In an endgame I played as Black, after the rooks were exchanged, the below position was reached. A funky stalemate quickly ensued.

[FEN "8/5ppk/5p1p/8/3K1P2/6P1/7P/8 b - - 0 1"]
[startflipped ""]

1... Kg6 2. Ke4 Kh5 3. h3 g5 4. f5 g4 5. h4

It was a simple endgame to me. as Black, I had an extra pawn and was closer to my pawns then White. I would just exchange pawns and promote my extra. I though that I would win until I stumbled into an unexpected stalemate. Not a big deal, mistakes happen.

But when I put the position into Lichess, surprise, surprise, it was actually a draw! It turns out that White will be able to lock in Black, using Black's doubled pawns against them, and forever keep Black king imprisoned for eternity, thereby drawing the game.

What could I do, without computer analysis, to determine that this and similar endgame positions are a draw? What endgame principles are there/exist that would help?


4 Answers 4


To be frank, I was a little surprised that this was a draw per the computer from move one all the way through to your stalemate. You did not make a mistake. My initial thought was to play the black king to g8-f8-e7, but the problem is that white can keep the K out of e7 with his own king, or keep you on the back rank, or force you to make pawn moves that are not good for you.

The biggest problem is that you do have a doubled pawn, and thus, cannot make a passed pawn. His three pawns very efficiently hold up your four pawns. Simply moving the Pf6 to e6, and the computer immediately registers -153!, a clear win.

There are no hard-and-fast rules about pawn endings as they are notorious for being very specific, and requiring exact calculation, but here are some basic pawn endgame principles.

  1. Centralize your king as quickly as possible.
  2. Try to create a passed pawn, especially an outside passed pawn.
  3. Watch out for the opposition (when the other guy has to give way, and move aside).
  4. Pawn endgames with an extra pawn and pawns on both sides are usually won. You create a passed pawn on the side with the extra pawn, then assuming you cannot queen it outright, at the right moment, abandon it and run to the other side and take all the opponent's remaining pawns.
  5. Watch out for the rook pawn. Assuming that the pawn cannot queen outright, the defender can draw if he gets in front of it, regardless of opposition. If you are in front of it, let's say with a white h-pawn, he can draw if he gets to f8 even.
  6. Lastly, a great K+P vs. K almost rule (there are a few exceptions) is that you need to be in front of the pawn and have opposition to win. See the second diagram.

    [FEN "8/8/8/2k5/6KP/8/8/8 b - - 0 0"]
    1...Kd6 2.Kg5 Ke7 3.Kg6 Kf8 4.Kh7 (4.h5 Kg8 5.h6 Kh8 6.h7=) Kf7 5.h5 Kf8 6.h6 Kf7 7.Kh8 Kf8 8.h7 Kf7= {Stalemate.}

Here is rule 6: Per the rule, white to move draws, but black to move loses.

    [FEN "8/4k3/8/4K3/4P3/8/8/8 b - - 0 1"]

    1...Ke8 2.Ke6! {keeping the opposition} Kd8 3.Kf7 Kd7 4.e5+- {and the pawn cannot be stopped}

I had an extra pawn and was closer to my pawns then White

It seems you simply overestimated these two factors.

An extra pawn alone is not a decisive advantage, it matters a lot where it is located. If the f7 pawn was on a7, you'd win.

The kings are actually positioned to your disadvantage, White's is nicely centralized and yours is stuck in the corner. If the White king was on g2 and yours on e4, you'd win.

But most of all, chess endgames are concrete. If you shift the whole position one file to the left, the engine does indeed see black winning!

What makes your position a draw is the unfortunate pawn formation: Your own doubled pawns trap your own king in the corner, while White's are flexible enough to shut the position from the front. And as said, his king is well positioned, it can either block the escape of yours via d8 or assist his own pawns in preventing the frontal breakthrough.


What endgame principles are there/exist that would help?

You need to learn to recognise which pawn formations allow you to force a passed pawn and which don't.

The pawn formation on the kingside is almost identical to the queenside pawn formation in the Berlin Defence which is known to be unable to force a passed pawn. No passed pawn = no win.


In this situation, as a defender needing a draw, you just need to ask yourself: "Can I keep the pawns doubled?" Or, as an attacker trying to win,: "Can I undouble my pawns?" The "yes" answer will mean you should be able to succeed in the respective task.


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