Queen Endings

Queen endings are endgames where each player has a Queen and pawns, but no other pieces. If there are any other pieces, like a Knight or a Bishop, then the character of the endgame is quite different because that piece can support the Queen in an attack. And an endgame with a Queen and Rook, or a Queen and Two Rooks, is hardly an endgame at all, it’s more like a middlegame. So these endings are not truly Queen endgames:

In advanced chess, a queen-and-pawn endgame is considered to be “drawish” which means that it is hard to win even with an extra pawn or two. A lot of advanced chess games will see queen endings drawn by perpetual check. But in beginner and intermediate chess, a Queen endgame is very complicated, with both players still having a very powerful piece, so there’s still a lot of play left.

Simplest Queen Endgames

Some of the simplest cases of Queen endgames include:

  • K+Q vs K (Basic Checkmate): The simplest Queen endgame is “King+Queen vs King” and is a basic checkmate. It is actually quite a difficult checkmate for beginners, because the Queen alone cannot give mate, but the King must be brought up to support the King. Stalemate is also hard to avoid for beginners.
  • K+Q vs K+Q (Drawn): If both players have just Queens, this is a Pawnless endgame, and it is drawn. Nobody should win, unless someone makes a massive mistake.
  • Q+P vs Q (Complex): This endgame is “King+Queen+Pawn versus King+Queen”. One player has an extra pawn. In theory, the pawn is converted into a second Queen and wins with two Queens versus one Queen. In practice, there is often a perpetual check from the defender’s Queen and “no progress” is made, so it can sometimes become a draw. In practice, the player with the extra pawn can often win, but it takes many moves. For advanced players, this is actually a complex endgame theory position; see “Queen and Pawn vs Queen Endgame”.
  • Q+2P vs Q (“Queen and Two Pawns vs Queen”). This is usually an easy win for the player with the two extra pawns, but it’s an excruciatingly slow win that can take many moves. Such games can take 100 moves to win, because the enemy Queen impedes progress of the pawns with long sequences of checks.

Other Types of Queen Endgames

There are several other types of endgames involving Queens:

  • Queen vs Pawn endgames: These usually arise from “pawn races”. They can transpose into a proper Queen endgame if the other player’s pawn gets Queened, so they each have a Queen. Sometimes it is a Queen versus multiple pawns, which the Queen usually wins.
  • Queen vs Rook endgames: These are not really “Queen endgames”, they are a different type of chess endgame (the Queen usually wins).
  • Queen vs Two Rook endgames: These too are not really Queen endings, it is a special class of endgame (the two Rooks may win, or the Queen may win, it depends on the pawn positions and type of position).
  • Queen vs Rook and Minor Piece: These are also different endgames of “Q vs R+N” and “Q vs R+B endings”. The Queen usually wins, but not always.

Queen vs Queen endgames (with pawns)

In true Queen endings, each player has a Queen, lots of pawns, and a King. In beginner games these endings often involve the Queens eating lots of pawns, and then one or both players attempts to create extra Queens by pawn promotion.

Queen endgames usually arise because all of the other pieces get swapped off. If you are trying to win with extra material by swapping off pieces to the endgame, then arriving at a Queen endgame is not a good plan. Queen endgames are much more difficult to win than other endgames with smaller pieces. Better to swap the Queens if you are ahead material.

The other way that Queen endgames occur is from a “pawn race” in a pawn endgame. If both players manage to Queen a pawn, then it goes from a simplified pawn endgame into a massively complicated Queen endgame!

Whatever the sequence, Queen endgames often occur in practical chess play. Usually all the pieces are swapped off, and there are still pawns on both sides of the board. What about these Queen endings with lots of pawns? What should you do? Proper play of Queen endings for more advanced players is quite difficult.

Strategies for Queen Endgames

What are the strategies for such an endgame? Some of the more advanced strategies include:

  • Queen Swaps: a Queen swap will turn a Queen endgame into a King-and-Pawn endgame very quickly. It is important to consider the pawn structure that would result for a pawn endgame, to determine if a Queen swap is desirable.
  • Centralized Queen: a strong Queen in the center can be a big positional advantage. It can exert power on both sides of the board, and threaten tactics such as queen forks to win extra pawns.
  • Active Queen vs Passive Queen: Just like rook endgames, having a more active Queen can be a big positional advantage, often enough to win. Such an active Queen might often also be a “centralized Queen” but may also be a Queen that has invaded enemy territory, or a “Queen outpost” type position.
  • Pawn captures (Queen Invaded Pawns): the Queen is great at swiping pawns and attacking weak pawns. Some Queen endings will have a phase where both players have invaded pawns with each Queen. The game will be decided based on who can capture the most enemy pawns, whilst also protecting their own pawns. (Actually that’s not even quite true, as it’s more important to secure an advanced passed pawn than to have the most pawns. Whichever Queen can eat enough pawns to get itself a strong passed pawn is likely to win, even if the other Queen eats an extra pawn or two. And if both Queens can get their own passed pawns, then it matters who has the most advanced passed pawn, so it’s likely to be queened first.)
  • Passed pawns rule: a Queen is a great supporter of a passed pawn, even against an enemy Queen attempting to blockade the pawn. Whichever player with the Queen has a passed pawn, this can be more important than who has the most pawns.
  • Both Players with Passed Pawns: If both players have a passed pawn, supported by their Queens, then whomever has the most advanced passed pawn often has a large advantage. The attacker’s Queen will shepherd their own passed pawn, forcing the defender’s Queen to blockade it, or to be given up to prevent pawn promotion. A passed pawn that’s not far advanced is easily rounded up by a Queen later. And in the case of a Queen swap, there will be two passed pawns left, and the most advanced one will win the pawn race.
  • One Passed Pawn is Enough: There is a saying in Queen endgames that a single passed pawn is just the same as having two or three passed pawns. One passed pawn is enough. In fact, if you have a passed pawn supported by its Queen, that’s usually a win, even if the other player has more total pawns (assuming they aren’t also passed, otherwise it’s not a clear win where “both players have passed pawns”).
  • Passed pawn blockades: With passed pawns so dangerous, a lot of the defensive play will revolve around blockading a passed pawn, using the Queen or King defensively.
  • King safety (Weakened King Position): The King is under great danger from a Queen. In a Queen ending, there is not often a risk of direct checkmate, because the Queen has no pieces to support it, but there are risks of: (a) Queen forks using checks that win pawns, or (b) perpetual checking against a weakened King position (to draw). A weakened King position with lots of its own pawns advanced is a large disadvantage in a Queen endgame.
  • Perpetual Check: a lot of the attempts to win a Queen ending will be thwarted by the other defensive Queen doing lots of checks. A lot of Queen endings are drawn due to perpetual check, which can occur either with the King stuck in the castled position, or in an “infinite pursuit” style of perpetual check where the defensive Queen runs the King all over the board with check sequences.
  • Castled King Setups: There are a number of particularly good King setups for Queen endings. They basically rely on pawns and a centralized Queen to prevent perpetual check. With the King safely tucked away, the Queen of the player with extra pawns can then try to create a passed pawn to convert into another Queen.
  • Centralize the Defending King: The usual strategy in Queen endgames is to keep the King tucked away. But if there aren’t many pawns left, then the defender may need to run out with the King to use the King as a pawn blockader. The defender is unafraid of perpetual check from the enemy Queen, because they are trying to hold the draw anyway.
  • Centralize the Attacking King: There are some positions in Queen endgames where the way to win is to bring out the attacker’s King. Such wins are laborious and extremely difficult because of the long sequences of checks that are played against the King. The attacker’s King has to find a square whereby the defensive Queen has run out of checks, and then the attacker gets a free move to advance a passed pawn or some other attacking move with their Queen.
  • Pawns on One Side are Drawish? The general rule for endgames is that pawns on only one side of the board tend to be drawish. This is less true in Queen endings because of the massive firepower of a Queen piece. But it is still true to some extent. If trying to win, it’s easier to win if there are some pawns left on both sides of the board.
  • Active King: Usually you hide the King in Queen endings. But this isn’t always possible. In the simplified endgames like “Q+P vs Q” or “Q+2P vs Q” there is nowhere for the King to hide, so it has to go out and run to evade checks. But even in Queen endings with lots of pawns, there are cases where it can be advantageous to bring your King to the center, or even to invade enemy territory.

Queen endings are very complex, and have a lot of factors. Playing a Queen ending correctly is an advanced strategy.

Related Chess Tactics

Read more about these related chess strategies: