Bishop Endings: Notes on a Lecture by FM Steve Stoyko

FM Steve Stoyko gave an excellent lecture on "Bishop Endings" at the Kenilworth Chess Club in September 2011. I have reproduced about half of his examples, with the goal of conveying the main themes he discussed. These included exploiting the short diagonal, needing "two weaknesses" to win, using the more active king, fixing targets on both sides of the board, deflection, and zugzwang.

The Short Diagonal

In B+P v B endings, the defender can draw if he can either sacrifice his Bishop for the pawn or place his King in front of the pawn on an opposite color square from the attacker's bishop. The superior side can win if he can push the pawn forward enough to shorten one of the defending Bishop's diagonals to three squares or fewer. The win is then executed by first chasing the defending Bishop off of the long diagonal and then taking advantage of the situation on the short diagonal to decoy the defender from covering the queening square.

From Nimzovich's My System


White to play


In the following ending, it is too late for the Black king to get in front of the pawn, but it looks at first like the black bishop will be able to safely guard the queening square using the long diagonal. However, if White can get his bishop to b8 he will force Black to defend along the short diagonal from a7 - b8 only, when the win is easy to achieve. This ending is given in Aaron Nimzovich's classic My System, where he writes: "The Black bishop is here defending, and the White bishop threatens to get to b8 via h4-f2-a7. However, it looks as if this threat can be parried with the King."

1. Bh4 Kb5! 2. Bf2 Ka6! 3. Bc5

"Forcing the black bishop to move while preventing Bd6" says Nimzovich -- we will eventually see why it is so important to get that bishop to move from its original position on the other short diagonal, from g1 - h2, where it stands in the original diagram.


3... Bg3 4. Be7

Now the Bishop forces the Black king back to c6 to guard against the threat of Be7-d8-c7.


4... Kb6 5. Bd8+ Kc6 6. Bh4!

Gaining the critical tempo: "Black will no longer have time for the resource Kb5-a6 whch he used before, for White has managed to gain a move" writes Nimzovich. Note that he could not gain this move if the black bishop were at either h2 or d6.


6... Bh2 7. Bf2 Bf4 8. Ba7 Bh2 9. Bb8

Forcing the black bishop off of the long diagonal; it is now forced to go to the short diagonal of a7-b8 to prevent the queening. But this diagonal is too short and the bishop is easily deflected from its task of guarding b8.


9... Bg1 10. Bf4 Ba7 11. Be3!

and wins. "A lovely ending" Nimzovich concludes.


[Michael Goeller]

Two Weaknesses

Loek Van Wely (2400) - Vladimir Kramnik (2450) [A90]

EU-ch U20/Arnhem (8) 1990

The following game offers an excellent illustration of how "two weaknesses" are needed to win. In endings of Bishops of the same color, those weaknesses stand out like sore thumbs because they are pawns on the same color as the Bishops themselves. Smart players like Kramnik know how to set up these weaknesses in the middlegame. And they also know how to do some far-sighted planning to win these endings.

1. d4 e6 2. c4 f5 3. g3 Nf6 4. Bg2 c6 5. Nf3 d5 6. O-O Bd6 7. b3 Qe7 8. Bb2 b6 9. Ne5 Bb7 10. Nd2 O-O 11. Ndf3 Nbd7

I was rather surprised not to find this instructive game in Sverre Johnsen's excellent "Win with the Stonewall Dutch," especially since Kramnik follows Johnsen's recommended set up so completely. But I guess White's play is not the most challenging.


12. Qc2?! Rac8! 13. cxd5 cxd5 14. Qd3 Ne4 15. Nxd7 Qxd7 16. Ne5 Qe7 17. f3 Nf6 18. Rac1 Nd7! 19. Rxc8 Rxc8 20. Nxd7 Qxd7 21. e4 dxe4 22. fxe4 Bxe4 23. Bxe4 fxe4 24. Qxe4 Be7!

Heading to f6 to pressure the isolated pawn.


25. Re1 Bf6 26. Re2 Qd5!

Headed for a Bishop ending where the d4 pawn will present an important target.


27. Qxd5 exd5 28. Kf2 Kf7 29. Ke3 h5!

Trying to fix White's kingside pawns on dark squares.


30. h3 b5 31. Kd3 b4!? 32. Re1 Rc6 33. a3 bxa3 34. Bxa3 Ra6 35. Bb2 Kg6 36. Bc3 Ra3! 37. Ra1?!

Simplifying Black's task by giving him the pure Bishop ending he seeks.


37... Rxa1 38. Bxa1 Kf5

Black's active King is an important part of his winning advantage.


39. Ke3 g5 40. Kf3 g4+!

Fixing a second pawn on dark squares, fulfilling the intention behind 29...h5! Black now has two weaknesses to attack and an active King, which is all he needs to guartantee a win.


41. hxg4+

41. Kg2? Ke4


41... hxg4+ 42. Ke3 Be7 43. Bc3 Bd6 44. Be1



How will Black make progress toward the White weaknesses, as there is no entry way on the kingside? The answer is provided by the remainder of the game: the Black king must embark on an epic journey via the queenside in order to infiltrate the White position and attack White's kingside weakness from behind!


44... Ke6! 45. Kd3 Kd7 46. Ke2

White has no active plan: he has no targets of attack and is prevented from gaining entry himself on either the kingside or the queenside.


46... Kc6 47. Kd3 Kb5 48. Kc2 a5!

The a-pawn will be exchanged for the b-pawn to help clear the way for the invasion. This will leave only the two weaknesses and Black's more active king -- the purest possible demonstration of the elements needed to win a bishop ending!


49. Kd3 a4 50. bxa4+ Kxa4 51. Bf2

White cannot prevent the Black King's penetration even by 51. Kc2 Ka3 (51... Bb4?! 52. Bf2 (52. Bxb4? Kxb4 53. Kd3 Kb3) 52... Ba5 53. Kb2) 52. Bf2 Kb4 53. Kd3 Kb3 54. Be1 Kb2! (54... Bb4?! 55. Bf2 Bc3 56. Be3 (56. Ke3 Kc4 57. Kf4 Bxd4 58. Be1) 56... Be1 57. Bf4 Bf2=) 55. Bf2 Kc1 etc.


51... Kb3 52. Be1 Kb2 53. Bf2 Kc1 54. Be3+ Kd1 55. Bf2?

Stiffer resistance might be offered by 55. Bf4 Bb4! (55... Bxf4?! 56. gxf4 Ke1 57. f5 g3 58. f6 g2 59. f7 g1=Q 60. f8=Q=) 56. Bd2!! (Panchenko) 56... Be7 (56... Bxd2= is stalemate) 57. Bf4 Ke1 58. Ke3 Bb4 59. Be5 Bd2+ 60. Kd3 Bg5 61. Kc3 Ke2 62. Kb4 Kf3 63. Kc5 Ke4


55... Ba3 56. Ke3 Bc1+ 57. Kd3 Bd2!

A fascinating echo of the stalemate theme shown above -- but in this case it is zugzwang.


58. Be3 Be1 59. Bf4 Bf2! 60. Be5 Ke1!

Having defeated all resistance, the Black King renews his epic quest to win the g-pawn.


61. Kc3 Ke2 62. Kb4 Kf3 63. Kc5 Ke4!

and one of the two weaknesses must fall. An absolutely stunning game from Kramnik.


[Michael Goeller]

The More Active King

In all endings, the player with the more active King has a significant advantage, and this is no less true in bishop endings. Even where there is no guaranteed breakthrough, the active King can sometimes provoke the opponent to create weaknesses.

George Alan Thomas - Savielly Tartakower [C11]

Hastings (2) 1945

1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Nf6 5. Bg5 Be7 6. Nxf6+ Bxf6 7. Bxf6 Qxf6 8. c3 O-O 9. Bd3 Nc6 10. Nf3 e5 11. dxe5 Nxe5 12. Nxe5 Qxe5+ 13. Qe2 Qxe2+ 14. Bxe2 Be6 15. O-O Rfd8 16. Rfd1 Rxd1+ 17. Bxd1 Rd8 18. Bf3 Kf8!

18... Rd2 19. b3 b6 20. Rd1!=


19. b3

a) 19. Kf1 Rd2 20. b3 c6 21. Ke1 Rb2 is strong.

b) 19. Bxb7 Rb8 20. Be4 Rxb2 21. a4 f5 22. Bd3 Rb3 23. Rc1 Ra3


19... b6 20. Rd1 Rxd1+ 21. Bxd1 Ke7 22. Bc2 a5!?

Luring White into his next to prevent the imagined threat of a5-a4.


23. a4?

Creating a tragic weakness on the light squares. This one weakness, though, may not have been enough to give Black a forced win. And we should note that White can definitely save the game by activating his King: 23. Kf1 Kd6 24. Ke2 h6 25. Ke3 Ke5



23... Kd6!

Black's more active King is important in making a win possible, though it does not guarantee victory on its own. Here, though, the threat of its invasion may have been stronger than its execution -- provoking White into a critical error.


24. f3 Kc5 25. Kf2 c6! 26. Ke3 b5

Black now threatens to fatally weaken White's pawns by exchanging on a4, but for White to exchange pawns is even worse, since that gives Black a winning outside passed pawn.


27. axb5?

Though a4 was a mistake, this seems the fatal error as otherwise it is not easy to see how Black penetrates the White position. Therefore 27. g3 is much more challenging, since there is no obvious breakthrough for Black after 27... bxa4 (27... h6 28. f4 f6 29. Bd1 Bf5 30. Kd2 is not more promising) 28. bxa4 Kc4 29. Kd2 Though the Black King remains more active and has targets, there is no clear path to victory.


27... cxb5 28. g4

28. Kf4? b4! 29. c4 a4! (29... Kd4 also works) 30. bxa4 Kxc4


28... h6 29. h4 Bd7! 30. g5 hxg5 31. hxg5 a4

White can make no progress on the kingside for a counter-attack, so Black's outside passer on the queenside decides the game.


32. Kf4?!

Not the most challenging defense, but White is lost in any event:

a) 32. bxa4 bxa4 33. Kd3 a3 34. Bb3 Bf5+ 35. Kd2 Be6

b) 32. Kd2 a3 33. Kc1 b4 34. cxb4+ Kxb4 35. Kb1 Bc6! 36. f4 Kc3 37. Bd1 Kd2 38. Bg4 Ke3 and the victory is completed on the kingside instead, as White's king is tied down to defense.


32... a3 33. Bb1 b4!

and Black will force fatal penetration on the dark squares. Despite his more active King and the weakness at a4, I do not think Black should have won this game against best defense. And this makes sense, since White had only one weakness and not two. However, the game offers a wonderful illustration of the power of the more active king.


[Michael Goeller]


It is difficult or impossible to win endings with bishops of opposite color because the superior player can never push the defender's bishop off of a critical square that his passed pawn needs to cross. With bishops of the same color, however, you can typically chase the bishop away, often using the theme of deflection or decoy, where you sacrifice your bishop in order to force the defender to abandon his coverage of the critical queening square. The following ending offers a wonderful illustration of this theme.

Anthony Miles - Sergio Mariotti [D91]

Las 1978

1. d4 Nf6 2. Nf3 g6 3. c4 Bg7 4. Nc3 d5 5. Bg5 Ne4 6. cxd5 Nxg5 7. Nxg5 e6 8. Nf3 exd5 9. e3 O-O 10. b4 c6 11. Be2 Qd6 12. Qb3 Be6 13. O-O Nd7 14. Rac1 Rfc8 15. Rfd1 Bf8 16. b5 Qa3 17. bxc6 bxc6 18. Na4 Rab8 19. Qxa3 Bxa3 20. Rc3 Be7 21. Rdc1 Rb4 22. Bd1 Nb6 23. Nc5 Bxc5 24. Rxc5 Nd7 25. R5c3 c5 26. dxc5 Rc4 27. Bb3 Rxc3 28. Rxc3 Rxc5 29. Rxc5 Nxc5 30. Nd4 Kf8 31. Kf1 a5 32. Ke2 Ke8 33. Bc2 Kd7 34. h4 Kd6 35. f3 Bc8 36. h5 Ba6+ 37. Kd2 Bf1 38. g4 Ne6 39. Nxe6 Kxe6



40. h6!

Fixing Black's pawns -- especially the h7 pawn -- on light squares where they can be targets.


40... Bb5 41. f4 Bd7 42. Kc3 Kd6 43. g5! Kc5

There was no need to prevent Kc5, as now Black is just a short step away from zugzwang and must eventually give ground.


44. a3

White puts his last pawn on a dark square and spends a tempo to force Black to make a concession.


44... Bc8

Black may still have drawing chances, and he can gain a critical tempo on the game line with 44... Bf5! 45. Ba4 (45. Bxf5 gxf5 46. Kd3 Kd6 47. Kd4 (47. a4 Kc5 48. Kc3 Kc6!=) 47... a4=) 45... d4+! 46. exd4+ Kd5 47. Bb3+ Ke4 48. Bxf7 (48. d5 is similar) 48... Kxf4 49. d5 Kxg5 50. d6 Kxh6 51. Be8 g5 52. d7 Bxd7 53. Bxd7 Kh5 and I'm not sure White can win this, despite the fact that his Bishop can control the queening square of his pawn.


45. Ba4 Bf5 46. Be8 d4+

46... Be6 47. Kd3 Bf5+ 48. Kd2 Be6 49. Kc3


47. exd4+ Kd5 48. Bxf7+ Ke4 49. d5 Kxf4

50. Bxg6!!

A wonderful illustration of the deflection theme. Obviously if 51...hxg6, the White h-pawn marches freely to the queening square. So Black must play 51...Bxg6, but then the Bishop cannot stop two passed pawns and is eventually deflected by one from guarding the other: 52.d6 Bf5 (or 52...Be8) 53.g6! etc.



[Michael Goeller]

Fixing Targets on Both Sides of the Board

As we have seen in the previous two examples, you can guarantee that you will have two weaknesses to attack by blocking or "fixing" your opponent's pawns on the same color square as your bishop. Two targets become especially decisive when they are on opposite sides of the board, so that the attacker can switch from one to the other at the decisive moment. The following game offers an especially good illustration of fixing targets on both sides of the board.

R. Ofek (2245) - Y. Gruenfeld (2475) [B22]

ch-ISR/Ramat Aviv ISR (1.2) 1998

1. e4 c5 2. c3 Nf6 3. e5 Nd5 4. d4 cxd4 5. Nf3 Nc6 6. Bc4 Nb6 7. Bb3 d5 8. exd6 Qxd6 9. O-O Be6 10. Bxe6 Qxe6 11. Nxd4 Nxd4 12. cxd4 Qd7 13. Nc3 e6 14. Qg4 Nd5 15. Nxd5 Qxd5 16. Be3 h5 17. Qd1 Bd6 18. Qa4+ Ke7 19. Rac1 a6 20. Rc3 Rac8 21. Rfc1 Rxc3 22. Rxc3 f6 23. a3 Rd8 24. Qc4 Qxc4 25. Rxc4 Kd7 26. f4 b5 27. Rc2 Rc8 28. Rxc8 Kxc8 29. Kf2 Kd7 30. Kf3 Kc6 31. Ke4 f5+ 32. Kd3 Kd5 33. Bd2 Bc7 34. g3 a5 35. b3


35... a4!

Fixing White's pawns on dark where they are targets for the Bishop.


36. b4 h4!? 37. Be3

37. gxh4 looks like a better try, though White's pawns are then damaged.


37... h3!

Fixing a second target on dark squares, while also establishing a pawn very near to the queening square (which Black will later exploit). I should probably call this another theme.


38. Bc1 Bd8 39. Be3 Bf6 40. Bg1


40... g5! 41. Bf2 Be7 42. Be1 Bd8 43. Bd2 gxf4!! 44. Bxf4 Bf6 45. Be3 e5

Black exchanges the isolated d-pawn in order to better target White's weaknesses on opposite sides of the board. The White king tied down to the center, to keep the Black king from penetrating, and the White bishop is unable to guard targets on both sides of the board.


46. dxe5 Bxe5 47. Bf2 Bb2 48. Be1 Bxa3

One pawn falls.


49. Bc3 Bc1 50. Be1 Bg5 51. Bc3 Be7 52. Ke3 Bd6!

Black switches back to the kingside, where nothing can be done to stop Bxg3, deflecting the defender's pawn in order to push through his own to the queening square.


[Michael Goeller]


As in all endings, zugzwang or "the compulsion to make a bad move," is often important to exploit. The study-like quality of this game's conclusion is suprising to find in an actual game and offers a memorable example of the power of zugzwang.

Joseph Pinter - Boris Alterman [E15]

Beer Sheva 1991

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 b6 4. g3 Ba6 5. b3 Bb4+ 6. Bd2 Be7 7. Nc3 d5 8. cxd5 Nxd5 9. Nxd5 exd5 10. Bg2 O-O 11. O-O Nd7 12. Rc1 Re8 13. Re1 Bb7 14. Be3 a5 15. Qc2 Ba3 16. Rb1 Bd6 17. Rec1 c5 18. Bh3 Ba6 19. Qb2 Nf6 20. Rc2 Ne4 21. Bg2 Qe7 22. Rd1 Bb7 23. Ne1 Rac8 24. Nd3 a4 25. Nf4 axb3 26. axb3 Bxf4 27. Bxf4 cxd4 28. Rxc8 Rxc8 29. Rxd4 h6 30. Be3 Qf6 31. Bf3 Nd6 32. Rd2 Qxb2 33. Rxb2 b5 34. Ra2 Ne4 35. Ra7 Bc6 36. Bg4 Ra8 37. Rxa8+ Bxa8 38. b4 Bc6 39. Bd4 g6 40. f3 f5 41. Bh3 Ng5 42. Bg2 Ne6 43. Be5 d4 44. Kf2 Bd5 45. Bf1 Bc4 46. f4 Kf7 47. Ke1 h5 48. Bg2 Ke7 49. Bc6 Nd8 50. Bf3 Ne6 51. h3 Kf7 52. Kd2 Ke7 53. Ke1 Kf7 54. Kf2 Ke7 55. g4 hxg4 56. hxg4 Bb3 57. Ke1 Kd7 58. Kd2 Ba2 59. gxf5 gxf5 60. Bh5 Bd5 61. Ke1 Be4 62. Kf2 Bd5 63. Kg3 Be4 64. Kh4 Ke7 65. Kg3 Bd5 66. Kf2 Kd7 67. e3 dxe3+ 68. Kxe3 Be4 69. Kf2 Bd3 70. Bf3 Nf8 71. Kg3 Ng6 72. Bc3 Bc4 73. Bf6 Ke6 74. Bd4 Kd7 75. Bc5 Bf7 76. Bd1 Bd5 77. Bh5 Bf7 78. Kf2 Ne5 79. Be2 Ng4+ 80. Kg3 Bc4 81. Bf3 Nf6 82. Kh4 Ne4 83. Be3 Bf7 84. Be2 Kc6 85. Bf1 Be8 86. Bh3 Bg6 87. Ba7 Kb7 88. Bd4 Kc6 89. Bg7 Kd5 90. Bf1 Kc6 91. Bd3 Bf7 92. Bc2 Kd7 93. Kh3 Bc4 94. Kg2 Be2 95. Bb3 Ke7 96. Bd5 Bc4 97. Bc6 Nf6 98. Bxf6+ Kxf6 99. Bb7 Bd3 100. Kf2 Ke7 101. Bc8 Kd6 102. Ke3 Be4 103. Kd4 Kc7 104. Be6 Kd6 105. Bf7 Bc6 106. Bh5 Bd5 107. Bd1 Bb7 108. Bb3 Be4 109. Bd1 Bb7 110. Be2 Bc6 111. Bf1 Be8 112. Bg2 Bf7 113. Bf3 Be8


114. Bd5! Bd7 115. Bg8

White struggles to find the thread.

115. Bb3! Bc8 116. Bf7 Bb7 117. Bg6 Bc8 118. Be8 Ba6 119. Kd3 Ke7 120. Bc6 Kd6 121. Bg2 Bc8 122. Kd4 Bd7 123. Bd5! reaches the game position a couple moves faster.

115... Bc6 116. Bh7 Bd7 117. Bg6 Be6 118. Kd3 Bd7 119. Bh5 Be6 120. Kc3 Kd5 121. Bf3+ Kd6 122. Kd4 Bf7 123. Bg2 Be8 124. Bb7 Bd7


125. Bd5!

Now he has found the idea.


125... Be8

125... Bc8 126. Bf3!! Bd7 127. Bd1 reaches the same zugzwang.


126. Bb3! Bd7 127. Bd1!

Beautiful symmetry! Black resigned as he will be in zugzwang after.


127... Bc6

or 127... Bc8 128. Be2 Bd7 129. Bd3


128. Bc2 Bd7 129. Bd3!


[Michael Goeller]

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