Stop those pawns!


In an endgame, stop your opponent’s pawn or pawns from promoting. When a pawn promotes, it usually becomes a queen. And a queen ahead in an endgame will likely win. In today’s article, the winning side stops two pawns before promoting its own pawn.

Recently I played in the South Central Regional All Women and Girls Chess Championships. Read my report about the tournament at the US Chess Federation  Web site. I tied for first with Yue Chu, but had better tiebreaks so earned the title of “champion.” However, Yue and I split the $200 first prize and $100 second prize, earning $150 each.

Root, Salinas
Me accepting prize money from tournament director and organizer Luis Salinas

Near the end of my last-round game, I recognized a common endgame pattern. Knowing that pattern helped me win the game. The pattern is how to draw with king and pawn against a king.

King and Pawn vs. King

When you are defending keep your king in front of the enemy pawn. Also, use your king to keep the other king from getting in front of its pawn. Keep the opposition, which means keep your king opposite from your opponent’s king with just one square in between. Let’s look at a couple of moves:

[pgn][Event “The Opposition”]
[Site “?”]
[Date “2018.10.26”]
[Round “?”]
[White “King and Pawn”]
[Black “King”]
[Result “1/2-1/2”]
[SetUp “1”]
[FEN “8/4k3/4P3/4K3/8/8/8/8 b – – 0 1”]
[PlyCount “6”]
{[#]} 1… Ke8
{The black king steps straight back. That way, whichever way White moves Black will take the opposition.}
2. Kf6 Kf8

{The opposition! Now the white king cannot move forward, as e7, f7, and g7 are all controlled by the black king. The white king has to retreat. Most important, the white king cannot get in front of its own pawn. If the white king could get in front of the white pawn, it could control the promotion square.}

3. e7+ Ke8

{Occupying the promotion square}

4. Ke6

{The only move to save the white pawn, but now the black king is in stalemate. Stalemate is when one side is not in check but has no legal moves. It is a draw.} 1/2-1/2

King, Bishop and Pawn vs. King

But what if the attacking side had a bishop in addition to that pawn? Then the defending side could not keep the opposition. The bishop would move, losing a tempo so that the defender would be on the move again. Unfortunately for the defender, moving loses the opposition and the game.

[pgn][Event “Tempo”]
[Site “?”]
[Date “2018.10.26”]
[Round “?”]
[White “King, Bishop, and Pawn”]
[Black “King”]
[Result “1-0”]
[SetUp “1”]
[FEN “8/4k3/4P3/4K3/8/8/8/2B5 b – – 0 1”]
[PlyCount “10”]
{[#]} 1… Ke8 2. Kf6 Kf8 3. e7+ Ke8 4. Bd2

{A tempo move, whose only purpose is to put Black on the move again. Black on the move has to vacate the promotion square.}

Kd7 5. Kf7 Kd6 6. e8=Q {And White will win.} 1-0

A real-life example

Knowing these patterns was helpful in the fifth and final round. At a critical moment, I realized that I should keep my king with my only pawn, push that pawn toward its promotion square, and use my extra bishop to make a tempo move. That tempo move would force my opponent to move her king away from the promotion square.

[Event “South Central Regional All Women”]
[Site “?”]
[Date “2018.10.21”]
[Round “5”]
[White “Basepogu, Sharon”]
[Black “Root, Alexey”]
[Result “0-1”]
[ECO “B06”]
[WhiteElo “1443”]
[BlackElo “2000”]
[PlyCount “166”]

1. e4 g6 2. d4 d6 3. Nf3 Bg7 4. Nc3 a6 5. h3 b5 6. a3 Bb7 7. Bd3 Nd7 8. O-O c5 9. Be3 Rc8 10. Re1 Ngf6 11. d5 O-O 12. Qd2 e6 13. b4 cxb4 14. axb4 exd5 15. Bg5 h6 16. Bh4 g5 17. Nxg5 hxg5 18. Bxg5 Rxc3 19. Qxc3 Nxe4 20. Qxg7+ Kxg7 21. Bxd8 Rxd8 22. f3 Nef6 23. Re7 Ng8 24. Re2 Ne5 25. Rc1 d4 26. f4 Nxd3 27. cxd3 Rd7 28. Rec2 Kf8 29. Rc7 Ke8 30. Rxd7 Kxd7 31. g4 Nf6 32. Kh2 Nd5 33. f5 Nxb4 34. Rd1 Nd5 35. Kg3 b4 36. Kh4 a5 37. Ra1 Ba6 38. Rxa5 Bxd3 39. Rxd5 b3 40. Rxd4 b2 41. Rb4 b1=Q 42. Rxb1 Bxb1 43. Kg3 f6 44. Kf4 Ke7 45. h4 Kf7 46. Ke3 Bc2 47. Kd4 Bd1 48. g5 fxg5 49. hxg5 Bf3 50. Ke3 Bc6 51. Kf4 Ke7 52. Ke3 d5 53. Kd4

{[#] According to Fritz, a computer engine, Black’s next move could lead to a seven-pawn advantage or to an equal game. Black must decide: “Should I stop White’s pawns with my king or with my bishop?“}


{The right decision. Black’s bishop stops White’s pawns while Black’s king supports the d-pawn’s advance to the promotion square of d1. Let’s look at what happens if the wrong move is chosen.}

(53… Kf7 54. Ke5 Kg7 55. f6+ Kf7 56. g6+ Kxg6 57. Ke6 d4 (57… Bd7+ 58. Kxd5 {with a draw.}) 58. f7 Bd5+ 59. Kxd5 Kxf7 60. Kxd4)

54. g6

(54. f6 Be8 {And the white pawns cannot progress.})

54… Be8 55. Kd3 Ke5 56. g7 Bf7 57. f6 Kxf6 58. Kd4 Kxg7

{[#] The game is now an easy win, as king and pawn versus king is a win when the stronger side can get her king in front of her pawn. With the bishop around to make tempo moves, Black achieves this goal.}

59. Ke5 Kf8 60. Kd4 Ke7 61. Ke5 Bg8

{Making a tempo move with the bishop, so that the white king has to back off. That is, Black now has the opposition.}

62. Kd4 Kd6 63. Kd3 Kc5 64. Kc3 Bh7

{Another tempo move, once again giving Black the opposition. The white king has to back away. The black king is almost in front of the d-pawn.}

65. Kd2 Kd4 66. Kd1 Kd3 67. Ke1 d4 68. Kd1 Bg6

{Another tempo move, which puts White on the move. White must now yield the promotion square of d1.}

69. Ke1 Kc2 70. Kf2 d3 71. Ke3 d2 72. Kf4 d1=Q

{[#] And Black knows how to checkmate when a queen ahead, so of course can also complete a checkmate when a queen and a bishop ahead.}

73. Kg5 Qd3 74. Kh6 Kc3 75. Kg7 Kd4 76. Kf6 Qf5+ 77. Kg7 Ke5 78. Kh6 Be8 79. Kg7 Qf6+ 80. Kg8 Qe7 {Not the fastest, but setting up for a familiar checkmate with the black king placed on g6 and then the black queen on g7 for mate.}

81. Kh8 Bg6 {Switching ideas, Better was …Kf6 and …Qg7 checkmate but I decided to use my bishop to support my queen when she checkmated.} 82. Kg8 Qf7+ 83. Kh8 Qh7#

(83… Kf6 {Of course not …Kf6, which is a stalemate. A stalemate is a draw. It happens when a king is not in check yet that side, in this case White, has no legal moves.}) 0-1

Notice that my opponent played all the way to checkmate. Many opponents will play out games rather than resign. Therefore, one does need to know the basic endgame checkmates such as, in this case, king and queen (and bishop) versus king.

WIM Alexey Root, PhD

Alexey Root is a Woman International Master and the 1989 U.S. Women's chess champion. Her peak US Chess rating was 2260. She has a PhD in education from UCLA. You can find her books on chess on