Pawn Race Game

This is an classic mini-game in which both players need to find the balance between attack and defence. King and pawn endings are fundamental to chess and many games may in principle reduce to king and pawns. Practising king and pawn endgames is important to learn the basics of endgames.

Starting Position


The objective of the game is for one pawn to reach the end safely i.e. without being immediately recaptured. There is no need to continue playing after promotion.

Ask the players which side they would prefer to play. The plan of racing your pawns up the board is obvious. Surely, many will surmise, if anybody wins it is White.

But as usual in chess, the truth is more complicated. Suppose that Black mirrors White’s moves, making adjustments to ensure not to let a white pawn promote.

Black maintains symmetry


The diagram above illustrates a possible position arising if both players play normally. There is a downside to moving first – if the position is completely balanced, White may eventually be forced to play a losing move – a situation known as “zugzwang”.

White is forced to find a move

A critical situation for White


In this position, whatever White tries, the game is lost.

Activity

Investigate who should win this game if each side plays the best move.