King and Pawn – Extra Tempi

King and Pawn endings often boil down to whether the attacking player is able to reach a key square with his king.

For details on which squares are the key squares, see our recent post on key squares!

Your Turn!

Find the win:
This is an interesting little position. The black defence is held by a thread. Black's king cannot leave his lone pawn defender on c7. The king is also very happy on c8.

After the patient 1. d5! black is forced onto either 1...Kb8 or 1...Kd8 after which white can play 2. Kd7 or 2. Kb7 (not 2. b6 or 2. d6 as black can defend with the superb 2...Kc8!)

If it was white to play in the resulting position:

We have the horrible realisation that not only is c7 a firm blockader, it decides the draw. White can make no progress!

  • White will eventually have to give up one of the pawns for the c pawn, at which time his king will be able to hold the draw against the other!
  • The white king is held hostage by his own pawns.
  • d4-d5 is a vital tempo
Genie Lamp

Tempi are like three wishes; they are valuable but once you've used them, they are gone!

Understanding how to use your extra tempi can decide the game.

Three things you will learn today

  1. Strategically, a pawn on the second is stronger than one on the third!
  2. Get the king into a great position first, then the pawns
  3. How to solve the Capablanca study

Part 1 of 3 - Second is better than the third rank for a pawn!

Let's start with an example to support our outrageous claim!

This is a very famous endgame position.

Before we dive into any calculations, let's first see that we have an extra move choice here compared to the position below.

The pawn on g2 has the possibility to go to g3 or g4.

  • The main line runs 1. Kf2! h4 2. Kg1!! Kd7 3. Kh2 Ke6 4. Kh3 Kf5 5. Kxh4 (white has reached a key square and will win)
  • If black pushes the pawn hoping for a draw - 2...h3!? 3. g3!! and white will win after 3...Kd7 4. Kh2 Ke6 5. Kxh3 Kf5 6. Kh4 and white has reached a key square after 6...Kg6 7. Kg4 Kh6 8. Kf5 (Note 3. g4?? draws as white cannot reach the key squares in time!)

There is a huge difference in this position. White no longer has the option of g3.

After 1. Kf2 h4! and white has the unenviable choice between 2. gxh4 and black gets to h8 in time or 2. g4 where white can never get to the f6-h6 squares in time, since black can decoy the white king with h3 and get the black king to g5.

Summary of Part 1

The option of moving a pawn to either the third or fourth from its starting square doubles the options compared to having a pawn on the third.

Part 2 of 3 - Improve the King then the pawns

Following our discussion on key squares, we learned that we want to get our king to a key square.

The more time we spend with moving our pawn, the more we remove time "tempo" for our king to get to a key square. The best approach is then:

  • Get the king to a key square (a5 to c5) as the pawn is not vulnerable
  • When the defending king concedes ground, push the pawn forward
The best plan is therefore 1. Kb4 Kb7 2. Kb5 Kc7 3. Ka6 and white is now ready to push the pawn on. For more details on the win, see section 1 of the Key Squares article!

Summary of Part 2

The king and pawn must work in tandem. The King should first get to a key square, then we push the pawn on.

Part 3 of 3 - Capablanca's Study

Using the knowledge we've acquired up to here, we are going to solve the Capablanca study.
[Event "Example - King v Pawn & King"] [Site "Chess Toolkit (Author = TQM.)"] [Date "12/03/2017"] [White "Player, A"] [Black "Opponent, Anne"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "N/A"] [Annotator "TQM"] [SetUp "1"] [PlyCount "44"] [EventDate "2017"] [FEN "6k1/7p/8/8/8/8/6PP/6K1"] 1. Kf2 {we begin by improving the position of our king, aiming for (not a key square but) the best position possible)} 1...Kg7 2. Kg3 Kf7 {black prepares to go face to face with white's king to force a pawn move} 3. Kg4 (3. Kf4 Kf6) Kg6 4. Kh4 Kh6 {black has done a top job of defending - white cannot get past the black king so must now lose one of his tempo...but which one?} 5. h3! (5. g4?? {would be an awful error} Kg6 6. Kg3 (6. g5 h6!{=}) h5 {and black draws}) 5...Kg6 6. Kg4 {now black must lose ground} h6 (6...h5 7. Kf4 Kf6 8. h4! Kg6 9. Ke5 Kh6 10. Kf6 Kh7 11. Kg5 {and white wins}) (6...Kh6 7. Kf5 Kh5 8. Kf6 {and black cannot avoid losing the h pawn and the g or h pawn running on!} Kh6 9. h4! {using another tempo but for good reason} Kh5 10. g3! Kg4 11. Kg7 h5 12. Kg6 Kxg3 13. Kxh5 Kf4 14. Kg6 {and white wins}) 7. h4! {cashing in another tempo to force a weak move from black} h5 8. Kf4 Kf6 9. g3! {cashing in the last one!} Kg6 10. Ke5 Kh6 11. Kf6 Kh7 12. Kg5 {and white wins easily} Kh8 13. Kh5 Kg8 14. Kg6 Kh8 15. g4 {we convert the g pawn (as the h pawn can't queen alone but we can use the extra tempo as needed)} Kg8 16. g5 Kh8 17. Kh6 Kg8 18. g6 Kh8 19. h5! Kg8 20. g7 {and queens!}

Summary of extra tempo

  • A tempo is a unit measure of time - one move
  • When you have "reserve" tempo, use them correctly. Like the wishes, once they are gone, they are gone!
  • The Capablanca study is a brilliant exposition of using these extra tempo
  • We must use the king to the best of its ability first then use the extra tempo to convert the pawns to queens