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Queen vs Knight Endgames

"Openings teach you openings. Endgames teach you chess!"
    - Stephan Gerzadowicz (US Postal Chess Master)

Concepts

The Queen vs Knight endgame is a normally a win for the superior side, and is much easier than Queen vs Rook or Rook vs Knight, but there are still a few subtleties which you must keep in mind in order to win this won game.

  1. Beware of forks! - This may sound obvious but there are only two ways to draw this ending. Somehow losing your queen, and the 50 move rule. If you have a hard time seeing forks, or even simply seeing deeply into the position, try to keep your king and queen on different colored squares whenever possible to avoid the possibility of being forked.

  2. Stop the King! - Keep your queen leaning toward the edge. On moves where there seems little to do, make sure your queen either nudges the king toward an edge or at least keeps him from getting deeper into the center. Don't be afraid to use a waiting move to make that happen. The closer he is to an edge, the closer you are to winning, and while it's very hard to draw this game on the 50 move rule, if you let the king escape into the center too many times, you'll only have a draw to show for your trouble.

  3. You have two pieces left - Don't forget to use your king as an attacking piece, as that is his role in the endgame and you cannot win this without him. Use opposition and threats against the knight to push the enemy king to the border where he can be checkmated.

Annotated Example

In the following example, I will show you this endgame as played by two very strong American players (both of whom have been three-time U.S. Champions1). As you will see, capturing the knight--in a game between two strong masters--proves futile, but is also totally unnecessary. In the interest of completeness, the moves leading up to the position are included at the end of the writeup, so that you may go over the game itself should you choose to do so.

                       Diagram 1. Starting position
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |   |   |   |   |   |WQ |   |   | 8
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   | 7
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |   |   |   |BN |   |   |WK |   | 6
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |   |   |   |BK |   |   |   |   | 5
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   | 4
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   | 3
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   | 2
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   | 1
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                      A    B   C   D   E   F   G   H
                        Benjamin - De Firmian (1995)
                               White to Move

72. Qe7 Ne4

White nudges his queen over, tickling the knight and keeping the king from going anywhere. Black moves his knight because his king is in one of the four ideal squares in the center, and thereby at maximum distance from losing. Any king move by black hastens his own defeat.

73. Kf5 Nd6+

White threatens to capture the knight on e4 and also gains the opposition against the enemy king. Black tries to chase him away.

74. Kf4 Nc4

The white king moves to the side, but stays close. This is important. Don't retreat your pieces when trying to push your opponent to the edge, because it only opens up holes which allow him or her to stay in in the center and escape your mating net.

75. Qd8+ Nd6

It's fine that white leaves the illusory "hole" in the mating net here, because if 75. ... Ke6, then 76. Qg8+! winning the knight on the next move because the king can no longer protect it. Black intelligently blocks with the knight instead.

76. Qd7 Kc5

A waiting move for the white pieces, holding the knight pinned and finally forcing the idle black king to move.

77. Ke5 Nc4+

Again white threatens to capture the knight, this time on d6. As you'll see, it's lather, rinse, repeat from here for the most part.

78. Ke6 Ne3 79. Qd3 Nc4

The tricky black knight switches sides, but the white queen remains unperturbed and continues on with solid moves to force the enemy king to the edge.

80. Qc3 Kb5 81. Kd5 Nb6+ 82. Kd4 Nd7 83. Qc8 Nb6 84. Qc7 Na4 85. Qb8+ Nb6 86. Qb7 Ka5

Finally pressing the fleeing king against the wall. Now all that remains is a bit of maneuvering so that the knight poses no threat and victory will be had.

87. Kc5 Na4+ 88. Kc6 Nc3

The knight charges to the flank in one last valiant attempt to guard the mating square b5.

89. Qb3 Black resigns

This is really a beautiful final position (see Diagram 2). No matter what black does here, he loses in at most two moves. If 89. ... Ka6 then 90. Qb6#, if he moves the knight anywhere at all, it's 90. Qb5#. Even if he could pass, he would lose the knight and then mate in two.

                         Diagram 2. Final position
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   | 8
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   | 7
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |   |   |WK |   |   |   |   |   | 6
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |BK |   |   |   |   |   |   |   | 5
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   | 4
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |   |WQ |BN |   |   |   |   |   | 3
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   | 2
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   | 1
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                      A    B   C   D   E   F   G   H
                        Benjamin - De Firmian (1995)
                               Black to Move


Complete game

Benjamin, J - De Firmian, N A45
New York Open, 1995

1.d4 Nf6 2.Bg5 e6 3.e4 h6 4.Bxf6 Qxf6 5.Nc3 Bb4 6.Qd2 Nc6 7.Nf3 e5 8.dxe5 Nxe5 9.Nd4 0-0 10.Be2 Nc6 11.Ndb5 Ba5 12.0-0 a6 13.Na3 Bxc3 14.Qxc3 Qxc3 15.bxc3 Re8 16.Bd3 Na5 17.Nb1 b6 18.c4 d6 19.Nc3 c6 20.Rab1 Rb8 21.Rb4 Re7 22.Rfb1 Reb7 23.Ra4 Bd7 24.f3 Kf8 25.Kf2 f6 26.h4 Ke7 27.Ke3 Kd8 28.g4 Kc7 29.g5 hxg5 30.hxg5 Ra7 31.gxf6 gxf6 32.Rab4 Raa8 33.f4 Be6 34.Na4 b5 35.cxb5 axb5 36.Nc3 Rh8 37.a4 Rh3+ 38.Kf2 Bc4 39.axb5 Bxd3 40.cxd3 Rxd3 41.Rc1 Kd7 42.bxc6+ Nxc6 43.Rb7+ Kd8 44.Ne2 Ra7 45.Rxa7 Nxa7 46.f5 Nb5 47.Nf4 Rc3 48.Rh1 Nc7 49.Rh8+ Kd7 50.Rh7+ Kd8 51.Rf7 d5 52.exd5 Ne8 53.Ne6+ Kc8 54.Ke2 Ra3 55.Nd4 Rh3 56.Re7 Nd6 57.Re6 Kd7 58.Rxf6 Rh2+ 59.Ke3 Rh3+ 60.Nf3 Rh5 61.Kf4 Kc7 62.Ne5 Rh4+ 63.Ng4 Rh1 64.Ne3 Rh4+ 65.Kg5 Re4 66.Re6 Rd4 67.f6 Rd3 68.Kg6 Kd7 69.f7 Rxd5 70.Nxd5 Kxe6 71.f8Q Kxd5 72.Qe7 Ne4 73.Kf5 Nd6+ 74.Kf4 Nc4 75.Qd8+ Nd6 76.Qd7 Kc5 77.Ke5 Nc4+ 78.Ke6 Ne3 79.Qd3 Nc4 80.Qc3 Kb5 81.Kd5 Nb6+ 82.Kd4 Nd7 83.Qc8 Nb6 84.Qc7 Na4 85.Qb8+ Nb6 86.Qb7 Ka5 87.Kc5 Na4+ 88.Kc6 Nc3 89.Qb3 1-0


1Benjamin was Co-champion in 1987 and 2000, and sole champion in 1997. De Firmian was Co-champion in 1987 and 1995, and sole champion in 1998.

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