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Why does there seem to be some idea that trading queens is the start of the endgame? What does trading queens have to do with the endgame? Why are queenless positions often considered to be endgame positions?

I have also heard repeatedly people saying "trading queens doesn't mean it's the endgame guys" so it seems like an "urban myth" kind of thing. How everyone loves debunking common knowledge. That actually shouldn't count as common knowledge anymore because everyone debunks it.

There is definitely some association between having no queens, and the endgame. How did this association begin and why does it exist?

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    Just a rule of thumb. When the queens leave the board the endgame is seldom far away (if not already there). Don't overthink it. Nobody seriously thinks that all queenless positions count as endgame positions. Jul 2 at 16:05
  • @JohnColeman thanks for some insight. I already understood that nobody seriously thinks that, I was just wondering why the association has become such a "thing". And how can you be so certain trading queens does mean you are close to the endgame Jul 2 at 16:12
  • For one thing, queen trades typically come after other trades hence in positions that are already closer to being endgame positions. For another thing, liquidation tactics (to transition into easily won endgames) often involve forcing a queen trade. Jul 2 at 16:13
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    @JohnColeman It might be a bit of an overstatement to say that "Nobody seriously thinks that all queenless positions count as endgame positions." GM Joe Gallagher, on p. 96 of his book Winning with the King's Gambit, referring to the position after 1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf5 3.Nf3 d5 4.exd5 Nf6 5.Bb5+ c6 6.dxc6 bxc6 7.Bc4 Bd6 8.Qe2+, writes: "The endgame (I have to admit to being one of those people who regard virtually everything after a queen exchange as an endgame) after 8...Qe7 9.Qxe7+ Kxe7 is better for White . . ."
    – bof
    Jul 3 at 2:20
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    Funny, I seem to recall playing some queen endgames... Jul 3 at 23:24
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Some say the endgame begins when the kings can come out and join the fight. Usually it's not safe for them to do so until queens are off the board.

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To assume that the game has reached the endgame just because the Queens have been exchanged is a bad conceptual mistake that can lead to disaster.

A classic example is a game Verlinski-Alekhine where Queens are traded very early in the game and white plays the early middlegame "as if" it was an endgame already with the result of getting run over by the young future world champion.

The game is #2 in the collected Alekhine's games written by himself.


(Added) In the classic book of Romanovski, a cornerstone of the soviet school of chess, the endgame is defined as the phase of the game when the Kings take an active role.

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  • Interesting game (which I added a link to as a friendly edit), though it could be argued that the mistake was that Verlinski just played the endgame poorly, neglecting king safety. Jul 3 at 12:31
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    @JohnColeman, underestimating the risks your King may run into in the next several moves is an obvious symptom that you think to be playing an endgame while it is actually still a middlegame. Verlinsky did not survive the middlegame ... Jul 3 at 13:41
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Some positions are clearly not end games and some others clearly are. Unfortunately there are some positions in between that seem to defy classification. Why is that? Wikipedia The start of the endgame does an excellent job on surveying opinions of highly knowledgable players. Note the quote from the fourth World Chess Champion

Alexander Alekhine: "We cannot define when the middle game ends and the end-game starts."

Hence sometimes we should take the borderline cases out of the defintion of the general concept, to make it more abstract, simpler and more elastic. For the offending cases, fundamental strategic questions like king safety, importance of material, have to be decided on a case by case basis.

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