The endgame is the most difficult phase of the game of chess. One blunder can lose a won game or win a lost game. It’s no surprise that there is a trove on information out there on the endgame. We want to condense our favorite resources into one place so you aren’t overwhelmed by all the information out there.
Here are the 3 books we are recommending:
Silman’s Complete Endgame Course
Silman’s complete endgame course is an excellent resource on all aspects of the endgame. Each chapter in the book is divided by rating. For the <1000 rating range, Silman walks you through staircase checkmates with combinations of rooks and queens. At this level he also walks through king + queen vs king and king + rook vs king.
The class “E” level (1000-1199) breaks down positions with queen + king vs minor piece + king. It also goes discusses the importance of the king as an attacking piece late in the game and introduces to the concept of opposition.
The class “D” level (1299 – 1399) is an incredibly valuable resource. It goes deeper into king and pawn endings and how to win these sharp positions. It also covers minor piece vs pawns and how to convert or draw with your material.
If you make it through the class “D” level you should have a pretty strong overall grasp of basic endgames. If you’re looking to quickly learn the basics or are looking to apply the Pareto principle, this is a good breaking off point.
The class “C” level (1400-1599) goes deeper again into king and pawn endings, further discussing opposition and entering the pawn “square.” This is the point where Silman introduces more theoretical rook endgames such as the Lucena and Philidor positions. Silman also discusses how to convert a position with a queen against an advanced pawn on the 6th and 7th ranks.
The remaining chapters cover classes “A” and “B” as well as experts and all the way to 2400-rated masters. The chapters build off each other and go deeper and deeper into king and pawn as well rook endings. The master’s chapter discuss high-level topics such as the principle of two weaknesses and the kings strengths.
Each chapter has a section for a quiz with solutions and answers to help you put into action what you’ve learned. Some of the quiz questions come with a specific question, rather than asking you to play the best move. For exmaple:
This position comes with the question “is it wise to play 1.Rc7, trapping the enemy king on the back rank?” We chess experts know that 1.Rc7 would be stalemate, tragically ending the game in a draw, so a move like 1. Rc3 (with 1… Kh7 2. Rh3# to come) is the way to go.
In our survey, 20 respondents mentioned Silman’s endgame course in their notes. It was the most popular book referenced in our results. The average rating for respondents was 1368, so it is clear that Silman’s Complete Endgame Course is popular in this rating range. Overall, this book does a great job covering the entirety of endgame play.
100 Endgames You Must Know
This book was mentioned in our survey nine times by people who study endgames. The average rating of those respondents is 1432, which is 60+ points than Silman’s Complete Endgame Course. You would be right if you guessed that this course is a bit more difficult.
The author, GM de la Villa, dedicates one chapter to “Basic Endings.” This would pair very well with Silman’s class “D” level chapter but it also is more thorough in pawn endings. De la Villa gives many rules and tricks for how to convert King + pawn endgames as well as how to hold the draw when down in material. He covers topics such as the rule of the square, key squares and special cases based on which file the pawn is on.
GM de la Villa dedicates separate chapters for winning with Queen vs pawn, Rook vs pawn and Rook vs 2 pawns. He also covers, in-depth, how to hold these positions if you are fighting for the draw. Each chapter is complete with quizzes and solutions.
What makes this book so good is how complex of endgames he analyzes in such depth. He spends a ton of time going over minor piece battles and gives you a lot to focus on and study.
The book has a great introductory test at the beginning to give you a sense of your strengths and weaknesses. Use the results from this test to see where to, and not to spend your time and resources studying. The end of the book is a big final test that gives you more examples from the positions covered in the book. See how Magnus fared on Youtube.
Dvoretsky’s Endgame Manual
Any endgame analysis is incomplete without referencing Dvoretsky’s Endgame Manual. This book is massive and is not for the faint of heart. Ten respondents to our survey mentioned this book in how they study endgames. The average rating for these players is 1537, over 150 points higher than Silman’s Complete Endgame Course.
Dvoretsky goes into extreme depth and detail into the endgame. He talks at length of pawn endgames. Opposition, Triangulation, Key Squares, Shouldering and many other key strategic ideas are covered in the first chapter alone. He also demonstrates how to win with bishop, rook, knight and center pawns. This is all in the first chapter, mind you.
Take this example from the first chapter on pawn endings. This section is dedicated to key squares (marked with x’s) based on the king and pawn position. If a pawn is on the d4 square (as in the image above) the king must reach the c6, d6 or e6 square in order to queen the pawn. In this exact position, the game is winning for white if it is black to move and a draw if it is white to move.
If it is black’s move, the king must either move to the back rank, in which case white can play 1…Kd6 reaching a key square and queening the pawn easily. If black plays a lateral move say 1. Kc7, white can respond with 1…Ke6 and reach a key square. No matter where black moves their king, white can reach a key square to promote their pawn.
If it is white to play, however, black can keep the white king out of the key squares. If white plays 1. Kc5 black can respond with 1…Kc7 to stop the pawn from promotiong. Likewise, 1. Ke5 is met with 1…Ke7. This book is packed to the brim with rules and strategies like this.
Dvoretsky dedicates stand-alone chapters to knights vs pawns, bishops vs pawns, knight endgames, opposite colored bishops, same colored bishops. On top of all of this, he also has massive chapters dedicated to rook endgames. Rook vs pawns, generic rook endgames, and even winning rook vs minor piece are all covered in their own chapters at length.
Lastly, Dvoretsky covers queen endgames and other miscellaneous material makeups late in the game. The final chapter in this epic book is on generic endgame ideas, such as fortresses, the power of the king, zugzwang, and others.
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Chess endings are incredibly complex and studying them is daunting. It is important to not overwhelm yourself or spend hours hiding away studying endgames without putting it into practice. It is vitally important to know the basic king and pawn endgames and simple rook endings as well.
Early in your chess development, the official ChessGoals recommendation is to stick with Silman’s Complete Endgame Course. Simply study the chapters that are in your rating range and know the ideas and concepts well. Approximately 30-60 minutes per week for most players will be ideal.
As you develop your overall rating you can add in 100 Endgames You Must Know to your study plan. There is a lot of very valuable information here that can help you win won games and potentially hold on to draws in tricky lost positions.
Dvoretsky’s Endgame Manual is a very difficult book that should only be studied after careful consideration. This is a comprehensive book that will teach you everything you need to know about chess endings all the way up to the master level. Going through this manual is a huge undertaking and can be overwhelming, so make sure to go through things at a sustainable pace as a part of your chess study.