As a chess teacher myself, I’ve often wondered: When should you start teaching endgame concepts to beginning students? It seems impractical to teach concepts like the opposition or triangulation to someone still learning not to hang pieces.
Additionally, endgame ideas can be confusing to players still trying to grasp opening and middlegame principles. It’s like chess with all the rules upside down: King activity replaces king safety. Pawns race to become the strongest piece on the board. Losing a move can lead to victory.
And then there’s the question of how to teach the endgame. What concepts are the most important and the least complex? What lessons deserve attention from players still striving to absorb the tactical patterns and strategic plans required for middlegame survival?
Chess Endgames for Kids successfully answers many of these questions. It is written by Karsten Muller, a grandmaster renowned as an authority on the endgame. The book is far more than a children’s book: It is designed for anyone seeking to study the endgame from the very beginning and gradually delve into more advanced themes.
Muller aims for the clearest, most cohesive way to explain endgame principles and demonstrate their usage in fundamental positions.
The book begins with an introduction about some the of the differences between the middlegame and the endgame, emphasizing king activity and zugzwang. Then, there are 50 two-page lessons. The first few begin with elementary checkmates. Then, gradually lessons introduce more pieces to the board and increase in complexity.
Each lesson begins with a short introduction to the theme and one or more principles to apply. Then, six examples, often with visual elements, such as a square or arrows, are given to display the concept over the board.
Instead of sending a reader into a mass of variations, Muller often uses an entirely new diagram to examine an alternate possibility. This allows more explanations to be more idea focused and gives equal emphasis to alternate variations. Since there are numerous diagrams along the way for a single starting position, the book is fairly easy to read without a chessboard.
After demonstrating the techniques used for elementary checkmates, Muller delves into key concepts in king and pawn endgames, which he devotes over 25% of the book to. These lessons begin with the simplest concept, the rule of the square. Then, they progress to techniques to use for pawns on one wing, outside passed pawns, and pawn majorities. The exploration of king and pawn ends on a tactical note with breakthroughs.
A considerable portion of the book is devoted to key positions in rook endgames. The author also spends time examining same-colored bishop and opposite colored bishop endgames. The material on knight and queen endgames was fairly brief.
A unique feature of the book is that it spends a relatively high amount of time on endgames with piece imbalances (pawns vs. pieces, rook vs. bishop, etc.) compared to other endgame primers, 14 lessons. The lessons for bishop vs. knight are especially useful. Muller clearly explains the advantages for each piece.
Here is an example from the book that demonstrates when the bishop is superior.
Lubbe-Huschenbeth (German Ch 2010)
Black to move.
The bishop is so much better on an open board with pawns on both sides that Black wins, even down a pawn.
What’s the winning move?
At one point, the book does feel like it’s skipped a lesson. Let’s take a look at example 5 in Lesson 13: Protected Passed Pawn.
White to move.
Here, Muller explains, “Black has the virtual opposition. The corners (d5, d3, h3, and h5) are all light. 2. Kg3 Ke5 is the diagonal opposition as the corners of the rectangle around the kings — g3, g5, e5, and e3 — are all dark.”
Yet, the “virtual opposition” and the “diagonal opposition” have not been explained in any previous part of the book. The explanation here is also rather unclear. I think a lesson delving into the various forms of the opposition would’ve added clarity.
Although the title suggests that the book for kids, I’d only recommend the book to ages 11 and up. Some of the material seems a little advanced and unnecessary for a kid specific book. In addition, the book could also be more geared for kids by having more visuals and related cartoons. There are a few amusing drawings in the introduction chapter, but none throughout the rest of the book.
The last chapter is “Test Your Endgame Skills”, a 36-puzzle quiz on themes in the book. Depending on their amount of correct answers, a reader will be ranked anywhere from “Master standard”, a nearly perfect score, to “Let’s hope you can force checkmate in the middlegame…”, a score that fails probability. This chapter is very useful for a reader to evaluate the skills they’ve acquired. Each puzzle also has a “hint” pointing the reader to a specific lesson to review if they’re having difficulty.
Here’s one puzzle from the quiz:
White to play and draw.
Overall, Chess Endgames for Kids does an excellent job at introducing beginning chessplayers to themes in the endgame. The writing is clear. The text focuses on principles and displaying their application through concrete examples. It is a very comprehensive view of beginning to intermediate level endgame themes. Additionally, Muller’s book is great preparation for more advanced endgame books.
Rank: Very Good (B+)
Rating Level: 1000-1600
Aim: A clear introduction to key endgame principles