Exceptions: Material Advantage Doesn’t Always Win - How to Win When You’re Ahead - The Complete Chess Course From Beginning To Winning Chess! (2016)

The Complete Chess Course From Beginning To Winning Chess! (2016)

Book Five

How to Win When You’re Ahead

Chapter Ten

Exceptions: Material Advantage Doesn’t Always Win

When a player has worked hard to create an advantage in material and then finds that it cannot win anyhow, he is keenly disappointed. Psychologically it is a great help to him to be familiar with some of the common instances where material advantage is futile.

Such knowledge is also of great practical value, too. If you are prepared for the danger, you may know how to forestall it.

Bishops on Opposite Colors

We were introduced to this type of ending in Diagram 59. (D)


White to move

Though two pawns to the good, White is powerless to win. His difficulty is that he has no command of the dark squares. His pawns cannot advance and his material advantage is an illusion.

Note this, however: if White’s two pawns were widely separated - say they were an f-pawn and a d-pawn - he would then win. For the defensive forces would be split, with the black king blockading one passed pawn and the bishop holding back the other.

As we already know from the play following Diagram 59 the split defense is bound to fail.

In other words, there is nothing dogmatic about this “exception.” The bishops on opposite colors may draw, or they may not. It all depends on the given position. This explains what is puzzling on the surface - that in Diagram 59, Black, with one pawn up, wins; and in Diagram 77, White, with two pawns up, cannot win.

Still another “exception to the exception” appears in the bishop and pawn ending following Diagram 62. There White, with two connected passed pawns, controls squares of both colors.

When Material Advantage Loses (D)


White to move

White is two pawns and the exchange down, yet he has a forced win! Why? Because the pin reduces Black’s rook on f6 to sheer helplessness.

1.Rxf6 Rxf6 2.h4!

Played to prevent …g6-g5 followed by …Kg6, whereby Black would free himself and actually win.

White must maintain the pin - that is the secret of the winning method.

2…h6 3.Kg2 g5

Black hopes for …Kg6.

4.h5! Black resigns.

Why? Black can never free himself from the pin. He must therefore confine himself to pawn moves. Sooner or later he will run out of pawn moves, and he will then have to move his king, losing his rook.

White’s pin was so powerful that his bishop was worth more than Black’s rook and two pawns!

In Diagram 79 we have another example of Zugzwang, a German word describing situations where a player has to lose because it is his turn to move! (D)


White to move

This “exception” is really shocking. If Black were a pawn ahead, the position would be a draw. With two pawns up, Black is lost. The reason? His king is in an extraordinary mating net.


To this Black has only one reply, for if 1…g5 2.Qe1+ and mate next move.

1…Qg5 2.Qe4+! Qg4

Now comes the move that puts Black in Zugzwang:

3.Qe3!! Black resigns.

No matter how Black plays, he is forced into a checkmate position. For example: 3…g5 4.Qe1+ and mate follows; 3…Qg5 4.Qh3#; 3…Qf5 4.Qg3#.

Stalemate, the Greatest “Exception”

Centuries ago, when the stalemate drawing rule was first derived, it was doubtless intended as a punishment for careless or greedy players. Today it is mostly a refuge for desperately ingenious players who manage to find what is sometimes the only way out of an otherwise hopeless situation. (D)


White to move

In Diagram 66 we saw how hard White had to work to win with a queen against a mere pawn. In this example, which is even more humiliating, there is no way to win at all!

In Diagram 80 Black’s king is in a stalemate position. If the queen moves off to allow the black king some elbow room, then Black plays …Kb2 and threatens to queen his advanced pawn. The only way that White can then prevent the pawn from queening is to check, whereupon the black king crawls back into the corner.

Verdict: a draw! (D)


A drawn position!

Move all the forces one row to the left, and White wins easily (Diagram 28). But on the aand h-files this type of ending is a draw, no matter who moves first.

If White moves first in Diagram 81, the ending can proceed like this:

1.h5 Kg8

When Black has a g-, f-, e-, d-, c-, or b-pawn, he merely plays his king one square diagonally forward to the next right-hand file, controlling the queening square and winning with ease.

With an a- or h-pawn this is impossible, because the king and pawn are located at the very edge of the board!

2.Kg6 Kh8 3.h6 Kg8 4.h7+ Kh8 5.Kh6

Stalemate! If Black moves first, the result is the same. (D)


White to move

With a piece and a pawn to the good, White wins easily: 1.Bd5+ Kb8 2.a7+ Kc8 3.a8Q+ with speedy checkmate in the offing. Yet… Diagram 83 is a draw! (D)


White to move

This position is a draw no matter who moves first and what White does.

Can you see any essential difference between Diagram 82 and Diagram 83?

If White plays 1.a7 in the position of Diagram 83, Black is immediately stalemated.

Other maneuvers do no good, for example:


Again Black is stalemated. Or:

1.Ka5 Ka7 2.Kb5 Ka8 3.Kb6 Kb8 4.Be5+ Ka8!

White is making no headway.

The explanation: in order to win this type of ending with an a- or h-pawn, its queening square must be of the same color as those the bishop travels on.

When the queening square is of the right color (Diagram 82) there is an easy win.

When the queening square is of the wrong color (Diagram 83) the position is a draw.

Caution: this applies only to a- and h-pawns. All other pawns win easily in the analogous situation.

This concludes our survey of the important exceptions to the rule that superior force should win.

Don’t let these exceptions dishearten you. They are, after all, the exceptions and not the rule.

By being familiar with these exceptions you will avoid many a painful surprise. You will also be less likely to succumb to overconfidence; and this brings us to our final chapter.