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Endgame Fundamentals: Rule of the Square

By Donny Gray

Back in the 1700s, the famous chess player Philidor said that pawns were the soul of chess. This is extremely accurate on many levels.

If you have a bad pawn structure, you will most assuredly lose to a good player. If you do not understand basic pawn endings you will throw away wins and sometimes even lose won positions. A good pawn structure is like having strong healthy bones: no matter how good a fighter you may be, if your bones are broken I doubt you will win many fights.

Let’s start with the rule of the square. This is a handy way to cut thinking time to mere seconds when it comes to pushing your pawn.

 

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If you are trying promote a pawn you could just try to visualize all of the moves possible of the pawn and your opponent’s king. Before you move the pawn you need to know if the king can stop you. This could be time consuming.

 

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However, by knowing the rule of the square you can instantly know if the king can catch your pawn. Once you push the pawn and it enters a 3 by 3 square, you can know if the king can catch you. If the king can enter the square at the same time you can, he can catch you.

What is handy about this is that it works for all squares, not just 3-by-3s. Try it yourself on any size square. If the king cannot enter the square the same time your pawn did then he cannot catch you.

As you can see in this example, as soon as the pawn went to b6, black can move either Kd6 or Kd7 and will be able to stop the pawn. The king entered the 3-by-3 square the same time the pawn did.

Let’s look at another example:

 

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In this example, can you quickly tell if the white pawn can queen? Could you do it with just seconds on your clock?

Let’s look again at it, but this time, with the rule of the square in mind:

 

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Now just looking at it we can tell instantly that, yes, the black king can enter the square as soon as our pawn does. Therefore the black king can catch it. This position is a draw.

Another handy thing to know about kings and pawns is that a king cannot stop two pawns by itself, no matter how the pawns are situated, unless they are doubled and isolated. Let’s look at two common setups.

 

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In this first example, white has connected passed pawns. Black should not waste any time at all thinking about taking the g pawn, as if he does, the f pawn will queen.  Therefore black must find another move.

 

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In this example, black has just moved attacking the a pawn. However, white has a simple but deadly move. All he has to do is play c5 and the a pawn is untouchable, as taking it will allow the c pawn to promote.

Set this position up on your chess board and move the pawn to c5. You will notice that now the black king cannot even attack the c pawn as a barrier has been created. So all he can do is move to Ke6.

Possible moves could be:

  1. c5      Ke6
  2. Kb2   Kd7
  3. e5!

And now the pawns are reset. No matter which pawn the king goes after, the other pawn just moves forward and the back one is untouchable.

 

 

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