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Is it true that, at the start of a king-and-pawn endgame, players should generally advance their kings to the center prior to any pawn moves? I wouldn't expect this to be true in every case, but is it true much of the time?

The following position illustrates this situation:

[Title "White to win"]
[FEN "8/1p2k1pp/1p6/8/8/7P/P1P2P1P/6K1 w - - 0 1"]

White has only one move that can win the game:

1. Kg2

And then, regardless of black's next move, white must play

2. Kf3 or 2. Kg3

Is the correct move in this situation something that I should spot immediately, or does one need to perform a lot of calculation first?

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  • keywords: opposition as a tool, key squares as stepping stone plan goals distant opposition, opposition field to rule all oppositions types and reasoning, if you like visio spatial reasoning over turn by turn calculations. Goes well with square of the pawn other timing to spatial planning methods. King plays curling with other king, in front of pawns, so yes better get ahead of the pawns first. so in general. if lots of pawns left center might not commit in vain to a side and keep some flexibility as the horizon fog lifts.
    – dbdb
    Commented Jun 19 at 22:53

3 Answers 3

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Is it true that, at the start of a king-and-pawn endgame, players should generally advance their kings to the center prior to any pawn moves?

Generally speaking this is true. More specifically you should aim to get the king ahead of your pawn(s). This is because there are "key squares" ahead of passed pawns in these types of endings whereby, if you can get your king to one of those squares you can force promotion and a win. If not it is a draw.

This is the canonical position:

[Title "White to play and win, Black to play and draw"]
[fen "5k3/8/8/8/8/8/5P3/5K3 w - - 0 1"]

1. Ke2 (1. null Kf7 2. Ke2 Kf6 3. Kf3 Kf5 4. Kg3 Kg5 5. f3 Kf5 6. f4 Kf6 7. Kg4 Kg6 8. f5+ Kf6 9. Kf4 Kf7 10. Ke5 Ke7 11. f6+ Kf7 12. Kf5 Kf8 13. Ke6 Ke8 14. f7+ Kf8 15. Kf6 =) Kf7 2. Kf3 Kf6 3. Kf4 Ke6 4. Kg5 Kf7 5. Kf5 Ke7 6. Kg6 Kf8 7. f4 Kg8 8. f5 Kf8 9. Kf6 Kg8 10. Ke7 Kg7 11. f6+ Kg6 12. f7 Kg5 13. f8=Q 1-0 

The obvious exception to this rule is when the opponent has an immediate threat which must be countered first.

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  • 1
    Another obvious exception is when you can force promotion at once by advancing a passed pawn or starting a pawn break. Commented Jun 15 at 18:11
  • @NoamD.Elkies Yes, if the opposing King isn't in the square of a pawn, then advancing that pawn is likely a good move. Commented Jun 15 at 22:10
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I sometimes wish it was that simple...But no. Here an example of a position where if you move your king first then the game will end in a draw instead of a win.

[Title "White to win"]
[FEN "2k2K2/8/pp6/2p5/2P5/PP6/8/8 w - - 0 1"]

The right solution is: 1.a4! and white wins after 1...b5 2.Ke7-Kc7 3.a5 or 1...Kd7 2.a5! The good-looking and intuitive 1.Ke8? leads only to a draw after 1...b5 2.a4-Kc7 3.Ke7-Kb6 4.Kd8-b4! and white cannot take the pawn c5 after 5...Ka5 because of stalemate.

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  • after 1. a4 Kd8! I can't see any white win. Black maintains the opposition and white has no breakthrough
    – bakunin
    Commented Jun 16 at 20:06
  • 1
    1. a4 Kd8 2. a5 bxa5 3. Kf7 Kd7 4. Kf6 Kd6 5. Kf5 Kc7 6. Ke5 Kc6 7. Ke6 Kc7 8. Kd5 Kb6 9. Kd6+-
    – MikeTrans
    Commented Jun 16 at 21:46
  • Same move sequence like above after moves like 2...b5 or 4...a4 5.bxa4, the c5 will fall and black loses. In a pawn breakthrough you must count the tempi you lose causing your opponent to enter opposition - or to gain opposition. The one who has the opposition at the end wins unless it's a stalemate.
    – MikeTrans
    Commented Jun 16 at 21:53
  • And probably a perfect rule of thumb is: Once a free pawn has reached the 5th line, and other pieces are blocked, then the opposition doesn't matter anymore if the king can go beyond the pawn (6th line and beyond), the free pawn wins.
    – MikeTrans
    Commented Jun 16 at 22:01
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According to Kmoch in his book "Pawn Power in Chess", every pawn has stop squares. The stop squares are the squares before the pawn in its column. The pawn does not control these squares (it only controls the squares in the columns left and right of it).

If an opponent's piece or pawn stands on a stop square, the pawn can not cross it. If an opponent's piece or pawn controls the stop square, the pawn may be taken on it.

Therefore, other own pieces or pawns need to control the stop square(s) of the pawn, so that it can advance without getting lost (or getting lost, but the opponent also loses material).

This controlling of the stop square(s) of the pawn is usually what they call "supporting the pawn".

If the king first has to be brought near the pawn (in Brian Tower's answer even before the pawn), in order to "support" it, then, yes, it is best to move the king first.

But if there is no opponent piece standing on a stop square, or controlling a stop square of the pawn, then go ahead, move the pawn immediately.

Concrete examples: in Brian Tower's answer the key squares for the pawn f2 are e4, f4, g4. If the white king is on one of these three squares, it is guaranteed that (with correct play)

  • the black king will not be able to stay on any of the stop squares of the pawn.
  • if the black king controls one of the stop squares, the white king will be able to control it too.
  • therefore, the pawn will be able to march towards promotion.

In MikeTrans' answer, the white king, after winning the black pawns, will also support his pawns by controlling their stop squares, but the pawns themselves also control the stop squares of their colleagues.

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