The Rook's Pawn

Chess endings of King, Rook and Rook's pawn vs. King and Rook

Learning the truth about any Rook's pawn ending can sometimes require a computer. However, finding the correct move is much simplified when you know the correct plan. Rook and Pawn endings are by far the most difficult endings to master, because the defensive manuevers and techniques change slightly depending on which pawn is on the board. Here we will explore the plans available when the pawn is a Rook's pawn.

When Rook and Rook's pawn endings arise, one of two main situations may exist. The first is when the stronger King has escorted the pawn to the seventh rank, but finds himself trapped in front of the pawn on one of the corner squares. There is a fine line between whether the position is drawn or won, and that line is along the c-file (for the a-pawn) or f-file (for the h-pawn). If the defending King manages to keep his opposite number sealed in, by using this file, the game is drawn; if he is one file further away then he loses the game. The second possiblity arises when the Rook finds itself trapped in front of the pawn, while defending its march up the file. Unlike the first case, here the defending King needs to stay away from the pawn in order to hold the draw.

In the first position below, White does not have time to complete the maneuver of Rook to h2-h8-b8 before the Black King gets to c7, keeping the White King boxed in on the a8 square.

Rook and Rook's pawn vs. Rook

[Event "Basic Technique"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "RP vs R"] [Black "K in front of P"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [Annotator "Leininger, B."] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "K7/P3k3/8/8/8/8/3R4/1r6 w - - 0 1"] [PlyCount "8"] [Source "Pickard & Son"] [SourceDate "2002.07.15"] {[This position is a draw, because the Black King is only 3 squares from the hostile pawn.]} 1. Rh2 {[The only winning attempt available is to transfer the Rook to b8, allowing the King to escape and the pawn to become a Queen.]} Kd7 { [The Black King heads for c7, to keep the White King sealed in.]} 2. Rh8 Kc7 3. Rb8 Rc1 4. Rb2 Rc3 $11 {[White can make no further progress.]} 1/2-1/2

In next position, however, the Black King is one file further away, and so White has enough time to complete the Rook's journey to b8. The only possible winning plan available to White, when his King is trapped in front of a Rook's pawn, is this manuever by the Rook to free the King. Let us see how this idea works out in practice:

Rook and Rook's pawn vs. Rook

[Event "Basic Technique"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "RP vs R"] [Black "K escape routes"] [Result "1-0"] [Annotator "Leininger, B."] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "K7/P4k2/8/8/8/8/4R3/1r6 w - - 0 1"] [PlyCount "21"] [Source "Pickard & Son"] [SourceDate "2002.07.15"] 1. Rh2 Ke7 2. Rh8 Kd6 ({The text is an improvement on} 2... Kd7 {which makes it easier for the White King to escape, e.g.} 3. Rb8 Rf1 4. Kb7 Rb1+ 5. Ka6 Ra1+ 6. Kb6 Rb1+ 7. Kc5 {and White simply approaches the Rook in answer to further checks.}) 3. Rb8 Rh1 4. Kb7 Rb1+ 5. Kc8 {[Here is the other "escape hatch" for the White King. Unless the defending King can reach c7, which cuts off both exits, then Black must lose.]} Rc1+ 6. Kd8 Rh1 ({If} 6... Rf1 {then} 7. Ke8 Re1+ 8. Kf8 $8 ({not} 8. Kf7 $4 Re7+ $11) 8... Rf1+ 9. Kg7 {and the King marches towards the Rook to end the checks.}) 7. Rb6+ Kc5 8. Rc6+ $8 ({ The only move. White will Queen with check is the Rook is captured, and will win a Queen vs. Rook endgame - even if he doesn't skewer the Rook on h1. A mistake is} 8. Ra6 {and the White King has no escape from the checks. Therefore, even with the Rook placed behind the pawn the game is drawn. For example} Rh8+ 9. Ke7 Rh7+ 10. Kf8 Rh8+ 11. Kg7 Ra8 12. Kf7 Kb5 13. Ra1 Kb6 $11) ({or} 8. Re6 Ra1 9. Re7 $11) 8... Kb5 9. Rc8 $3 {[An important position to remember: the King can dodge checks coming from either direction, by using the Rook and opposing King as shelter.]} Rh8+ 10. Kc7 Rh7+ 11. Kb8 {[And White wins.]} 1-0

The only difference between winning and losing is a single square - if the defending King is three squares away away from the pawn he secures the draw with no trouble. Yet winning the won position requires White to know how to use the escape routes demonstrated in the second position above. One method is simple, e.g. the King marches towards the checking Rook to end the continous checks. The second technique, in which the King proceeds along the back of the board to safety, requires a little more finesse.

Now if the Rook is trapped in front of the pawn as in the third position above, the game is drawn unless Black tries to follow the same plan as discussed with the King trapped - moving towards the pawn! One of the key reasons that Rook endings are so difficult is that subtle changes in the position means that the correct plan changes. With a trapped White Rook, Black's denfensive plan is continuous checks and maintaining his own King on the opposite side of the board. The important "theory" to understand in this situation is that the checking defense can be used in two directions.

Rook and Rook's pawn vs. Rook

[Event "Basic Technique"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "RP vs R"] [Black "R in front of P"] [Result "1-0"] [Annotator "Leininger, B."] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "R7/P5k1/8/8/8/5K2/8/r7 w - - 0 1"] [PlyCount "5"] [Source "Pickard & Son"] [SourceDate "2002.07.15"] 1. Ke3 {[The White King has no shelter from checks, either horizontally or vertically - therefore the position is drawn.]} Kf7 $4 ({The text illustrates the only way to lose this position, which is to move the King towards the pawn. Correct is} 1... Kh7) 2. Rh8 $1 $18 Rxa7 3. Rh7+ {[White wins the Rook and the game.]} 1-0

Moving the pawn back a square (see next position) gives the King shelter from the checks, the a7 square. However, a secondary strategy exists, based on the same theme as already examined. The concept is that the a7 square only shelters the King from checks from the rear. However, it does not provide protection against checks from the side, a factor which allows Black to maintain the draw.

Rook and Rook's pawn vs. Rook

[Event "Defending from the Side"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "RP vs R"] [Black "P on 6th rank"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [Annotator "Leininger, B."] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "R7/6k1/P7/8/5K2/8/8/r7 b - - 0 1"] [PlyCount "15"] [Source "Pickard & Son"] [SourceDate "2002.07.15"] 1... Ra5 $1 {[Preventing the White King from reaching shelter at a7.]} 2. Ke4 Rb5 $1 {[There are two defensive plans available when the adverse Rook is in front of the pawn: checking the King from the side or back. Since shelter at a7 is available if Black begins to checks from the back, his alternate plan of checking from the side maintains the draw.]} 3. Ra7+ ({If} 3. Rc8 Ra5 4. Rc6 Kf7 5. Kd4 Ke7 6. Kc4 Kd7 $11) ({Or} 3. Kd4 Rb6 4. Kc5 Rf6 5. Kb5 Rf5+ 6. Kc6 Rf6+ 7. Kd5 Rf5+ 8. Ke6 Rf6+ 9. Ke5 ({Black cannot allow the White King to enter the 6th, 7th, or 8th ranks without checking. Therefore if} 9. Kd7 Rf7+ { maintains the draw.}) 9... Rb6 {And since the King cannot reach shelter the position is drawn.}) 3... Kg6 4. Rb7 Ra5 5. a7 Kf6 6. Kd4 Ke6 7. Kc4 Kd6 8. Kb4 Ra1 1/2-1/2

If this concept is understood, the next example should be easy to understand. Adding the other Rook pawn to the board does not change the result. Remember the the correct plan with the Rook trapped behind pawn is to maintain the defending King on the opposite side of the board. Here the defending King will not cross the board, and thus it is in a natural position to stop the other Rook pawn.

Rook and Rook's pawn vs. Rook

[Event "Defending from the Side"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "RPP vs R"] [Black "?"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [Annotator "Leininger, B."] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "R7/7k/P4r2/7P/2K5/8/8/8 w - - 0 1"] [PlyCount "12"] [Source "Pickard & Son"] [SourceDate "2002.07.15"] {[Here White has two Rook's pawns, but we can see the same defensive patterns at work.]} 1. Kb5 Rf5+ 2. Kc6 Rf6+ ({Not the blunder} 2... Rxh5 $4 3. a7 Ra5 4. Kb6 Ra1 5. Rb8 $18) 3. Kd7 Rf7+ 4. Ke6 Rf1 5. Kd6 Rf6+ $1 ({Since the King's haven is is available at a7, Black checks should be delivered from the side when White would have to leave off protecting the pawn to stop them. Therefore wrong would be} 5... Rd1+ $4 6. Kc6 Rc1+ 7. Kb6 Rf1 8. Rc8 $18) 6. Ke5 (6. Kc7 Rf7+ {If the King approaches the pawn, check him relentlessly! Otherwise the correct plan is to move the Rook up and down the f-file.}) 6... Rf2 1/2-1/2

Now let's take a look at what we have learned, and see how these principles are applied when Grandmasters play.

Rook and Rook's pawn vs. Rook

[Event "Lone Pine op"] [Site "Lone Pine"] [Date "1981.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Yusupov, Artur"] [Black "Henley, Ron W"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "D07"] [WhiteElo "2575"] [BlackElo "2440"] [Annotator "Leininger, B."] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "8/8/8/p1k1p3/Pnr5/2N3R1/5K2/8 w - - 0 72"] [PlyCount "37"] [EventDate "1981.04.??"] [EventType "swiss"] [EventCountry "USA"] [Source "Pickard & Son"] [SourceDate "2002.07.15"] 72. Ke2 Nd5 73. Nxd5 Kxd5 {[From our previous examples we know that the White King is close enough (3 squares) to the a-pawn. Now we must find out whether the e-pawn makes a difference.]} 74. Ra3 Kc5 75. Kd3 Kb4 76. Ra1 e4+ 77. Kd2 Kb3 78. Ke3 $1 {[Using our basic knowledge of Rook and Rook pawn endings. By restricting the Black Rook to defense of the e-pawn, we have the familiar pattern of Rook trapped in front of the Rook's pawn. Ergo, we can deduce that the e-pawn must fall in order for Black to activate his Rook - and the defending King remains close enough to the remaining pawn to draw.]} Rxa4 79. Rb1+ Kc4 80. Kxe4 Rb4 81. Rc1+ Kb3+ 82. Kd3 Kb2 83. Rc2+ Ka3 84. Rc5 a4 85. Kc2 {[We have reached the "magic square", and the draw is now assured.]} Ka2 86. Rc8 a3 87. Rc7 Rh4 88. Rc8 Rh2+ 89. Kc1 Rb2 90. Rc7 1/2-1/2

Grandmaster Henley defended with style to convert the position into a basic Rook and Rook pawn ending. Our next example once again shows how important are the basic Rook and pawn endings, when transitioning from more complex endings of the same type.

Rook and Rook's pawn vs. Rook

[Event "Kislovodsk"] [Site "Kislovodsk"] [Date "1968.??.??"] [Round "4"] [White "Gufeld, Eduard"] [Black "Bronstein, David I"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "C09"] [Annotator "Leininger, B."] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "8/7p/3k2p1/3P1p2/7P/4K1P1/R1P2P2/5r2 b - - 0 76"] [PlyCount "49"] [EventDate "1968.09.??"] [EventType "tourn"] [EventRounds "15"] [EventCountry "URS"] [Source "Pickard & Son"] [SourceDate "2002.07.15"] 76... Kxd5 77. Ra7 f4+ 78. Kxf4 Rxf2+ 79. Kg4 h5+ 80. Kg5 Rf3 81. Kxg6 Rxg3+ 82. Kxh5 {[Here the stronger King is trapped in fron of the Rook's pawn, and therefore the defending King must be within 3 squares to maintain the draw. However, we have an extra pawn to deal with which would advance if Black proceeds with that plan. The c-pawn must be disposed of first.]} Rc3 83. Rd7+ Ke4 84. Rd2 Kf4 85. Rd4+ Kf5 86. Rd5+ Kf4 87. Rd4+ Kf5 88. Rd2 Kf4 89. Kg6 Rc6+ 90. Kg7 Kg4 91. Rh2 Kg3 {[One of the pawns will fall now.]} 92. Rh1 Rxc2 93. h5 Rc7+ 94. Kf6 Rc6+ 95. Kf7 Rc7+ 96. Ke6 Rc6+ 97. Kd5 Rh6 {[The pawn is stopped and the defending King is within his 3 square zone, and so the position is drawn. However, there is one more tactical trick to avoid before the draw is in hand.]} 98. Ke4 Kg2 ({Not} 98... Kg4 $4 99. Rg1+ Kxh5 100. Kf5 $18) 99. Rh4 Kg3 100. Rh1 Kg2 1/2-1/2

We have only scratched the surface of this difficult endgame, but you can approach the task with confidence if only a few "typical" positions are kept in mind. Rook endgames are fundamental to this final phase of any chess game. Good luck with your next Rook and Rook pawn ending!