Basic Rook Endings: Rook vs Rook+pawn


“All rook endings are drawn.”- Tarrasch

There are a few basic rook vs. rook and pawn concepts that I am going to present in this post.
The majority of rook v.s. rook and pawn endings will turn into either the philidor position (a.k.a. third rank defense) or the lucena position, and so these two are by far the most important. However, the other positions are essential knowledge as well. Learning these positions and the rules that go with them will vastly improve your chess rating. Rook and pawn endings are the most common type of ending, and these endings have a tendency to reduce to one of the positions below.

The first position to recognize is the philidor, or “third rank defense.” This involves a basic, 2 part plan. In this position, the stronger side’s extra pawn has yet to reach the third rank (or the sixth rank if it’s white).

Part (1) the weaker side must cut the pawn off at the third rank. Once the weaker side puts his rook on the third rank, he should simply lose tempo by moving it back and forth along the rank, until the pawn advances to the third rank.

Part (2) Once the pawn advances to the third rank, the rook should move to the rear and give checks to the enemy king from behind.

There is no shelter from the checks, and the game is drawn. Naturally, if the king strays too far away from his pawn, the rook simply attacks and wins the pawn. The following position is a good demonstration of this two part plan.

PHILIDOR POSITION

The next crucial position to learn is the “lucena” position, in which the stronger side should win. Here, the pawn has advanced past the third rank, and so “the third rank defense” is no longer an option. The winning procedure is often described as building a bridge, between the rook and the king, which allows the pawn to queen by sheltering the king from checks. The requirements for this maneuver 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

LUCENA POSITION

It is sometimes still possible to draw, however, even when a pawn has reached or passed the third rank. I’m not sure what this idea is called, but the basic concept is that in such positions the defending side should have their king on the “short side”, and their rook on the “long side” to hold the draw. A famous example which illustrates this defensive technique is the following game.

Keep in mind these three rules when handling the long-short drawing position:

(1) the weaker rook stays on the “long side,” giving checks when available.
(2) The black king stays on the “short side,” and approaches the pawn when able.
(3)The weaker side must prevent the stronger sides king from reaching the 8th rank, unless the stronger side first puts his rook there, in which case the weaker side can still hold the draw using the above two principles.

With these three concepts in mind, play through the following game.

LONG AND SHORT DEFENSE

BACK RANK DEFENSE

This is another drawing resource which is important to know, and is simliar to the above position, though easier to hold.

VANCURA POSITION

The idea in this defensive setup is the defending king races occupy the two squares h7 and g7, and will move back and forth until the stronger side’s king approaches the pawn to try and liberate the rook, at which point the weaker side’s rook will give checks from the rear. The black king cannot leave the two magic squares of h7 and g7. For instance, if Kf7, then Rh8! would win, as it threatens to queen and if …Rxa7 then Rh7+ picks up the rook. The position is an iron-clad draw, and is incredibly common, so the themes are worth committing to memory.