The Wrong Rook

Game Robert Byrne – Fischer, US Championship 1963/64
Comments after 14.Rfd1 …
“Add another to those melancholy case histories entitled: The Wrong Rook.”
Robert Fischer
“This is very much a case of ‘the wrong rook’. One can understand Byrne’s desire to break the pin on the e2-knight, but this turns out to be less important than other considerations. Fischer spends a lot of time and energy analysing the superior 14. Rad1!, but still comes to the conclusion that Black can keep the advantage.”
John Nunn

A rook endgame always makes me think first of Tarrasch and his saying “all rook endgames are drawn”. Time and time again I found this to be true on both sides of the chessboard: the side drawing from a less fortunate situation, or just drawing in a situation where a win was very possible. What I learned from these experiences is that such endgames are very resourceful, require deep thinking and understanding, as well as setting up a goal and stubbornly pushing for it. Another tip is the chess engines should not be used here as learning tools. They can play and solve all endgame positions for up to 6 pieces on the chessboard (kings included) only by raw calculation. That is not helpful to a player looking to use this knowledge in their games.

The following endgame is very interesting: both sides have the pair of rooks left on the board, White seems to threaten checkmate by forcing the Black King onto the a-file, while Black has total control of the 2nd rank and a sure perpetual if it would be his turn. Please have a look at it too and come up with your own conclusion before you move further.

White to move has to look into that checkmate idea or the game ends in a draw. The 2 options are very simple: 1.Rd1+ … or 1.Rd3+ … Does it matter which rook is used? The first impression I got when I looked at it is that it does not matter. We will need to verify that! Secondly you observe that Black’s defensive resource to stop 1.Rd1+ … (or any other check by this Rook) with 1… Rd2 (or where needed) do not work for a simple reason: 1.Rd1+ Rd2 2.Rd3+! Rxd3 3.Rxd3+ K anywhere 4.Kxh2 … 1-0 Does this means we have an easy win? It is time to try each move and see the outcome. Unfortunately this is harder to do in an OTB game without practice. In that case the mental challenge is greater. You can prepare for it in advance by doing endgame practicing at home.

1.Rd1+ …

1.Rd3+ …

It is not a problem anymore to decide which one to choose, right? The wrong rook to check with is clearly Re3. Now in order to learn something useful, you should not just stop here and must continue with asking yourself the reason for this difference. Why are the 2 similar choices leading to different results? At the end of both lines we see the Black king either being one square short from attacking the 3rd rank rook or managing to attack it right on time to cancel the attack on Rh2. This is a bit surprising and possibly not easy to get a feeling for without raw calculation. In my opinion the first line wins because it forces black to bring the rook over for cover one move faster. In that case the Black king cannot come close enough to become useful. If you can sort this out in your head and do a mental image comparison of the 2 final positions, this is going to put you in the position to win this one and a lot of extra half points in your own endgames!

Valer Eugen Demian

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About Valer Eugen Demian

The player - my first serious chess tournament was back in 1974, a little bit late for today's standards. Over the years I have had the opportunity to play all forms of chess from OTB to postal, email and server chess. The journey as a player brought me a lot of experience and a few titles along the way: FIDE CM (2012), ICCF IM (2001) and one ICCF SIM norm (2004). The instructor - my career as a chess teacher and coach started in 1994 and continues strong. I have been awarded the FIDE Instructor title (2007) for my work and have been blessed with great students reaching the highest levels (CYCC, NAYCCC, Pan-Am, WYCC). I am very proud of them! See my website for more information. I have developed my own chess curriculum on 6 levels based on my overall chess knowledge and hands-on experience. A glimpse of it can be seen in my first chess app: I can help you learn chess the proper way if this is what you seek!