The Lucena position is one of the most famous and important positions in chess endgame theory, where one side has a rook and a pawn and the defender has a rook. It is fundamental in the rook and pawn versus rook endgame. If the side with the pawn can reach this type of position, he can forcibly win the game. Most rook and pawn versus rook endgames reach either the Lucena position or the Philidor position if played accurately (de la Villa 2008:125). The side with the pawn will try to reach the Lucena position to win; the other side will try to reach the Philidor position to draw.
|This article uses algebraic notation to describe chess moves.|
The Lucena position is named after the Spaniard Luis Ramírez de Lucena, although it is something of a misnomer, because the position does not in fact appear in his book on chess, Repetición de Amores e Arte de Axedrez (1497). It does appear, however, in Alessandro Salvio's Il Puttino (1634), a romance on the career of the chess player Leonardo da Cutri, and it is in that form that it is given here (Müller & Lamprecht 2001:179). Salvio attributes it to Scipione Genovino (Hooper & Whyld 1992:238). It is likely that the error arose from the sixth edition of the Handbuch des Schachspiels, in which editor Constantin Schwede incorrectly attributed the position to "Lucena 96", possibly as a result of confusion over the references in Antonius van der Linde's 1874 work Das Schachspiel des XVI. Jahrhunderts.
The position is shown above and below (the position can be moved as a whole or mirrored so that the pawn is on any of the files b through g). White's aim is to either promote his pawn or else compel Black to give up his rook for it – either result will leave White with an overwhelming material advantage and a straightforward win. White has managed to advance his pawn to the seventh rank, but it is prevented from queening because his own king is in the way. White would like to move his king and then promote his pawn, but is prevented from moving to the a-file by the black rook, and prevented from moving to the c-file by the black king.
The essential characteristics of the position are:
- the pawn is any pawn except a rook pawn
- the pawn has advanced to the seventh rank
- the attacking king (the one with the pawn) is on the queening square of its pawn
- the attacking rook cuts off the opposing king from the pawn by at least one file
- the defending rook is on the file on the other side of the pawn
An obvious approach by White (in the position above) such as
- 1. Rd1+ Ke7
- 2. Kc7
gets nowhere. Black can simply harass the white king with checks, and White makes no progress:
- 2... Rc2+
- 3. Kb6 Rb2+
- 4. Ka7 Ra2+
- 5. Kb8
The winning method: building a bridge
In the Lucena position, the side with the pawn has a winning method that works for any pawn except a rook pawn (i.e. on the a- or h-file). In some circumstances, it also works for a rook pawn.
In this position, White can win with
- 1. Rd1+ Ke7
- 2. Rd4!
Now, if Black plays a waiting move, such as
- 2... Ra1
hoping to harass the white king with checks again as in the above variation, White continues
- 3. Kc7 Rc1+
- 4. Kb6 Rb1+
- 5. Kc6 Rc1+
(Or 5.Ka6 Ra1+.)
- 6. Kb5 Rb1+
- 7. Rb4!
The black rook can no longer check the white king and Black cannot prevent the pawn from queening (Ward 2004:48). White's shielding his king and pawn with the rook in this way was described as "building a bridge" by Aron Nimzowitsch (Hooper & Whyld 1992:238).
It is important that the white rook go initially to the fourth rank if Black uses his most active defense: repeatedly checking the white king. If Black abandons this defense, the white rook can build a bridge on the fifth rank. In the line above, after
- 5. Kc6
if Black moves
- 5... Ke6
there is a trap for White: if 6.Rd5?? (to build a bridge on the fifth rank) then 6...Rxb7! draws. However, if
- 6. Rd6+
(6.Re4+ followed by either 7.Re8 or (if 7...Kf7) 8.Re5 works as well.)
- 6... Ke7
- 7. Rd5!
and White can build a bridge on the fifth rank by getting the rook to b5, the king to b6, and then the pawn can promote (Ward 2004:48–49) (position reflected):
- 7... Rc1+
- 8. Kb6 Rb1+
- 9. Rb5
and White wins.
If the defending rook is on the rank that would prevent moving the rook to the crucial rank (i.e. 2.Rd4), see Rook and pawn versus rook endgame#Defending rook prevents the bridge.
Black to move
If Black is to move in the diagrammed position, he can prevent the white rook from going to the fourth rank, but then White still wins:
- 1... Ra4
- 2. Rd1+ Ke7
- 3. Kc7 Rc4+
- 4. Kb6 Rb4+
- 5. Ka6 Rb2
(The black rook is not sufficiently far away to keep checking: if 5...Ra4+ then 6.Kb5 wins.) Now White wins by blocking the checks with
- 6. Rd5
- 7. Rb5 (Emms 2008:17) (position reflected).
Bridge on the fifth rank
A bridge can also be built on the fifth rank (but it is better to build one on the fourth rank). The main line goes:
- 1. Rf5
(Instead of 1.Rf4!)
- 1... Rc1
- 2. Ke7
Threatening to promote the pawn, Black can just delay it with checks.
- 2... Re1+
- 3. Kd6 Rd1+
- 4. Rd5
and the pawn will promote. Or
- 1... Kg6
- 2. Ke7?!
Better is 2.Rf8 Kg7 3.Rf4!, back to a bridge on the fourth rank.
- 2... Kxf5!
- 3. d8=Q
Alternate plan for the defense
Alternative approaches are no better for Black. After 1.Rd1+ Ke7 2.Rd4 above, after
- 2... Rb2
for example, White can still carry out his plan as above, or he can win with the simple
- 3. Ra4 Kd7
- 4. Ka8 (or 4.Ka7) Kc7
- 5. Rc4+
which chases the black king away and allows the pawn to promote. (Or, 5.b8=Q+ Rxb8 6.Rc4+ wins the rook.)
The Lucena method also works with a rook pawn if the white rook is already on the fourth rank, the black rook is not on the file adjacent to the pawn, and White is to move. Otherwise, the defending king must be cut off four files from the pawn, as in the diagram. This is not a true Lucena position since the king is cut off by more than one file. White wins:
- 1. Rc1 Ke7
- 2. Rc8 Kd6!
- 3. Rb8 Ra2
- 4. Kb7 Rb2+
- 5. Kc8 Rc2+
- 6. Kd8 Rh2!
- 7. Rb6+ Kc5
- 8. Rc6+! Kxc6
- 9. a8=Q+
and White has a won queen versus rook endgame – one that is easier to win than one where the rook is close to its king (Silman 2007:223–26).
Similar positions may be drawn
Not all similar positions are wins. In this position, Black draws because he can safely check from the side. For this defense to work, there must be at least three files between the defending rook and the attacking king, and the defending king must be positioned such that it does not block the checks; that is, the defending king is on the "short side" of the pawn (the one with fewer files between the pawn and the edge of the board) (de la Villa 2008:127–28). (See the "short side defense" at rook and pawn versus rook endgame for more details.)
Examples from praxis
- Rice versus Snape
In this 2000 game between Rice and Ian Snape, Black uses the above procedure:
- 81... Re7+
- 82. Kd2 Re5!
- 83. Rg8 Kf2
- 84. Rf8+ Kg3
- 85. Rg8+ Kf3
Here White deviates from the above:
- 86. Kd1 Re4
White resigns, but the alternative is:
- 86. Rf8+ Kg4
- 87. Rg8+ Rg5
and Black wins (Snape 2003:36).
- Andersson versus Åkesson
- 79. e4! dxe4
- 80. Rxe4 Kd7
- 81. Kg6
and Black resigned. White will reach a Lucena position: 81...Rg1+ 82.Kf7 Rf1 83.f6 Rf2 84.Kg7 Rg2+ 85.Kf8 Rf2 86.f7 Rg2 (a Lucena position) 87.Rd4+ Kc7 (if 87...Ke6 then 88.Ke8 wins) 88.Ke7 Re2+ 89. Kf6 Rf2+ 90.Ke6 Re2+ 91.Kf5 Rf2+ 92.Rf4 and White wins (Kaufeld & Kern 2011:189).
Rook and pawn endgames occur quite often in chess, about eight to ten percent of all games (de la Villa 2008:18), (Emms 2008:6). This position is very important since endgames may simplify to it. As it is a known win, endgames sometimes revolve around the player with the pawn trying to reach the Lucena position and the other player trying to prevent it.
There is an alternate method for winning this type of position that works only for pawns on the c-file through the f-file (see Rook and pawn versus rook endgame).
- de la Villa, Jesús (2008), 100 Endgames You Must Know, New in Chess, ISBN 978-90-5691-244-4
- Emms, John (2008), The Survival Guide to Rook Endings, Gambit Publications, ISBN 978-1-904600-94-7
- Hooper, David; Whyld, Kenneth (1992), The Oxford Companion to Chess (2nd ed.), Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-280049-3
- Kaufeld, Jurgen; Kern, Guido (2011), Grandmaster Chess Strategy: What amateurs can learn from Ulf Andersson's positional masterpieces, New in Chess, ISBN 978-90-5691-346-5
- Müller, Karsten; Lamprecht, Frank (2001), Fundamental Chess Endings, Gambit Publications, ISBN 1-901983-53-6
- Shenk, David (2006), The Immortal Game: A History of Chess, Doubleday, ISBN 0-385-51010-1
- Silman, Jeremy (2007), Silman's Complete Endgame Course: From Beginner to Master, Siles Press, ISBN 1-890085-10-3
- Snape, Ian (2003), Chess Endings Made Simple: How to Approach the Endgame with Confidence, Gambit Publications, ISBN 978-1-901983-97-5
- Ward, Chris (2004), Starting Out: Rook Endgames, Everyman Chess, ISBN 1-85744-374-8
- Dvoretsky, Mark (2006), Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual (2nd ed.), Russell Enterprises, ISBN 1-888690-28-3
- Fine, Reuben; Benko, Pal (2003) , Basic Chess Endings, McKay, ISBN 0-8129-3493-8 The Lucena position is diagram 307 in the first edition and diagram 623 in the second edition.
- Korchnoi, Victor (2002) , Practical Rook Endings, Olms, ISBN 3-283-00401-3
- Minev, Nikolay (2004), A Practical Guide to Rook Endgames, Russell Enterprises, ISBN 1-888690-22-4
- Roycroft, John (1972). Test Tube Chess, Faber. diagram 80 is the Lucena position
- Speelman, Jon; Tisdall, Jon; Wade, Bob (1993), Batsford Chess Endings, B. T. Batsford, ISBN 0-7134-4420-7