The Dance of the King and Pawn

The Study Position

Following on from our endgame study last week, we pick up another deceptively difficult puzzle.

This is a wonderful study encompassing a number of key K+P endgame ideas.

Like the last puzzle, we will go around the houses and meet some interesting things on the way!
El Tango

Like a complex tango, one wrong move could prove fatal; get it right and you'll look amazing!


German for forced move, zugzwang is a very useful tool in endings:

In the example above, from a standard K+P v K ending, we reach what's known as reciprocal zugzwang; neither side wants to move...why?

White wants to queen that pawn but any pawn advance falls into a stalemate trap: 1. f7+ Kf8! 2. Kf6 is stalemate. A king move, alternatively, prolongs the game with no reward, provided black defends accurately, after a lot of dance moves: 1. Ke5 Kf8 2. Kf5 Kf7 3. Kg5 Kf8 4. Kg6 Kg8 (and we have, basically, the starting position).

On the other hand, black really doesn't want to move! 1...Kf8 (anything else loses easily) 2. f7! 'squeezes' the king out 2...Kg7 3. Ke7 and white will queen and win.

Zugzwang is something to aim to get your opponent into - whoever is on the move, because they are forced to move, dances to defeat!

Key Squares - Making progress in a king and pawn ending

In this innocent enough position, your first temptation may be to run the pawn, but this would be a mistake!

In fact the right plan is to shepherd the pawn to promotion by getting the king to take control of f5, g5 or h5. As h5 is the furthest from the defending king, we aim there:

[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 "3k4/8/8/8/8/6P1/8/5K2"] 1. Kg2! (1. Kf2 Ke7 2. Kf3 Kf6 3. Kg4 Kg6! {and white is hindered by his own pawn; it's a draw})(1. g4? Ke7 2. Kg2 Kf6 3. Kg3 Kg5 {and this is even worse!}) 1...Ke7 2. Kh3! Kf6 3. Kh4 Kg6 {so black's made it, or?} 4. Kg4! {Here's that zugzwang idea - black wants this position with white to play but it's black's move, so..} 4...Kf6 {note 4...Kh6 5. Kf5 is the same basic idea} 5. Kh5 Kg7 6. Kg5 {same idea again - rest shown for technique:} 6...Kf7 7. Kh6 Kg8 8. Kg6 Kh8 {defender hides to attract stalemate ideas!} 9. Kf7 {to'nudge' the king off his step!} 9...Kh7 10. Kf6 {and the g pawn marches on, shepherded by the king} 10...Kh8 (10...Kg8 11. g4 Kh8 12. g5 Kg8 13. Kg6! Kh8 14. Kf7! Kh7 15. g6+) 11. g4 Kh7 12. g5 Kh8 13. g6 Kg8 14. g7

These positions are tricky with the b and g pawn but once you have the king on the key squares (i.e. the 5th), the technique can be executed well.

[Note - key squares are where the attacking king wants to get to, to help progress the pawns. For pawns in the bottom half of the board, the key squares are two ranks ahead (e.g. for e3 this is d5-f5); in the top half, this becomes the one and two files ahead. (e.g. for g5, this is the box from f6 to h7). In every case, this assumes the defending king cannot take the advancing pawn!]

Come on, Sugar! Let's Dance!

How do we use our knowledge of zugswang and key squares to solve this very tough puzzle?

Some key observations

  • White cannot push 1. d4 until his king is in a good place, e.g. 1. d4?? Ke4! and that's it, black defends the position by hovering around d4 with his king, so our priority is improving our king
  • Black's king has a "no-fly" zone below the third rank, since e.g. 1...Kf2?? would be met with the unstoppable 2. d4! where the d pawn can't be caught! This limits our analysis
  • Wherever black's king is, if white's king can land on e2 with black to move, the position is completely winning, since white will then be able to get to e3, then e4 and make progress

Finding a winning move

So, we have a king move. 1. Kd1/Ke1/Kc1 all run into 1...Ke3 (=) and 1. Kc3 fails for a very subtle the move must be...
[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 "8/8/8/1p6/1P6/3P1k2/3K4/8"] 1. Kc2! (1. Kc3 Ke3! {this is a nice defensive trap} 2. Kc2 Kf4!! 3. Kc3 Ke3 4. Kc2 Kf4 5. Kd2 Kf3 {and we are back where we started. White can win here, using a neat tempo losing Kb2-b3-c2 idea as we see in the main line but the direct approach with 1. Kc3 doesn't work!}) {the point of 1. Kc2 is it dooms black to make a weak move} 1...Kf4 {most accurate} (1...Ke3 2. Kc3 {Zugzwang} 2...Kf4 3. Kd4 {and white is better}) 2. Kb2!! {what is this?!! We've done so well and now we retreat?!} 2...Kf3 3. Kb3!! Kf4 4. Kc2 {and after this witchcraft, we have reached the same position as after 1...Kf4 but now it's black to move...} 4...Kf3 5. Kd2 {starting position with black to move!} 5...Kf4 6. Ke2 {something had to give!} 6...Kf5 7. Ke3! Ke5 {now some accurate calculation tells us we have nothing to fear from the b pawn, so...} 8. d4! Kd5 9. Kd3 Kd6 10. Ke4 Ke6 11. d5 Kd6 12. Kd4 Kd7 13. Kc5 {and white wins}
Some squares of reciprocal zugswang were : c2-f4; d2-f3; c3-e3. By knowing this and using our tempi to transfer the move to black, we created some forced variations where he walked into zugzwang and we could win! If you would like to see other endgame studies analysed, drop us a note: Facebook page Twitter Page

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