by Steve Lopez

I've said it before and I'll say it again: everybody stinks at the endgame.

There's no chessplayer alive that's brilliant at every possible endgame. Everybody (even the top GMs) make endgame blunders (although GMs do it less often than mere mortals like ourselves). So it makes a lot of sense to spend more time studying endgames than studying openings. Using ChessBase can certainly help you in your studies.

The first thing you'll need to do is get a good endgame book. Shop around a bit; the endgame book you'll need has a lot to do with your playing skill. Some good basic to intermediate books are:

And, of course, the granddaddy of all chess endgame books: Basic Chess Endings by Reuben Fine.

Before I get a thousand e-mails asking why I didn't mention a particular endgame book, I'd like to mention that this is not intended to be a comprehensive list; it's just a few suggestions on titles you might like to examine. As I said: shop around.

Once you've studied a few basic endings, you'll want to have a look at them in your database. One way to tackle this is to just do a material search for the endgame that interests you. But unless you plan to play through all of the games at one shot, you'll have to repeat the search each time you want to study a few endings of the same type (two pawns vs. single pawn, for example).

A quick shortcut to finding a specific endgame is to use an endgame key. As we've seen in past issues of ETN, a key is nothing more than a type of permanent index. The Big and Mega Databases come with endgame keys that can be used to quickly find many common endgames. If you'd like to attach this key to a smaller database that you've downloaded or created, it's pretty easy to do. Just click once on your keyless database's icon in ChessBase 7's Database window. Then go to the Technical menu, select "Theme classification", and in the submenu that appears, choose "Install endgames". Use the file selector box that appears to go to the drive and folder where you have the Big or Mega Database stored and select the .ck3 file you'll see displayed in the large window. Click "Open" and the key will be attached to your database and the games will be properly sorted.

However, there are a couple of slight problems with using the pre-generated endgame key. One is that every possible endgame isn't listed, so you'll occasionally find "loose" games that don't get classified. Another is that if you attach the key to a small database of games the keyfile can easily be many times larger than the actual game files.

The solution is to create your own custom endgame key (in fact, I receive frequent e-mails from users with questions about how to do this). It's pretty easy to do and a really handy technique to know. You can create a custom key on just the specific endgames you're studying and, once you've created it, you can use it with literally any ChessBase database that's in in .cbh format.

Let's look at an example. I'm currently studying basic King and pawn endings. I'm also playing an e-mail game in which I and my opponent have chosen the B13 Caro-Kann Defense. I've put together a database of games using this opening and I'd like to see how these games relate to the basic King and pawn endings I'm studying.

The first thing to do is click on the keyless database's icon in the Database window. Next I go to the row of buttons at the bottom of the window and click the one for "Middlegame/endgame theme key". A new box appears with buttons for the different types of theme keys. I click on the one for endgames and a large window appears. The only thing listed in this window is:

It says "Key is empty" because I don't have an endgame key for this database yet; I'm going to make one.

The next step is to hit the INSERT key on the keyboard. This brings up the Search mask -- but I'm not going to use it to search for games. Instead, I'm going to use it to tell ChessBase the definition of our first key (in other words, what kind of endgames will be classified within this key).

To start my key, I'm going to create a "title" heading. This will be a blank key so that no games will be classified under it. I click the "Reset all" button in the Search mask (to eliminate any previous criteria I may have entered), which gives me a "blank" search. I click "OK" and get a box which allows me to type in a title in the way I want it to appear in the endgame key. I type "Basic Endgames" (without the quotes), click the "OK" button and now my key looks like this:

So I've now created the "Title" endgame key for this database. I now want to create "subkeys" (keys within this key). The black cursor bar is already over my title key, so I just give the ENTER key a whack to go to the next screen:

I now have nothing but two dots at the top of the window. If I double-click on this line (or else put the cursor bar over it and hit ENTER) I'll go back to the "title" screen I just created. Clicking on the two dots at the top of the key list always takes you to the next "higher" level of keys.

I've decided that I want another "blank" key here -- a "subtitle" to let me know that the next lower level of keys will be on the subject of King and pawn endings. So I hit INSERT, click "OK" in the Search mask, type "King and pawn endings" in the box, click "OK", and see the following:

I now double-click on the line that says "King and pawn endings" (or else move the cursor bar over it and hit ENTER) and I once again get a screen with nothing but the two dots at the top of the window.

Now I'm ready to start doing some real work. It's time to start creating endgame keys.

After positioning the cursor bar over the two dots, I hit the INSERT key. When the Search mask appears, I click the "Material" button to go to the material search window. I've already decided that I want to start with the simplest King and pawn endings and work my way into the larger, more complex ones. So I'll begin with the endgame of King and single pawn vs. King. Making sure I have the "Ignore colors" box checked, I show a range of 1 -1 for the White pawns, a range of 0 - 0 for the Black pawns and change the "Minor pieces" box for both sides to a range of 0 - 0. The window now looks like this:

This will give me all games in which one side has one pawn vs. zero pawns for the opponent (regardless of color, since the "Ignore colors" box is checked). I click "OK" in this window, click "OK" in the Search mask, and wind up with this in my key window:

However, I'm not too wild about the appearance of the line in the key. It's too hard to figure out what it means. But this is easily changed. I right-click the line, select "Edit" from the menu that appears, click "OK" in the Search mask, and get the box that lets me edit the name of the key. I change it to "1P vs. 0P", but instead of using a capital P to designate "pawn", I hit CTRL-P to get a pawn figurine. After clicking "OK", my key window now looks like this:

That's much more attractive! Next I want to add a key for one pawn vs. one pawn. I make sure to place the cursor bar over the line for the previous key (1 pawn vs. 0 pawns); this is done so that the next key I create will appear on the line below where the cursor bar now sits. I hit INSERT, go to the Search mask, click "Material", and change the entries so that both sides now show a pawn range of 1 - 1. I click "OK" in both this box and the Search mask, and get the box that allows me to enter how I want the key to appear in the list. I type in "1[CTRL-P] vs. 1[CTRL-P]" and now my key list looks like this:

It's a simple matter to follow the same procedure to keep adding as many keys as I want. Since I'm studying simple King and pawn endings, I decide to limit the number of keys to four or fewer pawns against four or fewer pawns. After about five minutes' work, my key looks like this:

Things are looking pretty good here except for one thing: the right-hand column shows zeros for the number of games in each key. This is because the games have yet to be classified. Like everything else we've looked at so far, this is a simple procedure. Just close the key window to return to the Database window, go to the Technical menu, then to "Theme classification", and then click on "Endgames". ChessBase will now sort the games into the proper keys; you can watch the progress bar in the lower right corner of your screen to see when it's finished.

When it's done, the database's games are now classified into the proper keys (as can easily be seen by the game totals in the right-hand column of the key list):

Now it's really simple to supplement what I've read in an endgame book by playing through some games in ChessBase. For example, if I want to play through games in which each side had one pawn, I just double-click on the line for "1P vs. 1P" and I get a list of all 32 games in which this endgame occurred. By double-clicking on one of the games in the list I can go to the game and be dropped into it at the exact point where that endgame started. For example, I can double-click on Asztalos - Tartakower, Kecskemet 1927 and go right to the position after 67...Kxe5 (which is the move where it became a one pawn vs. one pawn endgame) and see exactly how the draw occurred.

Another interesting use for such a list is to get some statistical info. In the 32-game list, I can hit CTRL-A to highlight all of the games and then click on the Statistics button at the bottom of the game list window to see the proportions of White wins, Black wins, and draws. As I expected, most of the games (61%) were draws.

You can use the techniques in this article to create your own endgame keys and make them as detailed as you want. In fact, you can even create additional deeper subkeys on a variety of positional themes. However, we'll save that for another time; I've already given you plenty of information to play around with.

Until next week, have fun!

You can e-mail me with your comments, suggestions, and analysis for Electronic T-Notes. If you love gambits, stop by my Chess Kamikaze Home Page and the Yahoo Chess Kamikazes Club.