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Review: Secrets of Pawn Endings by Karsten Muller and Frank Lamprecht

Ideal audience: Players of all strengths, although stronger players 1800+ ELO may derive more benefit from the book's contents.

Pros: Exhaustive computer-aided analysis, full of fascinating endgame studies, the test positions are excellent.

Cons: Some parts are very technical.

Rating: 5 out of 5 pawns

"Don't deceive yourself, though the board may be almost empty, pawn endings are full of traps and tricks."

With Secrets of Pawn Endings and their subsequent Fundamental Chess Endings, Karsten Muller and Frank Lamprecht secured their place alongside Reuben Fine, Mikhail Shereshevsky, and Yuri Averbakh on the short list of great endgame writers. While it might be blasphemous to suggest that Muller and Lamprecht's books are better than the works of these other authors, Muller and Lamprecht do have one distinct advantage: their works have benefited enormously from chess' computer age. In Secrets of Pawn Endings, the authors use computer analysis to provide a definitive verdict on all aspects of pawn endgame theory. However, the book's theoretical importance is not its only value. Muller and Lamprecht provide accessible tips for practical play as well.

Secrets of Pawn Endings begins with a theoretical overview of the fundamental pawn endgame positions. The first chapter discusses King and Pawn(s) vs. King while each succeeding section addresses positions with more and more pawns. This progression allows the reader to use the earlier chapters to inform later discussion. But, this does not mean that the basic pawn endings are simple. Even positions with only one or two pawns can be astoundingly complex (if you're skeptical, try the first chapter's training exercises).

After addressing pawn endgame theory, the authors provide chapters on practical issues. Sections like "Thinking Methods to Find the Right Move" and "Complicated Cases" provide strategies for playing complex endings. I particularly enjoyed "Simplifications," a section that helps the reader decide when to trade into a pawn ending. The effect of these later chapters is that the thorough reader, having developed a grasp of theoretical pawn endings, can now harness that knowledge to improve his or her play.

Secrets of Pawn Endings is excellent for all readers, whether the expert level player seeking to ascend into the master ranks (or beyond) or the casual player hoping to gain a deeper appreciation of pawn endings' beauty. A good example of the book's versatility is the discussion of corresponding squares. The discussion is thorough, addressing everything one needs to know about the importance of corresponding squares in pawn endings. The subject matter is highly technical, but Muller and Lamprecht use classic endgame studies to keep the reader's attention. Furthermore, a plethora of diagrams depict the application of corresponding square concepts.

For years, Secrets of Pawn Endings has been one of my favorite endgame books. Muller and Lamprecht have written a book of great theoretical and practical significance. Secrets of Pawn Endings is a must-have.