18 October 2012

A Textbook for Teaching Endgames

Regular readers of this blog know that I have a keen interest in chess960. While I leave most of my thoughts on that topic to my chess960 blog (see links in the sidebar to the main page and to the most recent post), once in a while the subject is compelling enough to mention here.

Freed from the need to analyze opening variations to the 15th move, my focus naturally turned to other aspects of chess. Since Fischer's creation presents a much richer set of middlegame considerations, the common denominator across traditional chess and chess960 is the endgame. There is absolutely no difference between endgame theory for chess960 and for its historical predecessor.

Ever since my post on A Brief History of Endgame Theory, I've been on the lookout for the authors and titles mentioned. One work that keeps crossing my radar is worthy of being deemed a 'classic'.

The first endgame guide in Russian appeared during the Soviet era. This was I. Rabinovich's work Endshpil (first edition 1927, second edition 1938).

As luck would have it, the book is bring reprinted.

'The Russian Endgame Handbook' by Ilya Rabinovich, 'Translated and Revised from the 1938 Edition'; Mongoose Press; October 2012; 523 pages. • 'An old Soviet quip has it that Western amateurs "play the opening like grandmasters, the middlegame like experts, and the endgame like beginners". Soviet-trained players would fearlessly steer the game toward the final phase, confident of their superior endgame skill. Ilya Rabinovich’s Russian Endgame Manual is a major reason for this.' [Publisher's site] • 312 diagrams, figurine algebraic notation.

In this post I'll set the context and in another post I'll look at an example or two from the book. The 'Editor’s Preface' informs,

Ilya Rabinovich's classic endgame manual was first published in the Soviet Union in 1927 and reissued in 1938 under the title of The Endgame. We present here a "translated and revised" edition, meaning that we gladly accepted Jim Marfia's excellent translation of the 1938 Russian text and then made slight alterations to the voice, to make the final result sound more natural to the mind's ear in our less formal times, yet without changing the meaning of any statement.

Although this work was conceived as a teaching aid for group lessons, the individual student can make good use of everything in it (except for the foreword). The book you are holding truly constitutes a complete course on the endgame, assuming little about the reader's knowledge of the final phase of the game but taking the student to a high level of understanding.

For this edition, we have dispensed with the more complex aspects of the author's discussion of the theory of "corresponding squares", which we consider to be of diminishing value in these times of increasingly fast time controls and sudden-death play. On the other hand, for the reader's convenience we have added many new diagrams for the exercises and alternative positions.

The author's 'Foreword', expanding on the concept of the teaching aid, says,

This work is conceived chiefly as a method for advising instructors and teachers in group learning settings. Since the instructor must deal not only with skilled chessplayers but also with beginners, this book focuses on both elementary and complex endings, as well as on endings with middlegame features. In laying out the elementary themes, special attention is paid to the methodical side of the question, and in our treatment of more complex endings, to the illustration of the latest discoveries and, where possible, to a fuller elaboration of the theme.

For group study, we recommend the study of separate endgame themes in the following order. First, study the first five chapters. Then, proceeding to the following chapters, we recommend that you rely on the "concentric" method of teaching them – that is, first acquaint your audience only with the basic positions in each chapter, delaying a deeper study of the given theme to the second ring. The toughest questions (chapters 9 and 14 – Rook and Pawn endings, for example) we recommend that you divide up into three concentric rings. [...]

In putting together this book, the author also kept in mind those who study endings on their own, and those wishing to refresh or touch up their endgame knowledge. It is precisely for the sake of this rather large group of people, who seek to improve their skills by self-instruction, that this book includes a considerable number of examples as well as explanatory games.

The recommendation to 'study the first five chapters' means the following topics:-

1. The Simplest Mates
2. King and Pawn vs. King
3. Queen vs. Pawn (or Pawns)
4. King, Minor Piece, and Pawn vs. King (and Pawn)
5. Mate with Bishop and Knight

In a followup post I'll explore the ring concept. Is there any chess player below GM level who doesn't need to work on Rook and Pawn endings?

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