Rook Endings (3)

Last time I considered some simple rook and pawn v rook endings from the Richmond Junior Club database.

In this article I’ll show you a few slightly more complicated examples.

Caspar Bates, who had to choose a move with white in this position against his brother Pascal, returned to chess several years ago and is now an occasional player (for Richmond in the London League) and an excellent composer of endgame studies.

At this stage in his career, though, his knowledge of endings was limited. He had the opportunity to head for the Philidor position, but instead chose a passive defence with his rook. This should still be good enough to draw, and in this position he has three ways to share the point. In order to play this position accurately, both players have to be aware of two standard tactical ideas, one of which you saw last week.

White can draw by continuing his policy of passive defence, playing Rd1, when Black has no way to make progress. Or he can choose an active defence and play either Rb2 or Rf2, planning to move up the board and check from behind. But Rg2 (or Rh2) would lose to a skewer: Black would reply with d2+ (a discovered check) and, if White takes the pawn, pick up the rook via a skewer because the white king is too far away. If White doesn’t take the pawn, Ra1 will lead to the same thing.

Instead White chose Ke4. Now Black can use another tactical idea which you may remember from last week’s article. His two winning moves are Ra7 and Ra8. In both cases, if the white rook takes the pawn, a check from behind will force the king away and win the rook. And if White doesn’t take the pawn, again black rook checks from behind will prove decisive. Note, though, that Ra6 is only a draw because the white king will be close enough to approach the rook, meeting Re6+ with Kf5.

Alas, he missed his chance, and after several repetitions the game eventually resulted in a draw.

This rather atypical position should also be a draw, but Black, to play, chose what should have been a losing option: 46… Ra5. Now White has two winning moves: the simpler way to win is 47. Rb6+ but White’s actual choice of 47. Kd4 should also suffice. Now Black is in zugzwang: a horizontal rook move lets the pawn advance, a vertical rook move allows Kc5, a king move to, say, b2, allows Kc4. That leaves Black’s choice in the game, 47… Kb4, which White correctly met with 48. Rb6+ Ka4 49. Kc4 Ka3. Now White can win by choosing a horizontal rook move, when Black is again zugged. Instead he played 50. Rb3+, when, after 50… Ka2 he’d have to repeat moves and have another go at finding the winning idea. But Black preferred 50… Ka4. Now 51. Rb1, threatening mate, wins at once, but he missed it, repeating moves with 51. Rb6 Ka3. He still didn’t spot the zugzwang and decided to try a different idea, 52. Kb5, hoping Black would trade rooks. No such luck: she captured the pawn: 52… Rxa6. Now White could have offered a draw but instead played on, hoping Black would allow a rook mate: 53. Rb3+ Ka2 54. Kc3??, only to discover he was losing his rook after 54… Rc6+ 55. Kb4 Rb6+.

Disillusioned, perhaps, by the result of this game, White soon gave up his chess career, and now, more than 30 years on, is a partner in a firm of solicitors based just across the road from Richmond Junior Club’s current Twickenham venue.

The basic principle in these endings is that if your king can make contact with the promotion square you’re likely to get the result you want.

So in this position, with White to move, there are two winning moves: Kg6 and Kh6. The white king has to run up the board, using the rook to shelter from checks if necessary. Instead, White played the understandable but misguided 52. f5, when Black can hold the draw by activating his rook and preparing to check from behind. But now Black in turn erred by playing 52… Re5 to pin the pawn. White now demonstrated the win as follows: 53. Ra6 Kf7 54. Ra7+ Kf8 55. Kf6 Re4 56. Ra8+ Re8 57. Rxe8+ Kxe8 58. Kg7 (the only winning move) and Black resigned.

Black could have offered more resistance with 55… Ke8 when play might continue 56. Kg6 Rd8 57. f6 Kg8 58. Rg7+ (but not f7+ which only draws) 58… Kf8 59. Rh7 or 58… Kh8 59. Rh7+ Kg8 60. f7+.

Note that this is the type of position where Black will lose even though his king reaches the queening square because of White’s mate threats.

So chess improvers need to be aware of a few basic principles, some of which apply to all rook endings.

* Rooks belong behind passed pawns (RBBPP)
* Keep your pieces active at all times
* Play with a long-term plan in mind rather than just operating with immediate threats
* Your king needs to head towards the promotion square
* Be aware of the basic tactical ideas which happen in rook endings (the skewer, the check to force the king away from defending the rook)
* Develop your long-range calculating skills

I’ll have a few more examples for you next week.

Richard James

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About Richard James

Richard James is a professional chess teacher and writer living in Twickenham, and working mostly with younger children and beginners. He was the co-founder of Richmond Junior Chess Club in 1975 and its director until 2005. He is the webmaster of chessKIDS academy (www.chesskids.org.uk or www.chesskids.me.uk) and, most recently, the author of Chess for Kids and The Right Way to Teach Chess to Kids, both published by Right Way Books. Richard is currently the Curriculum Consultant for Chess in Schools and Communities (www.chessinschools.co.uk) as well as teaching chess in local schools and doing private tuition. He has been a member of Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club since 1966 and currently has an ECF grade of 177.