Game-winning advantage

How much advantage do you need to a win a chess game? Assuming you don’t have a checkmating attack, the issue is “material advantage”. If you win your opponent’s Queen, surely that’s a win? Yes, it is. The basic idea is the material value of the pieces in terms of pawns:

So here are some of the easy wins:

  • Extra Queen: 9 pawns ahead
  • Extra Rook: 5 pawns ahead
  • Extra Knight: 3 pawns ahead
  • Extra Bishop: 3 pawns ahead
  • Queen vs Rook (9 pawns vs 5 pawns, 4 pawns ahead; queen is winning easily)
  • Queen vs Knight (9 vs 3 pawns; Queen is way ahead)
  • Queen vs Bishop (also 9 vs 3 pawns; Queen wins)

These are all classified as “easy wins” by strong players. In fact, advanced chess games will often end with a resignation if one player loses a piece. In beginner games, it’s often worth playing on anyway, as a single mistake can turn the fortunes around.

The basic idea when winning with an extra piece is to swap everything off. Exchange equal pieces, until you’re left in the endgame with only a single extra piece. Then you Queen a pawn. It’s not a very exciting way to win, but it’s slow and steady, and almost totally guaranteed to win the game.

Reasonably Easy Wins

There are situations where you can be ahead by a fair amount, and will usually win, but it requires you to pay attention!

  • Two pawns ahead (often winning, but not an easy win)
  • Knight for 1 pawn (two pawns ahead, easy win)
  • Bishop for 1 pawn (also two pawns ahead, easy win)
  • Rook for Knight (two pawns ahead or “the exchange ahead”; rook usually wins)
  • Rook for Bishop (two pawns; “won the exchange”; rook is the favorite)
  • Rook for 3 pawns (5 vs 3 pawns; Rook usually wins easily)

Not so Easy Wins

Let’s look at some of the other situations where you are “winning” with extra material, but it’s not an easy win:

In a lot of these examples, the player who is down is only a single pawn behind overall. Win back one more pawn, and the game becomes equal. Good technique is often required to win these positions.

Not Winning At All

There are some material balances that are not even winning. The Queen is only worth 9 pawns, and Rooks are only worth 5 pawns. Sometimes your extra big piece isn’t enough. These games are not winning (and may be losing):

  • Extra pawn ahead, but it’s a doubled pawn (or tripled pawn) or a backward pawn
  • Queen vs Two Rooks (9 pawns vs 10 pawns, negative one pawn! It’s a close game. The Queen often loses.)
  • Queen and Pawn vs Two Rooks (Equal material, anyone can win.)
  • Queen vs Rook, Bishop and Pawn (9 pawns vs 9 pawns, Queen is a slight favorite but anyone can win)
  • Queen vs Rook, Knight and Pawn (9 pawns vs 9 pawns, anyone can win but Queen is still the favorite)
  • Queen vs Rook, Bishop and Knight (9 pawns vs 11 pawns, the Queen is losing)
  • Queen vs Rook and Two Bishops (also 9 vs 11 pawns, the Queen loses)
  • Queen vs Rook and Two Knights (also 9 vs 11 pawns, Queen loses)
  • Rook vs Bishop and Knight (5 pawns vs 6 pawns, negative one pawn, Rook loses)
  • Rook vs Two Knights (negative one pawn, Rook is losing)
  • Rook vs Two Bishops (also 5 vs 6 pawns, Rook is hopelessly lost usually)
  • Rook vs Knight and 2 pawns (5 pawns vs 5 pawns, equal fight)
  • Rook vs Bishop and 2 pawns (5 pawns vs 5 pawns, equal fight)
  • Rook vs Knight and 3 pawns (5 pawns vs 6 pawns, Rook is losing)
  • Rook vs Bishop and 3 pawns (5 pawns vs 6 pawns, Rook loses)
  • Knight vs 3 pawns (3 vs 3 pawns; the pawns often win)
  • Bishop vs 3 pawns (also 3 vs 3 pawns; somewhat equal game)

Drawish Endgames with Extra Pawns

Which endgames are reasonably drawish even with an extra pawn (or two):

Balanced Endgame Positions

Some positions have winning chances, but also a fair chance of a draw:

  • Two Bishops vs Rook (the two bishops are the favorite, but the Rook should not be underestimated)
  • Bishop and Knight vs Rook (two pieces are still the likely winner)
  • Two Knights vs Rook (fairly balanced; the two knights are the weakest pair of minor pieces against a Rook)
  • Queen vs Two Rooks endgames (depends a lot on the position of the pawns)

Obviously all endgames with equal material are balanced, such as Rook Endgame or Queen Endgame where both players have the same number of pawns.

Easy Endgame Wins

So what level of material advantage makes the endgame an easy win? Here are some examples:

In many of these examples, the “extra pawn” has to be a real pawn. If it’s a doubled pawn, tripled pawn, or otherwise very weak pawn, then it’s not much of a pawn, and equal play results.