Thursday, June 30, 2011

Killer Endgames: A Review

Part one: DVD I - contents and coverage of pawn endings

Wouldn't it be great if life really did imitate chess? Well perhaps not all of chess, just bits of it.

What about an incremental time control for instance? Every time you did something time would whizz backwards a bit and the day would suddenly be thirty seconds longer. Imagine how much easier it would be to get everything done. Actually, the more I think about it the more I can’t help but feel that God missed a trick at the Earth League AGM (circa 4004 BC) when he went for ‘Game in three-score-and-ten’ instead.

Anyhoo, this flight of whimsy I bring to you as an explanation of why I haven't yet finished the review of the first Killer Endgames DVD. With Benasque approaching, and still a lot of fiddling around to do to make sure I actually get there, I'm afraid I'm struggling with a bit of real-life zeitnot.

There will be a review, oh yes indeedy, it's just that it's going to happen bit by bit. Today's section will give an overview of the contents of the first DVD and then take a look at how it covers king and pawn endgames. Other subjects, including pretty much everything to do with the second disc, we'll save for another day.

With a total playing time of four and a half hours to fill, Killer Endgames part I divides itself into four main sections. The first three teach various aspects of endgame play (the material divided into what Nick Pert and the Ginger GM team consider appropriate for under 1000 elo rated viewers, 1000-1400s and 1400-1800s respectively) while the final part is a collection of four practical examples of endgames played in Grandmaster games. A series of puzzles follows each section, the positions relating to the lessons that the viewer has just seen.

The topics covered in the theoretical sections are:-

Under 1000
  • mating with king & queen v king;
  • mating with king & rook v king;
  • the square of the pawn;
  • rook v 2 pawns on the sixth.

  • king & pawn endings: opposition;
  • mating with king & two bishops v king;
  • elementary principles of rook & pawn v rook;
  • king & pawn endings: the Outside Passed Pawn.

  • queen v pawn on the 7th (rook’s pawn, knight’s pawn, bishop’s pawn and centre pawn);
  • king & rook v king & knight;
  • king & rook v king & bishop;
  • bishop & ‘wrong’ rook’s pawn;
  • rook & pawn v rook: Philidor’s Defence;
  • mating with king & queen v king & knight;
  • mating with king & queen v king & bishop;
  • fortress

Back in February (TITE II) I listed 19 positions that I though might count as a basic knowledge of endgames.  Of those, as well as other things, the first DVD in the Killer Endgames set will help a person solve positions 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 9, 11, 12, 15, 18 and 19 at the very least (five of the others you'll need DVD II to help you).

One thing that you couldn’t tell from the raw list of contents, however, is the extent to which the DVD focuses on king and pawn endgames. The concept of 'opposition' is covered in three segments and the outside passed pawn in two, while nine of the sixteen puzzles in the various sections are king and pawn positions. This emphasis strikes me as entirely appropriate. As has often been pointed out, king and pawn endings are fundamental to all endgame play. It would be impossible to understand how to play rook and pawn endings, say, if you didn't know when you could exchange the rooks and when you couldn't.

Take my final game from this year's Slater-Kennington Cup, for example. Yet another king and pawn endgame for me, it turned out, to add to those mentioned in TITE VI.

42 ... b4

This is a fairly typical example of how a king and pawn ending might arise in club players’ games, I think. Black (your humble scribe) is a pawn up, but White has a bishop which plays on both sides of the board. With a computer running beside me I can now say that Black is probably just winning, but I certainly wasn't sure of that at the time. What I knew was that I wanted to play 42 ... b5-b4, and that the first thing to check was whether White could just try the obvious 43 Bxf6 in response.

The piece exchange does indeed lead to a win for Black, although to realise that that you have to see Black's idea at move 48 from the start. White either missed my intention or thought swapping off was the best practical chance.  Either way, he went for the endgame and I had the very unusual experience of foreseeing the position in which he resigned on move 53 some eleven moves before it actually happened.

That’s the thing about king and pawn endings, though, isn’t it? Not only is it possible to accurately calculate a long way in advance – there being fewer pieces on the board and (sometimes) fewer lines to consider – but often you have to. In this type of ending assessments like ‘slightly better’ or ‘clearly worse’ disappear leaving only ‘won’, ‘lost’ and ‘drawn’.

Like earlier Ginger GM releases (e.g. The Killer French), Killer Endgames will run on standard DVD players as well as computers. The only difference is that instead of Simon Williams, it's Nick Pert behind the shades, but while the two GMs' styles are certainly different, there has been no drop in the clarity with which the material is explained.

That said, with regard to the king and pawn sections, I think it's worth noting the following:-

Although Pert talks about the 'opposition' he never actually stops to define the concept and the viewer is left to infer what is meant from what s/he sees on the screen. While this is not so much of a problem for somebody refreshing their memory, a complete beginner might find it harder to pick the ideas up.

Secondly, the DVD implies that in this position,

White needs it to be Black's move if he's going to win. The more experienced chessers amongst our readership will not need me to tell them that while this is true if you push the pieces further down the board, with the Black king on the back rank White wins regardless of whose turn it is.

Finally, while the Outside Passed Pawn coverage was good, I think it was a mistake not to follow it up with a segment or two on Protected Passed Pawns. It seems to me these concepts go together and that teaching beginners one without the other could potentially leave them in a bit of a pickle.

Somebody who has only studied Killer Endgames, for example, might get a position like this,

TITE II, position 10

and believe that Black is doing well. Black has the OPP, after all, and Pert has told us, quite rightly, that it's usually good to have them when you're playing an endgame. This is true enough, but the problem is that he hasn't told us that PPPs are even better. As it happens Black is simply lost in this position regardless of what he tries or who it is to move. As I write this it occurs to me that my ending from the Slater-Kennington game is another example of a Protected Passed Pawn trumping an Outside Passed Pawn which only reinforces my belief that it would probably have been best to cover these concepts as a pair.

I suspect these issues are mostly the result of Killer Endgames being a DVD. I shall cover books v discs in a later post (sneak preview: my feeling is that each format has its advantages and disadvantages) so I’ll say no more about it for now.

The fact is that, the quibbles outlined above notwithstanding, for the vast majority of the time the material is both entirely appropriate for the target audience of the DVD and taught very well.  I'd certainly say that Killer Endgames meets its goal of teaching those who are developing their endgame knowledge from scratch just what they need to know.  Actually, it could also potentially be of benefit to people some way above the 1800 elo ceiling suggested. I’m currently about 1950 elo equivalent (163 ECF) and hope to be another fifty points to the good when the next grades come out, but there was plenty on disc one that was useful to me. I don't just mean as a refresher either; I've never looked at rook v minor piece positions before, for example.

So that’s the end of the review part one. After Benasque I’ll be back with a closer look at disc two and a post on what you can expect from books and DVDs. For now, I’d say that if you’re looking to learn something about the endgame, and the topics listed above are unfamiliar to you, you might well want to make Killer Endgames one of your candidate moves. You can buy it from Chess & Bridge or direct from the Ginger GM himself. £25 for each DVD or £45 if you buy both together.

Chess t-shirts image from


Anonymous said...

Blimey 50 extra points. You had a good season to move up to 213!

Jonathan B said...

It's this new membership scheme they're proposing =

Bronze - you can play club matches
silver - you can play tournaments
Gold - you can play in elo rated tournaments

Platinum - you can name your own grade and CJ de Mooi will come around your house and make you a cup of tea.