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Portable Endgame Training
by Michael McGuerty
Mastering Endgame Strategy, by Johan Hellsten, Everyman Chess 2014, Ebook, PGN and ChessBase formats, $24.95
Mastering Endgame Strategy completes a trilogy of strategy books by grandmaster Johan Hellsten. The first two books were Mastering Chess Strategy and Mastering Opening Strategy. Together these books are designed as a structured training program to improve strategic thinking. Hellsten is a former Swedish champion, who has represented Sweden in numerous Olympiads and won individual gold and bronze medals at the European Team Championships. He is also a full-time chess teacher in Ecuador.
Of his new work Hellsten writes, "Sometimes in my classes, I have felt the need of a book that covered major and minor strategic ideas in the last phase of the game. Finally, it turned out that I would write such a book myself, and I am now pleased to share it with the reader."
The main content is divided as follows:
The book is intended to complement existing endgame manuals, rather than serve as one. The first five chapters are dedicated to the strategic themes related to a specific piece, while the last three chapters discuss more general aspects. In total it offers 500 examples and 240 exercises.
Hellsten notes that endgame success is mostly determined by three factors:
This book is mainly aimed at assisting the reader with the third item, though it is noted that improving your expertise in that area will also benefit the other two. Among the themes explored are blockade, fortresses, interference, mobility, simplification, and technique. For the most part, verbal commentary is used to explain the topic under discussion with a limited amount of variations.
Let's look at a couple examples:
With "King first!" I refer to the idea of improving the king as a first priority in our position, in an almost mechanical way. In contrast, the "Active king" theme featured in the final chapter of the book, deals with the subject in more general terms.
Now let's see the "King first!" idea in positions with more material.
Lesiege, A – Kozul, Z
The bishop usually makes a draw against three connected pawns, but here Black is suffering due to the remote placement of his king.
King first! In contrast, after the impulsive 1.h4?! Kc3! (Black applies the same idea) 2.h5? Kd4 3.h6 Ke4 followed by ...Bc3, Black draws.
Obstructing the enemy king. 2.Kf3?! Kd4 was less to the point.
2...Kc4 3.Ke4 Kc5 4.Ke5!
Again preventing the black king's return to the kingside. In contrast, after 4.g4?! Kd6 5.g5 Ke6 Black's drawing chances have increased.
4...Kc6 5.Ke6 Kc7 6.f5
Only now, after having placed his king in an ideal position, White starts advancing his pawns.
Of course the black king should be denied the e-file.
Thanks to the splendidly placed king on f7, this pawn proves unstoppable.
Or 8...Bxh2 9.g5 etc.
In view of the inevitable g4-g5 g6 g7, Black resigned.
Kramnik, V – Comp Deep Fritz
In this more modern example, the side with the knight could have decided the game in his favour by immediately improving his king.
Thus White enables a king journey to b5. In contrast, the game went 1.a4?! Bc5 2.h3 f6 3.f3 Kg6 and Black later saved a draw. Changing the move order with 1.Kf3 first should also work, since 1...e4+? 2.Kf4 is bad for Black.
1...Bc5 2.Kf3 f6
Or 2...Kg6 3.Ke2 Kg5 4.h3! preventing the black king's entrance – Braun.
The most tenacious. After 3...Kf7 4.Kd3 Ke6 5.Kc4 Black ends up in some kind of zugzwang, with both the king and the bishop tied to the defence of pawns. Besides, White has the strong idea of a2-a4-a5 at his disposal.
White insists with the plan of bringing the king to b5.
4...Kf7 5.Kc3 b5
Or 5...Ke6 6.Kc4 with a similar situation to that after 3...Kf7 etc.
A useful piece of provocation.
In view of 6...b4+ 7.Kc4, followed by Nd5xb4, Black has to pin his hopes on this counter-attack.
7.Nxb5 Ba5+ 8.Kc4 Be1 9.a4!
Passed pawns should advance, as the old saying goes.
9...Bxf2 10.a5 Bxe3 11.Nd4!
Black isn't even allowed to sacrifice his bishop for the pawn.
11...f4 12.gxf4 Bxf4 13.a6 Bb8 14.Nc6
White wins – Braun.
Hellsten sites his voluminous source material in the bibliography and credits three main works in the introduction: Iskusstvo Endshpilya by Smyslov, Endgame Strategy by Shereshevsky, and Baburin's Endgame Kaleidoscope column featured in Chess Today. However, he also does a diligent job of giving credit where it is due within the examples themselves with various analyst being quoted when necessary.
The exercises are divided by theme corresponding to the individual chapters. For instance, here is an example regarding King Themes:
Position 1 (White to play)
Find the best continuation. (3-4 moves)
Zwettler, M – Loidl, F
King first! Instead, the game went 1.Bxf5+? Kf3! 2.Kd5 Kxf2 and a draw was agreed.
Or 1...f4 2.Bxg4.
2.Ke5 Kxf2 3.Kf4
White wins – Müller.
Other exercises come from classic games, some are educative examples or analytical variations, and yet others would appear to be from the games of Hellsten's students.
There are numerous benefits to the electronic format, most among them is the portability of loading the ebook onto an Apple or Android product for use in the Everyman Chess Viewer or ChessBase Database app, and the resultant diagram with every move inherent with this format. The files can also be used on a PC, where they can be analysed by an engine or tablebase and otherwise modified and saved to suit the user. A further bonus is that the ebook is $10.00 less than the physical book!
Mastering Endgame Strategy can be read independently of its companion volumes, yet if you enjoy the author's approach here, you will likely find the other volumes of interest. It is primarily designed for studious improvers, but would also prove to be an excellent resource for chess teachers and trainers. It is as if he has done the hard work of compiling and explaining the examples for you!
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