Book Review: Silman’s Complete Endgame Course

It is a while ago now, but I think the first endgame textbook I bought was Practical Chess Endings by Paul Keres. I certainly went through the first chapter (“Elementary Endings”, which includes the less-than-elementary mate with Bishop and Knight), but I only had a fairly perfunctory look at the rest. The problem was that the author was attempting to be systematic and fairly comprehensive, but this didn’t reflect the strict relevance of the content. This difficulty was evident from the first chapter, where some genuinely essential material (mating with a Queen or Rook against a bare King, and key pawn endgames) was mixed with scenarios that rarely occur in practice (King and two minor pieces against a bare King). Other endgame textbooks I subsequently looked at suffered from the same issue.

Jemery Silman’s book Silman’s Complete Endgame Course (Siles Press 2007) is an attempt to approach learning the endgame from a different angle. He structures his book into a series of parts that correspond to a rating band. For each rating band, he presents the endgame material he considers (based on his own teaching experience) essential at that level. Naturally the assumption is that the reader will have already mastered the material at the lower levels.

The rating bands he gives are:

  1. Beginner (0-999)
  2. Class “E” (1000-1199)
  3. Class “D” (1200-1399)
  4. Class “C” (1400-1599)
  5. Class “B” (1600-1799)
  6. Class “A” (1800-1999)
  7. Expert (2000-2199)
  8. Master (2200-2399)

My ELO rating has long fallen into the Expert grouping (2000-2199), so the material for the lower bands (parts 1-6) ought to be stuff that I have mastered. Having looked at it in some detail, it does seem to be generally pitched at the correct level; everything in parts 1-5 is very familiar, while part 6 was useful in identifying a few things I needed to brush up on! Part 7, which is the level I should be actively studing, seems about right too, being a combination of things I know and things I don’t, at least yet.

One consequence of Silman’s decision to concentrate on the most relevant material is that he doesn’t cover the infamous mate with Bishop and Knight. While I think that the really serious player ought to learn this endgame, I think this is a sensible decision in a book aimed at amateurs with limited time. Personally, I can only remember the endgame occuring once in the thousands of serious games I have played; it was a draw, as my opponent, who had the Bishop and Knight, managed to stalemate me in the quickplay finish!

In conclusion, this book is the best practical endgame course I have come across, and one I wish I had be able to study when I first took up the game seriously.

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