A review of The Endgame by Marat Makarov

Reviewed by P.P.O. Kane

The Endgame
By Marat Makarov
Chess Stars, 2008

This excellent book is a practical battle manual on that most difficult phase of the game of chess, the endgame. Marat Makarov’s The Endgame lays no claim to be exhaustive on the subject; rather, it is concise and concentrated and presents a distillation of what it is most important and useful to know.

The material is organized in quite a straightforward manner, over eight chapters. Chapter 1, the most substantial, is devoted to pawn endings. Chapters 2-4 are concerned with minor piece endings (i.e. knight endings, bishop endings and bishop versus knight endings), while chapters 5-7 look at rook endings and endings where the rook fights against a minor piece. Finally, chapter eight examines queen endings. Throughout, the emphasis is on those situations that tend to crop up in practice. So, for example, quite a lot of space is devoted to the common ending of rook and four pawns against rook and three, where all the pawns are on one side of the board.

Along the way, the author introduces a number of key concepts, such as zugzwang, opposition and triangulation; tells how to make use of a material and/or positional advantage; and explains the key strategic principles that underlie most endings. The English translation reads a little awkwardly at times, but is generally acceptable. Two particular quirks are the expression ‘light pieces’ to refer to the bishop and knight (‘minor pieces’ is the accepted term, of course) and the use of ‘that’ where ‘this’ would be correct. Some of the ideas in the text are elementary, while others are quite advanced.

Within the book, the author makes use of an astutely selected mix of just over 300 positions. There are theoretical positions, studies, educational positions apparently of Makarov’s own devising and excerpts from games, including excerpts from Makarov’s own practice (one game, versus Krishylovsky, is a protean affair: a bishop ending that becomes a pawn ending and finally a queen ending).

If Black is able to play … Kg7, blockading the g-pawn, he will be alright and can draw with ease. So to begin with, White must use threats against the … Na8 to quickly move his king to the key area of battle.

1.Kc5 The threat of Kc6, trapping the knight, forces Black’s hand. 1 … Nc7 2.Kd6 Ne8+ Naturally, if 2 … Na8 then 3.Kc6. 3.Ke7 Ng7 On 3 … Nc7, 4.Kf7! prevents … Kg7 and the white king will shepherd the pawn through to the queening square, as Black’s knight looks helplessly on. 4.Bg6! The bishop now dominates the knight. Let us take stock. Black has succeeded in establishing a dark-square blockade on … g7. But the knight’s movement is constricted and the knight in turn, by occupying … g7, constricts the movement of its own king. 4 … Kg8 5.Bf7+! Driving the black king away from … f8 and freeing the g-pawn; now the king can only shuffle from … h7 to … h8. 5 … Kh7 6.Kf6 To stop … Nf5. 6 … Kh8 7.Ke5! It would be a big mistake to play 7.Kg6 Ne6! (intending … Nxg5) 8.Bxe6 and stalemate. While clearly 7.g6 Nh5+ 8.Kg5 Ng3 (intending … Kg7) 9.Kh6 Nf5+, etc. would draw. White must control h5 before playing g6, which is the point of the concluding passage of play. 7 … Kh7 8.Ke4! White needs to play Kg4 when the black king is on … h7; if Black had played 5 … Kh8, White would have gone 8.Kf4 at this point. 8 … Kh8 9. Kf4 Kh7 10.Kg4 Kh8 11.g6! And Black is in zugzwang; the … Ng7 is lost. White wins.

Note that there is a neat contrast to be made here between the positions after 4.Bg6 and 11.g6. After 4.Bg6, the bishop controls the f5 and h5 squares, while the king controls e6 and e8. After 11.g6, it is the king that controls f5 and h5, with the bishop controlling e6 and e8. Considering especially the paucity of material that the composer had to work with, this is an exceptionally beautiful study.

Marat Makarov’s The Endgame is a treasure trove of instruction and ‘need to know’ information. Undoubtedly, a careful study of the many splendid positions in it will be sure to reap rewards in your own play. It will enable you to win games that you might have drawn and draw games that you might otherwise have lost.

About the reviewer: P.P.O. Kane lives and works in Manchester, England. He welcomes responses to his reviews and you can reach him at ludic@europe.com