Monday, December 18, 2006

Back To My First Love

«Endgame was my first love, and it will be my last. Endgames of the future, and endgames of the past.» (Original lyrics by John Miles)

When I recall my first encounter with chess I see my daddy explain me the rules, and I see myself most fascinated by the pawns arriving at their last rank, becoming a queen. A real miracle: The least piece becomes the most powerful.

He also showed me how I can checkmate him with my queen or with my rook. I preferred the rook because it cannot let you stumble into a stalemate.

Then, finally, we began to play. I always had a very simple strategy: Moving the knights around the board, always looking for possible forks. After some pawns had gone, I also watched for possible skewers with my bishops. If I found no such opportunity, I tried to trade the useless pieces in order to get an endgame where I hoped to get my new queen faster than my daddy. Most times it was he who got it first.

I loved the endgame because it is simple and very tactical, and very fascinating, and because things may turn very quickly from win to draw to loss. Middle game tactics and let alone strategy was much more difficult to understand.

When I now, decades later, look again at the endgame, the old fascination returns. Of course I know now that endgames are not simple at all, even pawn endgames are not. These are the things I am dealing with these days: key squares, mined squares, corresponding squares. With these three all operations in pawn endgames can be explained, such as opposition and triangulation. The theory itself is quite simple, but the application is not. There is a lot of hard work to be done.

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