Sunday, December 26, 2010

Rook and Rook's Pawn versus Rook Endgame

These were the type of endgames looked at in the final session of the Melbourne Chess Club Endgame Group for 2010. Personally, I find these the easiest to classify and remember, though of course, that still won't necessarily make them easy to play. I got the idea for looking at these endings after I looked at the blog of Paul Cavezza, who regularly attends the MCC Endgame Group. Paul wrote a nice article on rook endings for beginners but I couldn't help notice that he didn't look at rook endgames where the stronger side has a rook's pawn. So, here's a look at the basics of these type of endings as we dealt with them at the Endgame group.

1. Pawn has reached the seventh rank, but it's king is in front.
The key for the defending side is to cut the attacking king off along the file, and have his own king close enough to the pawn. The defending king has to be 3 files or less away from the pawn. In this position white can make no progress as the only way he can force black's rook away from the b-file is to get his own rook to b8 or b7, but in the time it takes to do this, black's king will have reached c7 and it will then trap white's king.

When the defending king is 4 files away, white will have time to get his rook to b8. eg.
Here white plays 1.Rc3 Ke7 2.Rc8 Kd6! 3.Rb8 and forces black to give up the b-file which will allow white's king to escape. However, it still isn't easy to win this....check out Karsten Mueller's latest article which discusses this very ending. 3..Ra2 4.Kb7 Rb2+ 5.Kc8 Rc2+ 6.Kd8 Rh2 Threatening checkmate 7.Rb6+ Kc5 8.Rc6+! forcing the king to take as otherwise white plays 9.Rc8. 8..Kxc6 9.a8=Q+

2. The pawn has advanced to the 7th rank and the stronger side's rook sits in front of the pawn.

This is about the worst case scenario for white, unless black's king is away from the safe corner.
The only way white can make progress is if black decides to march his king to the queenside. 1.Kf2 Kh7 [1..Kf7?? 2.Rh8 Rxa7 3.Rh7 skewering the rook] 2.Ke3 Kg7 3.Kd4 Kh7 4.Kc5 Kg7 5.Kb6 Now that white's king defends his pawn black's rook becomes active. 5..Rb1+ 6.Kc7 Ra1 7.Kb8 Rb1+ 8.Kc8 Ra1 and whenever the white king defends the pawn it gets checked away with a draw inevitable.

This means that advancing the pawn to the seventh rank when the rook is in front and the enemy king is safe is a mistake.

3. The pawn has advanced to the 6th rank and the stronger side's rook sits in front of the pawn.

When the pawn is on the 6th rank it will give shelter to it's king on the square in front of it. If the defender uses the same technique as in the last example then they will lose. However, there is a defensive position called the Vancura Position (just as important in rook endgames as Philidor and Lucena positions) which is an important one to know.
Here, black's king is in it's safe corner and the rook sits on it's third rank attacking the enemy pawn and cutting off the white king from advancing to help it. Whenever the white king defends the pawn, it will be checked. 1.Kb5 Rf5+ 2.Kb6 Rf6+ 3.Kc7 Rf7+ 4.Kd6 Rf6+ 5.Ke5 Rc6 now the rook sits on the 6th rank cutting off the enemy king and threatening the pawn. This ties down the white rook to the pawn's defence. If white should ever advance the pawn, black must be able to play Ra6 getting to the same sort of position in the example above. eg  from the above position 1.Kb5 Rf5+ 2.Kb4 Rf6 3.a7 Ra6 4.Kb5 Ra1 with a draw.

These basic endgames provide some guideposts for us and aren't too difficult. Of course, practical examples aren't always so clearly defined. The pawn may be closer to home while both kings and rooks could be anywhere on the board. But for now, this is the basic knowledge that needs to be understood before attempting more difficult positions and before some other concepts are introduced.

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