Rook and pawn versus rook endgame
The rook and pawn versus rook endgame is of fundamental importance to chess endgames (Keres 1973:100), (de la Villa 2008:123–25), (Emms 2008:16), (Burgess 2009:94), (Nunn 2009:106) and has been widely studied (Nunn 1999:6), (Minev 2004:58). Precise play is usually required in these positions. With optimal play, some complicated wins require sixty moves to either checkmate, win the defending rook, or successfully promote the pawn (Speelman, Tisdall & Wade 1993:7). In some cases, thirty-five moves are required to advance the pawn once (Thompson 1986).
The play of this type of ending revolves around whether or not the pawn can be promoted, or if the defending rook must be sacrificed to prevent promotion. If the pawn promotes, that side will have an overwhelming material advantage. If the pawn is about to promote, the defending side may give up his rook for the pawn, resulting in an easily won endgame for the superior side (a basic checkmate). In a few cases, the superior side gives up his rook in order to promote the pawn, resulting in a won queen versus rook position (see Pawnless chess endgame#Queen versus rook).
A general rule of thumb (with exceptions) is: if the king on the side without the pawn can reach the queening square of the pawn, the game is a draw; otherwise it is a win for the opponent (except with a rook pawn, i.e. a- or h-file) (Fine & Benko 2003:294ff). The side with the pawn can cut off the opposing king or strive for the Lucena position, which is a win. The defender can aim for the Philidor position (which is a draw) or try to set up one of the other defensive techniques that draw (Mednis 1987:93). A rook and two pawns usually win against a rook, but there are plenty of exceptions.
- 1 Importance
- 2 Terminology
- 3 Pawn on the sixth or seventh rank
- 4 Winning methods
- 5 Defensive methods
- 6 Rook pawn
- 7 Most common rook endgame
- 8 Examples from master games
- 9 Subtle differences
- 10 Zugzwang
- 11 Rook and two pawns versus rook
- 12 See also
- 13 References
- 14 External links
|This article uses algebraic notation to describe chess moves.|
Endings with rooks and pawns are the most common type to occur in games, occurring in about 8 to 10 percent of all games (de la Villa 2008:18), (Emms 2008:6). A majority of rook and pawn endings with more pawns have the potential of being reduced to this type of endgame (rook and one pawn versus rook) (Guliev 2003:87), (Levenfish & Smyslov 1971:15). John Nunn wrote a 352-page book about this ending, Secrets of Rook Endings (Nunn 2007:126). Volume 2 of the Encyclopedia of Chess Endings devotes 92 pages to the analysis of 428 positions of this type (Matanović 1985:14–105). André Chéron wrote over 150 pages analyzing 120 positions of this endgame in his famous book Lehr- und Handbuch der Endspiele (Nunn 1999:6), (Minev 2004:58). In 100 Endgames You Must Know by Jesús de la Villa, 17 are of this type (de la Villa 2008:6–7). John Nunn covers 100 topics in Understanding Chess Endgames – eight are about this type of endgame (Nunn 2009:106).
- In the following discussion and positions, assume that the side with the pawn is White. White will be attempting to win and Black will be attempting to draw.
- Ranks are counted from that player's side of the board. Thus, "the rook's third rank" would be the third rank counting from that player's side of the board. The ranks for the white pieces correspond to the ranks in algebraic notation, whereas the ranks for the black pieces are reversed.
- In these positions with one pawn, the pawn's file divides the board into a short side and a long side, in which the long side consists of more files than the short side.
- A pawn is referred to by the file on which it stands: a rook pawn is on the a- or h-file, a knight pawn is on the b- or g-file, a bishop pawn is on the c- or f-file. A central pawn is a queen pawn or a king pawn, on the d- or e-file.
- When designating a position as a win or a draw, optimal play by both sides is assumed.
Pawn on the sixth or seventh rank
In his 1958 book Chess Endgames, Nikolay Kopaev gave these general guidelines for when the pawn is on the sixth or seventh rank:
- When the black king is cut off two or more files from the pawn, White always wins.
- If the black king is on the long side of the pawn and his rook is on the short side, White wins with very few exceptions.
- If the pawn is on the seventh rank, the only defense involves checks from the side. If the pawn is on the sixth rank, a defense of checks from the rear is possible.
- The defense of checking from the side normally requires three empty files between the pawn and the black rook. Sometimes it is possible with only two files when the pawn is on the seventh rank.
- In order for a defense of checking from behind to be successful, the white king must be behind the pawn, not in front of it.
- There are tactical possibilities: (1) deflecting the black rook, and (2) creating a shelter for the white king (Minev 2004:72).
Black king is cut off along a rank
If the black king is cut off from the pawn along a rank (as in the diagram), White wins easily if the king is behind the pawn:
- 1. Kd6 Rd8+
- 2. Ke6 Re8+
- 3. Kd7 Rg8
Checks from the front or side do not help Black.
- 4. d6 Rg7+
- 5. Kc8 Rg8+
- 6. Kc7 Rg7+
- 7. d7
When cutting the defending king off by a rank, a perfect cut is when the pawn is on the same rank as the defending king. An imperfect cut is when the king is on the rank ahead of the pawn. These general rules apply:
- The defending king should be cut off on a rank on the long side of the pawn. Otherwise, the position is not dangerous for the defense if the defending rook is on the long side.
- With a perfect cut, the position is always won with a bishop pawn or knight pawn on any rank. A central pawn wins if it is on the fourth rank or beyond.
- With an imperfect cut, the position is a draw if the defending rook is on the file adjacent to the pawn. In addition, the defense has more possibilities against a central pawn (de la Villa 2008:141–45).
In this position, White has a perfect cut and wins:
- 1... Ra8
- 2. Rc6 Rb8
- 3. Ra6 Kd5
- 4. Ka4! Kc4
- 5. Rc6+! Kd5
- 6. b5 Ra8+
- 7. Kb4
This is the same position but advanced one rank. Now the process is repeated:
- 7... Rb8
- 8. Rc7 Kd6
- 9. Ra7 Kd5
- 10. Ka5 Kc5
- 11. Rc7+ Kd6
- 12. b6 Ra8+
- 13. Kb5 Ra1
Black king is cut off from the pawn's file
When the black king is cut off from the pawn's file the outcome depends on where the black king is in relation to the pawn. Black's king is often cut off from the pawn along a file. Some general rules (with exceptions) are:
- If the pawn is a rook pawn, the position is usually a draw.
- If the pawn is on the fifth rank (or sixth or seventh rank) with its king near, and the black king is cut off from the pawn's file, White has a won position.
- If the pawn is on the third or fourth rank, (a) if it is a bishop pawn or central pawn, White always wins if the black king is cut off by two files for a fourth rank pawn and the black king is cut off by three files for a third rank pawn (see "The Rule Of Five" below) (i.e. White's rook is two files over from his pawn and the black king is on the other side), and (b) if the pawn is a knight pawn, White always wins if the black king is cut off by three files.
- If the pawn is on the second rank and the black king is on the fourth or fifth rank, White wins only if the opposing king is cut off five files from the pawn.
- In some cases White wins even if the black king is closer (Fine & Benko 2003:298–305).
Rule of five
The rule of five is for positions in which the pawn is protected and the opposing king is cut off by files: Add the number of rank of the pawn to the number of files the defender's king is cut off. If the sum is more than five, it is usually a win. Otherwise it is normally a draw. (Soltis 2003:138), (Mednis 1998:41–42). For example, in the diagram, white wins by:
- 1. Kc4 Rc8+
- 2. Kb5 (the white king must have this file available)
- 2... Rd8
- 3. Kc5 Rc8+
- 4. Kb6! Rd8
- 5. Rd1! Kf6
- 6. Kc7 Ra8
- 7. d5
and White will win.
The position by Chéron is basically the same, except moved over two files. Now the white king has less room to maneuver on the left of the pawn's file, and Black can prevent the advance of the pawn and draw. If White starts with 1. Ka4, the rook checks the king, and the king is forced back to b3. White can try:
- 1. Rd4 Ke5
- 2. Kc3 Rc8+
- 3. Rc4 Rb8
- 4. Rc6 Kd5
- 5. Ra6 Rc8+
- 6. Kb3 Rc6!
- 7. Ra8 Kd6 (or 7. Ra7 Rc1)
and the black king reaches the pawn's file, for a draw. Another try for White is:
- 1. Rd2 Ke5
- 2. Rd7 Ke6
- 3. Rc7 Kd6
- 4. Rc5 Kd7
- 5. Ka4 Ra8+
- 6. Ra5 Rb8
- 7. Ra7+ Kc6
- 8. Ka5 Rb5+
- 9. Ka4 Rb8
and the position is drawn. If the pieces are moved one file to the right, White has a win (Korchnoi 2002:12–13).
In the discussion above about the defending king being cut off by files, it is assumed that the defending rook is already in position to check the attacking king along files (usually from his first rank). In this position by José Capablanca, White wins because the white pawn can reach its fourth rank before the black rook can check along files. If the black rook were already at h8 and it were Black's move, Black would draw by checking the king and by playing ...Rf8 when the white king moves to f1 (Capablanca de Firmian 2006:121). With White to move in the diagrammed position:
- 1. Rd1 Rh8
- 2. f4 Re8+
- 3. Kf3 Rf8
- 4. Kg4 Rg8+
- 5. Kh5 Rh8+
- 6. Kg6, etc,
and White will win. With Black to move,
- 1... Kc6
- 2. Rd8 Rh7
- 3. f3 (3. f4 draws after 3... Rd7 or 3... Kc7)
- 3... Re7+
- 4. Kf2 Rf7
- 5. Kg3 etc, and White wins.
The Lucena position is one of the most famous and important positions in chess endgame theory. It is a win for the side with the pawn. The essential characteristics are that White's king is on the queening square in front of his pawn, the pawn is on the b through g files, and the black king is cut off on a file.
White wins in the position in the diagram by 1. Rd1+, forcing the black king one file farther away, then bringing his rook to the fourth rank to make a "bridge" to protect the king, then bringing out the king, which will be checked by Black's rook. White maneuvers his king to the fifth rank (without giving up the pawn) and then when the black rook checks, White interposes his rook and has a winning position. See Lucena position for more details (Fine & Benko 2003:297–98).
Defending rook prevents the bridge
If the defending rook is in the superior side's fourth rank, it prevents the rook from making a bridge on that rank. In that case, the win is straightforward.
- 1. Rc1+ Kb7
- 2. Kd7!
The black rook is not far enough away from the white king to keep safely checking.
- 2... Rd4+
- 3. Ke6 Re4+
- 4. Kd6 Kb6
Other fourth moves by Black are no better. If 4... Rd4+ then 5. Ke5 wins, as the rook cannot stop the pawn. If Black tries a different move, say 4...Re2 then White moves 5. Rc5 and builds a bridge on the fifth rank.
- 5. Rd1 Kb5
- 6. Rd5+ Kb6
- 7. Re5 and Black cannot stop the pawn (Hawkins 2012:69–70).
Alternate method for bishop pawns and central pawns
The Lucena position is a win for White if the pawn is not a rook pawn. There is another way of winning if the pawn is a bishop pawn or central pawn.
In the diagram, 1. Rc2+ would start the process of winning with the process above. However, White also wins by
- 1. Rh2 Rf3
- 2. Rh8 Rf1
- 3. Rf8 Re1
- 4. Kf7
(Emms 2008:17–18). Now either
- 4. ... Kd7
- 5. e8=Q+ wins, or the white king can approach the black rook on the two files next to the pawn's file until it can no longer check:
- 4. ... Rf1+
- 5. Kg6 Rg1+
- 6. Kf5 Rf1+
- 7. Kg4 Rg1+
- 8. Kf3 Rf1+
- 9. Ke2
and the black rook can no longer attack and the pawn promotes.
It may not be necessary to build a bridge to win, if the king is on its pawn's promotion square. White wins in this position:
- 1. Rc2+ Kb7
(or 1... Kd6 2. Kd8 Rxe7 3. Rd2+ Ke6 4. Re2+ wins the rook)
- 2. Rf2 Rh1
- 3. Kf7 Rh7+
- 4. Ke6 Rh8
- 5. Kd7 Rh7
- 6. Kd8 wins (Horwitz & Kling 1986:143).
Often White will not be able to utilize one of the winning methods. Black has several defensive methods available, depending mainly on the position of the pawn and his king.
If the defending king is in front of the pawn and the attacking king and pawn have not yet reached their sixth rank, the Philidor position (or Philidor defense) easily works to secure a draw. If the defending king can not get in front of the pawn but is not cut off, the short side defense can be used. If the pawn is a rook pawn or knight pawn, the back rank defense can be used. The back rank defense can also be used when the pawn is on other files if the attacking king has not reached the sixth rank. If the king is cut off along a file, the frontal defense may work, depending on the file of the pawn and how far advanced it is.
Philidor's position (see the diagram) illustrates an important drawing technique in this endgame. The technique is also known as the third rank defense and works when the defending king is in front of the pawn and the attacking king and pawn have not reached their sixth rank. Black keeps his rook on his third rank to keep the white king from reaching that rank. If White advances the pawn to its sixth rank (Black's third rank), then the king is deprived of shelter, so Black moves his rook to the eighth (or seventh) rank, and keeps checking the white king from behind. It is very important that the defender keep his rook on his third rank, and move to the far side of the board only after the attacking pawn has moved to its sixth rank. (An exchange of rooks will result in a drawn position, see king and pawn versus king endgame.) See Philidor position for more details (Fine & Benko 2003:294).
There are three errors that Black must avoid:
- Immobilizing the rook
- Allowing the king to be driven away from the queening square
- Playing the king to the wrong side
Philidor's defense can also be used with the black rook on the fourth rank, if White's king and pawn have not reached that rank. If this defense is used, the black king should be on the second rank. The principle is the same: Black keeps his rook on the fourth rank, keeping the white king from advancing to that rank. If the pawn advances to that rank, Black moves the rook to the eighth rank and checks the king from behind.
The back-rank defense always works if the pawn is a rook pawn or knight pawn and the defending king is in front of the pawn. The defending king blocks the pawn and the rook is on the first rank preventing checks by the rook. In the diagram, Black draws. If 1. g7 then 1... Rb6+ draws and if 1. Rg7+ then 1... Kh8 draws. White's best attempt is:
- 1. Kg5 Rc8 (waiting passively, also known as the passive defense)
- 2. Kh6 Rb8
- 3. Rg7+ (the only trick for White)
- 3. ... Kh8!
If 3... Kf8? then 4. Kh7 Rb1 5. Rf7+ Ke8 6. Rf4 and White gets to the Lucena position.
- 4. Rh7+ Kg8
- 5. Ra7 Rc8
and White makes no progress. The defense fails for other pawns (if the attacking king has reached the sixth rank) because White has another file available to go around the pawn (Emms 2008:20).
If the attacking king has not reached the sixth rank, the defense works for any pawn. In the second diagram, White to move wins by getting his king to the sixth rank so the defending rook can not leave the back rank because of the threat of checkmate. This illustrates how the defense fails for a bishop pawn or central pawn:
- 1. Kg6 Rd8
- 2. Rh7 Kg8
- 3. f7+ Kf8
- 4. Rh8+ Ke7
- 5. Rxd8 and wins.
If Black is to move in the diagrammed position, he draws with
- 1... Rb1!
which neutralizes the threat of Kg6, because Black can check from behind and there is no immediate threat of checkmate by White (Averbakh & Kopayev 1987:115). Black checks from behind, as in the Philidor defense.
If neither the pawn or king have reached the sixth rank, Black can normally draw by reaching the Philidor position, above.
King in front of pawn, but cannot reach the Philidor position
Sometimes the defender's king is in front of the pawn, but the rook can not get to its third rank to reach the Philidor position. Thus he has two choices: try to attack from behind, or retreat to the back rank with his rook to guard the mating threats. The diagrams show such back-rank positions. For a bishop pawn (see the first diagram) or central pawn, if the defending rook is tied down to the back rank, he loses:
- 1 ...Rg2+
- 2 Kf1 (or Kh1) Rh2!
- 3 Kg1 f2+
- 4 Kf1 Rh1+ winning the rook
But the defender can hold the draw with an accurately conducted "active defense" from behind the pawn while it is still on the fifth rank, with the king moving to the short side (see next section).
But with a knight pawn (see the diagram on the right), the attacker has no file equivalent to 2... Rh2, so he can not make progress. Here, the defender should avoid the active defense (attacking the pawn from behind while it is on the fifth with the rook). It fails because his king will be forced to the long side (stepping the other way would lose immediately because of the corner, allowing immediate mate).
The defender can draw against the rook pawn either way, because most king and pawn versus king positions are drawn with the rook's pawn (see King and pawn versus king endgame#Rook pawn), (Mednis 1982:15–19), (Dvoretsky 2006:144), (Ward 2004:37–42).
"Short side" defense
Not all positions similar to the Lucena position above are wins for the superior side — it depends on the position of Black's rook and king (relative to White's pawn), and which side is to move. In positions such as the position in this diagram, the defending rook must be at least four files away from the pawn on the "long side" for the defense to work (the "checking distance"); otherwise the white king can support its pawn and approach the black rook to drive it away. The black king needs to be on the "short side" so it will not block checks by its own rook.
As an example, Black to move draws in this diagram. The reason is that Black can check the white king from the side with his rook, and the rook is just far enough away from the white king that if it tries to approach the rook to stop the checks, the rook can get behind the pawn and win it, resulting in a drawn position. For example:
- 1. ... Ra8+
- 2. Kd7 Ra7+
- 3. Kd6 Ra6+
- 4. Kd5 Ra5+
- 5. Kc6 Ra6+ (if 5 ... Ra8 6. Ra1! (either black takes the rook and the white pawn queens, or it forces the enemy rook off the vital a-file that has "checking distance", the rook moves on the back rank, followed by 7. Kd7, and the pawn promotes)
- 6. Kb7 Re6
with a draw after winning the pawn, which can no longer be defended by its king (Emms 2008:21–23).
If White's king and pawn are moved to the left, White wins as in the Lucena position above. With a few exceptions, the defending rook must be at least four files over from the pawn for this defense to work (which is why the defending king should go to the short side, to not block checks by his rook).
- 1... Ra8+ (1... Rc2 leads to a Lucena position)
- 2. Kc7 Ra7+
- 3. Kc8 Ra8+
- 4. Kb7 Rd8
- 5. Kc7! and White wins (Emms 2008:21–23). The rook was too close to the pawn, so White's king could both approach the rook to prevent checks and return to protect the pawn.
Short side defense, less advanced pawn
- 1. Kg6 (This threatens 2. Ra8+ Ke7 3. f6+ driving the black king far from the pawn. See the Lucena Position next section for White's winning method.) 1... Rb6+ is too late because of 2. f6, forcing Black to retreat to the back rank, which is a loss as shown in the previous section. The point of Philidor's third rank defense is to prevent White from moving the king to the sixth rank before the pawn.
Black's defense is:
- 1... Rf1 (Tarrasch rule, rook behind pawn)
- 2. Kf6 (second diagram) (2. Ra8+ Ke7 and now the black rook stops 3. f6+)
- 2...Kg8! (going to the short side is vital, as will become clear)
- 3. Ra8+ Kh7
- 4. Rf8
Other moves make no progress because of Black's obeying the Tarrasch rule. E.g. 4. Ke6 Kg7 and 5. f6+ is impossible. The main move protects the pawn and threatens 5. Ke7 followed by f6)
- 4...Ra1! Now Black threatens to check from the side to keep White from making any progress. He needs space to do this, which is why the king must move out of the way to the short side. There must be at least three files between Black's rook and the pawn, otherwise White's king can protect his pawn while attacking Black's rook and gain time necessary to advance the pawn.
- 5. Re8 (one try, to use the rook to block the checks from the side)
- 5... Rf1!
Black moves behind the pawn again, so 6. Ke6 is answered by 6... Kg7, as per note to move 4 (Emms 2008:22).
Long side blunder
If the black king went to the long side, Black would not have the resource of checking from the side. For example, from the second diagram above, where 2... Kg8! draws as shown above:
- 2... Ke8?
- 3. Ra8+ Kd7
- 4. Rf8! Rh1
- 5. Kg7 Ke7 (there is no room to check on the side. If 5...Rg1+ then 6.Kf7 followed by f6.
- 6. f6+ (the point of 4. Rf8) Kd7 (6...Ke6 7. Re8+ Kd7 8. Re2 and converts to Lucena position, next section)
- 7. Kf7 followed by Ra8 then Ra2-d2+ (or any other safe check on the d-file).
After this, and the same if Black prevents the check by placing his own rook on the d-file, White plays Kg7 Rg(any)+; Kf8 then f7, reaching the Lucena position.
If the pawn is a central pawn, going to the long side with the defending king will sometimes give the rook just enough checking distance if it is on the rook file on the opposite side of the pawn (Ward 2004:42). Defending this way is a far more arduous task, so moving the defending king to the short side is always recommended (Emms 2008:2). With the defending rook three files over from the pawn, the attacker usually wins, but there are exceptions, depending on the location of the attacking rook (Seirawan 2003:79).
In the diagram, Black draws:
- 1... Re8!
- 2. Kd6 Rb8!
if 2... Rg8 then 3. Ra1!. If 2... Kf6 then 3. Ra1! Rb8 4. Rf1+ Kg7 5. Kc6 Ra8 6. Ra1, a winning position
- 3. Kd7 Re8
and White can not make any progress (Emms 2008:24–25).
The Frontal Defense is a way that Black may keep White from getting to the Lucena position, even if the defending king is cut off from the pawn's file. Black's rook is well-placed on its first rank and can check the white king or offer itself for exchange when the resulting king and pawn versus king endgame is a draw. The farther back the pawn is, the more likely the defense is to be successful. To have good drawing chances, there should be at least three ranks between the pawn and the defending rook (called the rule of three). The file of the pawn matters too: a bishop pawn gives the best winning chances, followed by a central pawn, followed by a knight pawn, with a rook pawn having little chance of winning (Mednis 1998:40).
If White is to move in the diagram, Black draws by using the frontal defense: 1. Kh4 Rh8+! 2. Kg5 Rg8+ 3. Kh5 Rh8+ 4. Kg6 Rg8+ 5. Kh5 Rh8+ and White can not make any progress (Emms 2008:18–20).
If Black to move in this position, he has an alternative drawing method that requires knowledge of the king and pawn versus king endgame: 1...Rf8 to bring the king over to the pawn. If 2. Rxf8 Kxf8 3. Kf4 Kg8! (avoids losing the opposition. 3. Kh4 is met the same way) 4. Kf5 Kf7 or 4. Kg5 Kg7, and the position is a draw.
- 1. Kg4! Rg8+
- 2. Kh5 Rf8
- 3. Kg5 Rg8+
- 4. Kh6 Rf8
- 5. Re4! Kd6
- 6. Kg7 Rf5
- 7. Kg6 Rf8
- 8. f5
and White will reach the Lucena position.
Black to move in that position draws, by reaching a drawn king and pawn versus king endgame position:
- 1... Re8
- 2. Rxe8 Kxe8
- 3. Ke4 Kf8
- 4. Ke5 Ke7
Black to move in that position also draws with 1... Kd6, getting the king to a favorable position (Emms 2008:18–20).
Endings with a rook pawn arise frequently because they are more likely to be the last remaining pawn (de la Villa 2008:145). If the pawn is a rook pawn, the chances of a draw are much greater. Even the equivalent of the Lucena position is no guarantee of success (it depends on the location of the white rook and who is to move) (Emms 2008:25). These endings are more likely to be a draw because (1) the pawn can protect the king from checks from the rear only, and not from the side, and (2) the edge of the board reduces the king's mobility in trying to support the pawn (Averbakh & Kopayev 1987:150).
With a rook pawn, usually in actual play the defending rook or king is able to get in front of the pawn. If the defending king gets in front of the pawn, the game is a draw. If the defending rook gets in front of the pawn, the result depends on which king arrives on the scene first (de la Villa 2008:145).
The attacking king or rook may be in front of the pawn.
King in front of pawn
In this diagram, the only way for White to make progress is to get his rook to b8, but this allows the black king to get to the c-file and draw.
- 1. Rh2 Kd7
- 2. Rh8 Kc7!
- 3. Rb8 Rc1
- 4. Rb2 Rc3!
This is the simplest way for Black. Now there is no way to force the black king away from the c-file.
- 5. Rb7+ Kc8
- 6. Rg7 Rc1
and Black draws.
If the black king is cut off by four or more files, White wins, as in this diagram:
- 1. Rc3! Ke7
- 2. Rc8 Kd6
- 3. Rb8 Ra1
- 4. Kb7 Rb1+
- 5. Kc8 Rc1+
- 6. Kd8 Rh1
- 7. Rb6+ Kc5
- 8. Rc6+! Kd5
- 9. Ra6
and White wins (Emms 2008:25–27).
Rook in front of pawn
In this position, the black king needs to get to one of the marked squares in order to draw. If he gets to one of the squares marked with "x", the king can move next to the pawn and the rook can capture the pawn for a draw. Otherwise, the king needs to stay on the squares marked with dots: g7 and h7. The reason is that if the black king is on another rank, the white rook can check and then the pawn promotes and wins. For example, if the black king were on f6 instead, with White to move, 1. Rf8+ followed by 2. a8=Q wins. Also, the black king needs to be on g7 or h7 rather than d7, e7, or f7. If it were White's move in this position, White wins by 1. Rh8 Rxa7 (otherwise the pawn promotes and wins) 2. Rh7+, skewering the rook (de la Villa 2008:145–46). If the black king is on g7 or h7 and the white king approaches the pawn (to protect it while the rook moves out of the way), the black rook will check from behind and the king has no cover from the checks.
The Vančura Position (see diagram) is a drawing position with a rook and rook's pawn versus a rook, when the pawn is not beyond its sixth rank, and the stronger side's rook is in front of the pawn (Dvoretsky 2006:155). It was studied by Josef Vančura (1898–1921), published in 1924. Black's rook attacks the pawn from the side from some distance away, while keeping the white king from finding cover from checks. Black keeps attacking the pawn (Emms 2008:28). The black king must be on the opposite side of his rook as the pawn to not block the attacks. Also, Black's king must be near corner on the opposite side of the board if the pawn advances to its seventh rank so the white rook cannot check the black king and then support the advance of the pawn, or sacrifice its pawn to skewer Black's king and rook on the seventh rank, as in the section above.
- 1. Kb5 (Protecting the pawn in order to free the rook to move. If 1. a7 Ra6! 2. Kb5 Ra1 3. Kb6 Rb1+ 4. Kc7 Rc1+ 5. Kd7 Ra1, and White cannot win. Note that if Black's king was on g6 there would follow 2.Rg8+ with 3.a8=Q, and if it was on f7 White wins with 3.Rh8! Rxa7 4.Rh7+.)
- 1... Rf5+!
- 2. Kc6 Rf6+ (an important square for the rook)
- 3. Kd5 Rb6 (Keeping the attack on the pawn.)
- 4. Ke5 (If 4. a7 then 4...Ra6 draws.)
- 4... Rc6
- 5. Ra7+ Kg6
- 6. Kd5 Rf6
- 7. Kc5 Kh6
- 8. Kb5 Rf5+
- 9. Kb6 Rf6+
- 10. Kb7 Rf7+
- 11. Kb8 Rf6, etc.
- 3... Rf5+
- 4. Ke6 Rf6+ (an important square for the rook)
- 5. Ke5 Rb6
- 6. Kd5 Rf6
- 7. Ra7+ Kg6
- 8. Ra8 Kg7 and White cannot win. The white king cannot advance because of the checks and the pawn cannot advance because the black rook gets behind the pawn (Seirawan 2003:88–89).
In Shakhmaty v SSSR in 1950, Peter Romanovsky published a drawing zone, see the diagram. If Black is to move and the white king is on one of the marked squares, he draws by reaching the Vančura position. Otherwise White wins (Müller & Lamprecht 2001:189), (Nunn 1999:28ff).
Most common rook endgame
Cecil Purdy gives the most common type of rook endgame as one with a rook and rook pawn versus a rook, with the rook in front of its pawn. In the third diagram, White wins easily. If it is Black's move:
- 1... Ke7
- 2. Rb8 R-any
- 3. Kb7 Rb1+
- 4. Ka8! R-any
- 5. a7
and White wins. He can force his king out by Kb7 or if the black rook prevents that by going to the seventh rank, then Rh8 and Kb8 (Purdy 2003:116–17).
Examples from master games
The positions discussed above are somewhat idealized, but they are fundamental to practical play. Here are some examples of this endgame from master games.
Larsen vs. Browne, 1982
This game between Bent Larsen and Walter Browne illustrates an alternate winning method with a knight pawn. A variation of moves would have resulted in the "building a bridge" method. 65... Rg7+ 66. Kf4 Rf7+ 67. Kg5 Ke5 68. g4 Rf8 69. Kh5 Rf7 70. g5 Kf5 71. Rh8 Ke6 72. Re8+ Kf5 73. g6 Ra7 74. Rf8+ Ke6 75. Rf1 Ra2 76. Kh6 Ke7 77. g7 Rh2+ 78. Kg6 Rg2+ 79. Kh7 Rh2+ 80. Kg8 Ra2 81. Rh1, 1–0.
Or if 80... Rh3, then 81. Re1+ Kd7 82. Re4 Rh2 83. Kf7 Rf2+ 84. Kg6 Rg2+ 85. Kf6 Rf2+ 86. Kg5 Rg2+ 87. Rg4 and White will win by building a bridge (Benko 2007:91–92).
Pein vs. Ward, 1997
British Championship, 1997
60... Re2! (cutting the white king off) 61. Kf3 Re7 62. Kf2 Kc6 63. Kf3 Kb6 64. Rd5 c3 65. Rh5 c2 66. Rh1 Rc7 67. Rc1 Kb5 68. Ke2 Kb4 69. Kd2 Kb3 70. Rh1 Kb2! 0–1 (Ward 2004:87–88).
Ward vs. Arkell, 1994
British Championship, 1994
Black can not reach the Philidor position, but still draws.
45... Rf4!! 46. Ra8+ Kh7 47. Ke6 Kg7 48. Ra7+ Kf8 49. Kf6 Kg8 50. Ra8+ Kh7 51. Rf8 Ra4! 52. Rf7+ Kg8 53. Re7 Kf8 54. Re6 Ra7 55. Rb6 Rf7+ 56. Kg5 Ra7 57. f6 Kf7 ½–½ (Ward 2004:88–90).
Kasparov vs. Kramnik, 2000
World Championship 2000
51. Rf3 Rh5 52. Kf2 Rg5 53. Rf8 Ke5 ½–½.
Anand vs. Shirov, 2004
Wijk an Zee Corus Chess, 2004
53... Kf6 54. Kc3 Re4 55. Rh7 Ra4 56. a7 1–0.
Ward vs. Emms, 1997
95... Rb4+ 96. Kg3 Kh5 97. Ra3 Rg4+ 98. Kh3 Rh4+ 99. Kg3 Rb4 100. Re3 Rb5 101. Ra3 g4 102. Rc3 Kg5 103. Ra3 Rc5 ½–½ (Ward 2004:90–92).
Nikolay Grigoriev, 1937
There can be subtle differences in positions that make the difference between a win and a draw. Two examples of this are shown in the diagrams (Matanović 1985:24, 28).
Siegbert Tarrasch, 1906
There are exactly 209 positions of reciprocal zugzwang among rook and pawn versus rook endgames. All of them were tabulated and published. The full list is available online. Some of the zugzwangs are easy to understand (see position at the middle); some requires up to 54 moves to win. The position at left is a position that could have occurred in the 1961 game between Viacheslav Kalashnikov and the young Anatoly Karpov. White to move in this position draws, but Black to move loses. Karpov's 49th move in the actual game avoided the zugzwang and the game was drawn (Károlyi & Aplin 2007:22).
Rook and two pawns versus rook
A rook and two pawns generally win against a rook, but there are exceptions. In actual games, the side with the pawns wins 82% of the time (Emms 2008:29).
- Positions with doubled pawns are usually a draw if the defending king can get in front of the pawns. If the defending king cannot get in front of the pawns, the outcome depends on which file the pawns are on and where the defending king is cut off. If the defending king is cut off by more than one file, the pawns win, except if they are rook pawns. If the pawns are on the c through f file then they win if the opposing king is cut off by one file (or more) on the long side, otherwise they draw.
- Positions with two connected pawns are usually won easily, but there can be difficulties if one pawn is a rook pawn. There are also positions where the defender can draw by blockading the pawns and some other drawn positions (Nunn 2010:108–52).
- Positions with isolated pawns have fewer chances to win than with connected pawns. Positions with two rook pawns are often a draw. A position with a rook pawn and bishop pawn on the same side of the board is usually a draw if they are not far advanced, but the defense is difficult. Overall, the rook pawn and bishop pawn win in 61% of games (Emms 2008:35). The rook pawn and bishop pawn almost always win if they both reach their sixth rank. Other drawn positions exist (Nunn 2009:122–27), (Müller & Lamprecht 2001:192–204).
- "[T]he study of rook plus pawn vs. rook is the first and essential step to understanding positions with more pawns on he board." de la Villa, 2008, p. 123. "[The Philidor Position] is perhaps the most important one in endgame theory." de la Villa, 2008, p. 125. In Fundamental Chess Endings, Karsten Müller and Frank Lamprecht say that the Philidor Position is "the most important position in the whole book" (emphasis in the original) (Müller & Lamprecht 2001:177).
- The ending of rook and pawn versus rook is one of the basic endings which arises most often in practice, and it is also fundamental for a general understanding of rook endings. Nunn 2009, p. 106
- Larsen vs. Browne, 1982
- Kasparov vs. Kramnik
- Anand vs. Shirov
- G. McC. Haworth; Editor: J.W.H.M. Uiterwijk (2001). "3–5 Man Mutual Zugzwangs in Chess". Proceedings of the CMG 6th Computer Olympiad Computer-Games Workshop. TR CS 01–04.
- G. McC. Haworth (2001). "Ken Thompson's 6-man Tables". ICGA Journal.
- G. McC. Haworth; P. Karrer, J. A. Tamplin, and C. Wirth (2001). "3–5 Man Chess: Maximals and Mzugs". ICGA Journal 24 (4): 225–30.
- Haworth, Guy. "Full list of all 209 zugzwangs in KRPKR endgames". Retrieved 2012-04-11.
- Kalashnikov vs. Karpov
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