Knight Endings

Knight endings are chess positions where both players have only a Knight, pawns, and a King. They are very simplified endings.

Endings with a Knight, but with another Knight (4 knights each), or with other pieces, are not called “Knight Endings”. The name only applies to endings with only a single Knight each.

Knight endings are not particularly common, but they do occasionally occur. Rook endings or King-and-Pawn endings are far more common.

Knight Endgame Strategies

Particular tactics to use in Knight Endings include:

  • Knight Swaps. If you are ahead, it can be much easier to swap off the Knights. Remember the rule, if ahead, swap pieces, but not pawns. But it’s easier said than done to swap Knights, they tend to run away from a swap.
  • Avoid Knight Swaps. If losing, swap pawns, but not pieces. Keep your Knight if defending down a pawn or two.
  • Knight Forks. With two Knights buzzing around, knight fork combinations are common. Sometimes they win pawns, and sometimes a Knight fork can be used to get a Knight swap.
  • Centralize the King. The Knight is more fun, but the King is a good attacker too. It should be centralized.
  • Invade with the King. This is the best case, where you can put your King into the enemy pawns.
  • Attack Pawns with the Knight. This is a very simple and effective strategy to use with the Knight. The Knight can go chase weak pawns, such as isolated or separated pawns, or it can go attack the base of a pawn chain.

Advanced Knight Endgame Strategies

Some advanced tactics in Knight Endings:

  • Defend the Base of the Pawn Chain. If you have a pawn chain, it’s ideal if you can simply defend the base pawn, with either the King or Knight, and then the enemy cannot capture any of the other pawns in the pawn chain.
  • Create a Pawn Chain with One Base Pawn. It can be ideal for defence if there is only one pawn chain, and only one weak pawn at the base.
  • Pawn Structure. You need to assess the pawn structure in regard to who would win a King-and-Pawn ending (without Knights). Who has passed pawns? Protected passed pawns? Outside passed pawn? Then you can decide whether a Knight swap is desirable (admittedly not always easy to arrange!).
  • Knight Sacrifices: There are many positions where two or three passed pawns in a pawn roller will defeat a hapless Knight (i.e. a “Knight vs Pawns endgame”). Watch out for sacrificial combinations of a Knight for two or three pawns, where passed pawns result. Such sacrifices can sometimes win. (Obviously they’re good for drawing too if you get the last couple of enemy pawns!)
  • Knights Prefer Central Passed Pawns (sometimes). Knights can be the exception to the rule about an “Outside Passed Pawn”. Knights with their short-range powers can sometimes prefer positions with a “Central Passed Pawn”.
  • Zugzwang and The Opposition. Knights do not usually have “spare moves”. If you have pinned down a Knight to the defence of the pawn, it has zero moves (unlike a Bishop). Hence, in such a position, a lot of the play can be about “The Opposition” and “spare pawn moves” and other zugzwang concepts, just like a King ending. Often you can get a zugzwang where either you win the pawn defended by the Knight (if the enemy Knight moves) or you get to invade with your King (if the enemy King moves).

These are only the theoretical ideas about Knight endgames. Every such position is difficult. You need to analyse and use your creativity to weight up the different options.

Related Chess Tactics

Read more about these related chess strategies: