What is an Endgame study?

First some explanation about chess, endgames and endgamestudies.

Understanding endgamestudies, you need to know some basics of the chessgame, but also some general understanding of endgames.

I.e. many endgamestudies stop where many novices will ask, but why?

You need to know that certain endgames are easily won and others can't be won at all.


Em. Lasker 1890

White plays and wins.


Here some rules to remember or try to find this out in general chessbooks about endgames:

1. White single King against Black single King nobody can win. We note this down as - =.

2. + -              = A bishop alone can't give checkmate.

3. + -              = A knight alone can't give checkmate.

4. ++ -       = Two Knights in general can't force to mate.

5. ++ -    + A Knight+Bishop can force mate, although this is not easy.

6. ++ -    + A King + Two bishops (of different colours) can mate.

7. + -               + An extra Rook can easily win.

8. + -               + An extra Queen is the easiest win.

9. + -                  there is often a win, but there are also drawish lines.

If the black king can get before the pawn it becomes more difficult. The pawn has to promote once to queen or rook. You have to learn the rules of opposition.

Black king before a h-pawn or a-pawn is always a draw.

10. +h-+ - = WhitecoloredBishop against Black King before the h-pawn is a draw

  or +a-+ - = BlackColoredBishop against Black King before the a-pawn is always a draw!

  Even if white has more doubled pawns on the same line.

11. +  - + is a win

12. ++ - + is a win (although a hard one). Bishops of different colours.


Marcel Van Herck 1985

White plays and makes a draw.

A nice example, where black with his last move has to protect his 3 Knights

because with two he can't win, but then a beautiful Stalemate position arises!


13. ++ - +1

If the pawn is not too far moved white can win. There is a Troitzky-line see EBUR/1999/2/Page 8.


14. +++ - + normaly wins for the 3 knights.


There are more of these rules and typical positions. There are chess endgame books where all kind of positions are analysed.

Let us know if you do not understand the end-position (or subvariation) of a study.


Ken Thompson has figured out with a computerprogram and filled a database with all positions with 5 pieces or less where all forced variations to win or draw are in. So this is how we can check if a certain final position (with this number of pieces) wil end.

They are delivered with the TascBase-chessprogram.


These Tablebases are now available for 6-men positions and also 7-men positions are, see: Endgame Tablebases


Dr. Harold van der Heijden is collecting endgamestudies in a database for more than 25 years.

It is often used to check if a new study is unique or is looking alike to another (anticipation).

This database is unique, for sale and it is often used for Endgamestudy-Competitions. He has now a collection of more than 85.000 studies




So what is an Endgame study?


Definition of an endgame study

By Harold van der Heijden, v2, 15xii2017

An endgame study is a composed chess problem which must have the stipulation “win” or “draw”. The initial position should be legal, the solution should be sound and the main line(s) should be unique.

My definition uses the MOSCOW (must, should, could, would) concept. For instance, an endgame study must have a “win” or “draw” stipulation (otherwise it is not an endgame study), should be sound (if unsound, it is still an endgame study, but much devalued), could have more than one main line, would win a prize when it is excellent.

Footnotes on jargon used in the definition:

Endgame study: short “study”. Sometimes an endgame study is incorrectly called an “ending” (which refers to an o.t.b. game or to a technical endgame position from endgame theory).

Composed: This is an art form and artistic features that could apply are e.g. originality, surprise, difficulty, style, economy. These are evaluated by an expert (judge) when the endgame study participates in a tourney (sometimes incorrectly called tournament, which refers to an o.t.b. event).

Chess problem: Various genres exist, which have other stipulations such as “mate in 2”. In endgame studies, depending on the stipulation (by convention) White must achieve a win or draw. The number of moves is not relevant.

Initial position: It could be White to move in the initial position but it is permitted to have Black to move (for instance with the stipulation: Black to move, White wins – short BTM, Win) but this is considered a small blemish.

Legal: It should be possible to reach the initial position of the endgame study in an o.t.b. game: for instance, that is not the case for a position that has wPg2, wPh2 and wPh3 and such an endgame study is illegal.

Solution: This usually refers to the main line(s) of an endgame study. As an endgame study is an art form the solution should be artistic. So-called “logical” endgame studies have one or more “thematic tries” which are white alternatives that seem to win, but don’t because of a unique black refutation. Further, a composer would be allowed to add (non-artistic) analytical lines to prove that the study is sound.

Main line(s): The composer decides if a study could have more than one main line, and when the main line ends (it usually should when the further continuation is “book”, or when the white moves are no longer unique).

Sound: An endgame study should be sound. That means that White should at least meet the stipulation against any black move, and that the main line(s) should have unique white moves. Further, a thematic try should have unique black moves. If this is not the case, an endgame study is said to be unsound, refuted, cooked or dualistic. However, alternative white moves (so-called “minor duals”) do not always spoil the endgame study.

Unique: In the main line(s) of an endgame study every move by White should be the only move to meet the stipulation (and in a thematic try every black move should be the only move to prevent White meeting the stipulation). This does not apply to analytical lines that are needed only to prove that White can meet the stipulation against any black move, or that alternative white moves allow Black to prevent White meeting the stipulation.


Platov,V 1905

White makes a draw

by perpetual check

(or black has to give up it's Queen).