Book Review – Understanding Chess Endings by GM John Nunn

Regular readers will know that I think endgame study should form a major part of every improving chess player’s routine. One of my favourite authors on the subject is GM John Nunn. GM Nunn is not just a prolific chess writer, but when he went to study mathematics at Oxford at the tender age of 15, he was the youngest undergraduate at the renowned university since Cardinal Wolseley in 1520!

When Nunn decided to write his major work on endgames, he started to write the introductory chapter, which would cover ‘presumed knowledge’. In his words:

“However, it quickly became clear that this ‘introductory chapter’ would be more like a book in itself, so I put the main project to one side and started to think about how this introductory chapter could be turned into a useful book.”

And so Understanding Chess Endgames came into being. The book covers 100 key endgame topics which Nunn believes will provide a solid body of essential endgame knowledge.

The book is divided into endgame types, for example King and Pawn Endings, Knight Endings, Rook Endings and Rook vs Minor Piece Endings. Each section has a number of examples (the ‘topics’) with a starting diagram, the key lines (correct lines as well as common mistakes, often from real games) and a brief text explanation of the main idea(s).

Although it broadly progresses in difficulty, the reader could jump to any section of the book to either learn about a topic, or refresh themselves while they work through a more advanced text.

I have found Understanding Chess Endgames to strike the correct balance between completeness and practicality, with the examples being relevant, succinct and clear.

If you are new to endgame study, have read Pandolfini’s Endgame Course: Basic Endgame Concepts or done the first few chapters of Silman’s Complete Endgame Course: From Beginner to Master, then I would recommend Understanding Chess Endgames as the next step before you move to more advanced texts.

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