Silman’s Complete Endgame Course

by admin on January 30, 2008

A few months ago I bought a copy of Silman’s Complete Endgame Course, and I’m finally starting to dig into it. I think I’m going to learn a heck of a lot from it. The only endgame book I have really studied before was a slim book by Averbakh called Chess Endgames: Essential Knowledge, and I really do not think that Averbakh’s book takes you through to master level the way that Silman promises to. I decided to jump into Silman’s book at the class “A” level, because it looked as if I knew everything in the chapters up to class “B,” but already in the class “A” chapter there were some things I didn’t know. (Are you scandalized? Does this mean I have to give up my National Master title?)

The class “A” chapter starts out with rook and rook-pawn versus rook positions, and already it has some great stuff. How many open files do you need to free your king if it is stuck on the eighth rank in front of the pawn? (Four.) How do you draw the game if you have the rook and your opponent has the rook and rook-pawn, and his rook is in front of the pawn? If the pawn is on the seventh rank, you want your rook behind the pawn, of course — that much is obvious. And you have to keep your king on the opposite side of the board from the pawn — something that is not obvious to a lot of players. I actually talked about this in my lecture on skewers.

The thing I didn’t know is what to do if the pawn is on the sixth rank. Silman shows that in that case you want your rook attacking the pawn from the side, not from behind, and he shows something called the Vancura position that I had never heard of.

This is all really cool stuff, but I do have one slight reservation. I’ve gone my whole chess career, I believe, without playing a single game that went down to rook and rook-pawn versus rook. So it’s unclear that knowing these endings will make a big practical difference to me (or to you). Also, the problem with learning rules like “you need four files between your king and the enemy king” is that in a game, you usually don’t have control over this. The main thing to know is that you want to cut off the enemy king as far away from the passed pawn as possible. If you can get four ranks, then great. If you can only get three, then knowing that you need four is not going to be a big help to you.

I think that the most valuable thing I will learn from this book is not the rules but the ideas — the winning or drawing plans. I just hope that I can remember them all!

How much have you studied endgames? What books did you find useful? How often do you find yourself calling on the specific knowledge you read in an endgame book?

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

marty January 31, 2008 at 9:28 am

Actually, I found Pandolfini’s basic endgame book to have really good coverage of the K and P endgames. Now, I found his commentary basically useless, but the examples/situations he provides cover a lot of ground (a lot more extensively then Silman for example). The only downside is that for the most part you have to work out the rules/principles yourself, but I found this to be both fun and helpful in imprinting the knowledge.



Rob January 31, 2008 at 9:45 am

I just received this book as well, and like you have begun to use it…however I am starting from the begining.

I have Reuben Fine’s “Basic Chess Endings”, which I began, but soon gave up.

I also have Silman’s “Essential Chess Endings Explained, which I found useful. And of course, I have Dvoretsky’s “Endgame Manual”. But have not studied much. (I also have at least another dozen of these kinds of books that I hope to get to one day). Plus a few chess dvds on the subject.

As a lower ranked player, I find that a lot of players often attack and force trade of material to where all you have is a basic endgame. I am surprised often, by how many players do not know how to blockade the opponent’s King, for instance, nor do they see the error in chasing down a pawn on the other side of the board when the threat is somewhere else.

I suspect that lower rated players are more interested in tactics and not necessarily positional chess with the idea of accumulating those small advantages that supposedly help you win.

In this case, knowing endgame play puts one at an advantage. And who knows, even reviewing something once that you may never encounter may come to serve you well.

At least that is my hope.


admin January 31, 2008 at 10:20 am

Yes, from a first glance it looks as if Silman’s coverage of K+P endings is a little bit spotty. In the class “A” chapter that I started with, he has only a very short section on K+P endings. In the “master” chapter, which I haven’t gotten to yet, his main advice is, “Don’t ever enter a King and pawn endgame unless you have no choice, or are sure that it leads to the desired result.”

Fair enough, but it does seem as if a “complete” instructional manual should give some more guidance so that you *can* make an intelligent choice to enter a K+P endgame when the situation warrants it, and you can play correctly after that. For example, I don’t see anything in his book about corresponding squares, which are important for understanding some K+P endings.

However, I will gladly forgive Silman these shortcomings if he teaches me something new about the endings with other pieces on the board. 😎


Dribbling January 31, 2008 at 5:02 pm

Best book I’ve ever seen on endings is “Basic Endings – 888 Theoretical Positions” by Yuri Balashov and Eduard Prandstetter,
where theoretical positions are defined as “endgames with a small number of pieces which repeat themselves relatively regularly in practical play and were examined by chess analysts and/or computers”. The authors further define their book as “a manual for practical chess players” and there you have it, this emphasis on frequency of occurrence in practice is what makes the book so valuable. A word of warning: say that you are looking at diagram 301 in page 206. After having gone through several moves you may be faced with “and White wins as in Diagram 34, page 26” and there is no guaranty that if and when you do go to Diagram 34 page 26 you will not be referred to Diagram 109 page 87. But it is a very good and complete ending reference, hopefully useful in practice for occasionally drawing lost and winning drawn positions.


Carina February 1, 2008 at 9:05 am

I have that book, in general I think Silman is really good at teaching chess in through writing. I won’t get around to reading the book before the end of the year or something, though, especially since I’ve taken up poker as a hobby again, which is also the kind of game that demands a lot of time. Right now I mostly study endgames by looking at the positions I muck up in blitz play with Fritz after the game. I’m learning a lot by doing that, although I think I should be playing 20 blitz game a day, instead of just 3-5 or so. It seems like playing HUGE amounts of games (and in poker: hands) when coupled with understanding, is one of the most effective way to learn how stuff works.


Andy Hortillosa February 1, 2008 at 11:07 am

For practical reasons, I seldom study endgames. But I tried to learn by heart the classic and simple ones. Just like you said the low frequency of these types of endgames occurring in amateur games argues against spending hours on its study.

What I am focusing right now is reducing or eliminating the occurrence of obvious tactical blunders even in endgames. There are still tactical shots even in endgames. In one postmortem analysis I observed between two grandmasters, GM Fishbein pointed out that endgames are pure tactics. In his words: “You have to count everything.”

Lately, I noticed that in my games I seemed to have lost the feel for the initiative. I also lost appreciation for development and mobility. Yet, I feel I now know substantial opening knowledge.

I am undergoing a serious investigation of my chess lately. There are lines in my repertoire I feel unable to get away from. Does anybody have the same problem? For example, in allowing the Maroczy Bind as Black, I feel drawn to playing the …Ng4 line because of past successes despite knowing its slightly inferior status. Lately, I suffered two defeats in this line because my opponents knew the sounder main lines against it.

I invested time studying the sounder line of exchanging white’s knight on d4 and playing on the dark squares but when the opportunity comes to play against the bind, I cannot muster the courage to play it.



Andy Hortillosa February 1, 2008 at 11:10 am

By the way, I have the book but seldom uses it.

Right now, I am forcing myself to utilize the effortful study method and limiting myself to a few materials.

I am exclusively using ebooks from Everyman Chess for my opening studies.

I wish Silman’s book could be released as an ebook. It makes chess study efficient.


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