Crash Course: Rook Endgames

Updated: Oct 27, 2020

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"All rook endings are drawn." - Tarrasch

Tarrasch's famous quote my stand true for some positions but for others, well... not quite. 

While rook endings are known to be drawish, they are also notoriously difficult to master. One big reason for this is simply because they occur so often in so many different forms. And, sadly, due to the ever-increasing body of theory attached to rook endgames, anyone who doesn't devote hours of time a day to rook endings will always remain a rook ending novice. 

But don't worry!! 

*Get a rook endgame checklist that tells you everything you need to know. It's free. Click here.*

The information presented in this blog will provide you with enough knowledge to grasp the basics of rook endgames and allow you to play them with confidence!

Common and must-know rook endgame positions are as follows:

  • Lucena Position and sub variations

  • Philidor Position and when they go bad

  • Rook in front of its 7th rank pawn

  • Vancura Position

  • Rook and pawn on the 4th or 5th

  • Rook and 2 connected pawns vs. Rook

*Get an even more comprehensive picture of endgames by clicking here.*

1. Lucena Position and sub variations

Every serious chess player must know this position by heart. Period. It is a position that serves a crucial role as a guidepost for other endings. White needs to do two things if he wants to win:

1. Move his King off of d8

2. Promote his d-pawn!

But, at the moment, Black prevents that plan with the King and Rook. So, we must find a way to get them out of the way!

Now that you have mastered the Lucena position, it is time to move on to harder positions! Let's take a look at the "Lucena Position" but with a rook pawn.

White can only win these kinds of positions if the Black King is cut off by more than 4 or more files. White must find a way for his King to escape by bringing the his Rook to b8. But beware, the technique to actually win this position isn't easy to come by!

2. Philidor Position and when they go bad

This is a pure Philidor and it is completely drawn! White is a pawn up, has a centralized King, and a more active Rook. But Black's next move completely seals the draw.

Now we will look at when Black can't use the 3rd rank defense and gets a"bad Philidor".

3. Rook in front of its 7th rank pawn

But, Black must be aware of a fatal trick in this endgame!

4. Vancura Position

The below position is the Vancura Position and deals with a Rook-pawn on the 6th rather than 7th. In the shown set-up, Black can gives checks along the f-file and attack a6 to keep the White Rook tied down. White's King has nowhere to hide

Note: Black can't try the above method as White's King would simply hide on a7 and bring the Rook to b6, securing a victory.

5. Rook and pawn on the 4th or 5th

There is a decent chunk of theory in these types of Rook endgames and I will only briefly touch on it. 

Here are some rules:

  • If there is a pawn on the 5th and the defenders King is cut off by 1 file and on the Long Side of the board, it is a win.

  • If there is a pawn on the 4th and the defenders King is cut off by 2 files, it is a win. Although, if the pawn is a Knight-pawn, it takes 3 files.

That was when the defender had his King on the Long Side. If it were on the Short Side, the position would be drawn. Take a look:

Here is one more example to wrap up this section:

6. Rook and 2 connected pawns vs. Rook

This section may seem trivial to some as you are up two connected passers! But there are tricks that one needs to be aware of.

I will use one of my own embarrassing games to display what can go wrong if not handled correctly.

That concludes this crash course of rook endings and thanks for reading!😉

*Want to go above and beyond with your endgames? Get a complete resource guide here.*

To get even better at rook endings make sure to reference Silman's Complete Endgame Course or Dvoretsky's Endgame Maunal as they are excellent resources and helped me make this blog.

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