn of the player not controlling the square between them to move, the other player has the opposition.

Using Opposition to Win


White has the move, and the goal is to promote the pawn. To do this, the King needs to lead the way.


3 Golden Rules to remember

  1. Always keep the King in front of the pawn
  2. Take opposition, don’t allow your opponent to
  3. Outflank after opposition (move up)

Using Opposition to Draw


Black has the move, and the goal is to stop White’s Pawn from promoting, by preventing the white King from moving forward.


  1. Always take opposition
  2. Stay in front of and close to the pawn

Positions taken from Chess Endings for Beginners

The Square of the Pawn

A mental square drawn from a pawn to its promotion square which tells you if the opposing king can stop the pawn from promoting. Count the number of squares to the promotion square, then use the same number of squares to extend and create a large imaginary square

  • If the opposing King is inside the square (or on its border), it can catch the Pawn before it promotes.
  • If the opposing King is outside the square, the Pawn can safely promote before being caught.

Remember: This rule assumes that it’s the pawn’s turn to move, and there are no other pieces involved in the play. As with many chess guidelines, there are exceptions in some positions, but the rule of the square is a quick and handy tool to judge the basic pawn races in endgames.

When the King is in the square:

When the King is not in the square:

Let’s take a look at an example where both sides have a passed pawn, and the rule of the square comes in handy:

If White pushes his pawn with 1.a5? the square is moved up, and the new corner squares are a5/a8/d8/d5. Black’s King could make it to that square if he wants, but in this position, he has a much stronger reaction: 1…h3.

White’s King is not in the square, AND Black will win the Pawn race and promote first. Therefore, going back to the first position, 1.Ke3 is the best move for White, entering the square of the black Pawn:

Positions taken from Chess Endgames for Club Players



In a position where you have three Pawns facing off against your opponent’s three Pawns, and yours are more advanced, as in the position above, you want to have one of your Pawns break through to promote.


  • Move your middle Pawn up
  • Your opponent has two side Pawns to capture with. Push your second Pawn up on the side that did not move. i.e. your second Pawn will be the one with an opposing Pawn
  • Voila! Your final Pawn has no opposing Pawns that can stop it from being promoted.

Rook Endgames

Rook endgames are the most common type of endgame. There are a few theoretical rook endgame positions that players should learn in order to easily convert the game to a win, or be able to hold the draw.

Lucena Position

A winning position where the stronger side has a Pawn on the seventh rank and needs to promote it. You can only achieve this by using your Rook as a shield.


Your Pawn needs to promote, and to do this, your King needs to move out of the way. Your opponent’s Rook will check your King, and in order to shield from these checks, your Rook needs to get to the 4th rank.


  • First, ensure that your opponent’s Black’s King is at least two files away from your Pawn. Often we need to do this with a check
  • Place your Rook on the 4th rank
  • Bring out your King, towards your Rook, to the 5th rank
  • Eventually, you will be able to promote the Pawn and shield Black’s check with your Rook

Here is an example from Theoretical Rook Endgames:

Philidor Position

You will also reach endgame positions where you are only playing with a Rook and King vs a Rook, King, and Pawn, where the objective will be to draw. One of these positions is called the Philidor Position, and by learning this technique, you can save yourself half a point (and many headaches!)


Hold a draw by preventing your opponent’s King from moving in front of their Pawn.


Keep the Rook on the third rank (or sixth rank from its perspective) to prevent the Pawn from advancing. If the Pawn moves, move the Rook away and give checks from behind, stopping White’s King from entering.

Position taken from 100 Endgames You Must Know

Author Sam Shankland sums up the essence of the above two Rook and Pawn endgames as follows:

Disclaimer for beginners:

There is a lot of terminology in chess, and it might be overwhelming to try and remember it all. At the end of the day, it is more important to understand the technique and theory than it is to know what it is called. However, if you do find yourself in a conversation where the terms “Lucena” and “Philidor” are thrown around, and can’t remember the distinction between the two, a little cheat code is to think of “Philidor” as “Philidraw” to help you remember that this is the drawing technique, making Lucena the winning one.

And that’s enough endgame theory for today!

Endgames may seem like a huge mountain to overcome, but these books will guarantee an easier learning process:

Endgame Books

The Russian Endgame Handbook

Author: Ilya Rabinovich

Publisher: Mongoose Press

Chess Endings for Beginners

Author: J. H. Blake (Updated by Carsten Hansen)

Publisher: Independent

Chess Endgames for Club Players

Author: Herman Grooten

Publisher: New in Chess

100 Endgames You Must Know (4th edition)

Author: Jesus De La Villa

Publisher: New in Chess

Level up and add a book or two to your library. For a limited time, get these and a further selection of award-winning endgame books with a 20% discount on:

Have any questions, or opening suggestions? Let us know in the comments!

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