06 December 2011

A Brief History of Endgame Theory

Continuing with Averbakh's Convekta, Averbakh's 'Preface to the First Edition' on the DVD presents a short history of endgame theory.

Out of the vast amount of literature on chess, the number of works devoted to the endgame is relatively small. The point is that the development of endgame theory has taken a rather different path to that of the opening and the middlegame. The reason for this is rooted in the very history of modern chess.

The origin of chess theory dates from the 16th and 17th centuries,' when the predominant style was that of the Italian School, typified by sharp gambit openings and swift attacks on the king. Often a game then would simply not reach the endgame, but would conclude in the middlegame, or even the opening, when the enemy king, under a hail of spectacular blows, normally involving sacrifices, would be mated. The endgame was regarded as a tedious, uninteresting phase of the game, so that the playing of it was marked by a lack of inspiration, and elementary mistakes and oversights were committed.

The deeper understanding of chess gradually led to the development of the technique of positional play and defence. It became more difficult to conclude the game in the good old style, and more and more often a game would extend into the endgame. An advantage of one 'worthless' pawn in the endgame often proved decisive, since this pawn would inexorably advance and triumphantly promote to a queen. "Pawns are the soul of chess" -- this saying of the celebrated French player of the 18th century Andre Philidor shows in the best way possible the growing role of the pawn. And it is no accident that Philidor, who was the first to formulate the principles of positional play, analyzed a number of endings which have not lost their importance right up to the present time.

The number of theoretical researches on the endgame grew, but it was a long time before any generalizing works, encompassing all types of endings, were to appear. This state of affairs was furthered by another factor. There are different tasks facing researchers into the opening and the endgame. While it will sometimes be impossible (and also unnecessary) to give an exhaustive analysis of some opening system or variation, things are different with regard to the endgame. Here what is often required is a mathematically exact analysis, taking account of all possibilities, without exception, and leading to strictly defined conclusions. While in a game even between two top-class players, who have made a deep study of opening theory and have a mastery of middlegame techniques, the practical or creative element nevertheless predominates, in many endgame positions exact knowledge is of paramount importance.

A generalizing work, devoted entirely to endings, was Berger's book Theorie und Praxis der Endspiele. The first edition appeared in 1890, and the second, which was considerably enlarged, in 1922. This edition is regarded as a classic. A significant role in the creation of endgame theory has also been played by the works of Cheron, Euwe, Fine, Gawlikowski and other analysts.

The first endgame guide in Russian appeared during the Soviet era. This was I. Rabinovich's work Endshpil (first edition 1927, second edition 1938). In 1956 Lisitsin's book Zaklyuchitelnaya chast shakhmatnoy partii ('The concluding part of the chess game') was published. In our country a study of the endgame has been made by a number of top-class players. In the first instance we must give the names of Botvinnik, Smyslov, Keres, Bondarevsky, Kholmov, Krogius, Rauzer, Grigoriev, Kasparian, Kopayev, Chekhover, I. Rabinovich, Sozin, Lisitsin, Khenkin and Dvoryetsky. Each of these has made his contribution to the development of endgame theory.

The history continues in Kotov and Yudovich's Soviet School of Chess, in a section of the chapter titled 'Main Features of the Soviet School'.

THE END-GAME: This was once the Achilles' heel of Soviet masters -- even as late as 1939, when, in a training tournament, Grandmaster Flohr won many encounters from them thanks to his excellent endgame technique. Our players tackled this problem with characteristic Soviet determination and energy. Their studies, which included the entire backlog of endgame analyses, assumed broad scope and revealed subtleties which theoreticians had never noticed before.

An outstanding endgame analyst was N.D.Grigoriev, whose work in this field may weel be called classical. Valuable contributions have been made by Averbakh, Chekhover, Kasparyan, Keres, Khachaturov, Kopayev, Levenfush, Maizelis, Rabinovich, Romanovsky, and Zek.

The authors go on to mention specific endgame themes: R+fh vs. R; R+2P vs. R+P; B+a vs. a; 2N vs. Ps; Q+P vs. Q; 'the so-called nine squares problem in Rook endgames and the opposition on neighboring files' [MW:?]; B vs. BOC; B vs. N; and R+Ps vs. N+Ps.

A group of endgame theoreticians headed by Averbakh have prepared a sort of encyclopedia of endings which sums up the experience of major tournaments and matches of recent years and presents many original analyses. The endgame investigations by Soviet analysts disclose the essence of positions taken from tournament games or such as are of practical importance. This approach differs fundamentally from that of analyses dealing with variations whose correlation of forces is hardly to be met in practice.

In a subsequent post I'll map Kotov and Yudovich's summaries onto Averbakh's 'encyclopedia of endings'.

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