Chess/The Endgame/Rook and Pawn Endings

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Endgames where one side has a rook and the other a rook and one or more pawns, with no other pieces except the kings, is one of the most common in chess. Knowing the concepts of how these endgames work is essential to the intermediate to advanced player, and can result in many wins from otherwise drawn situations (or draws from otherwise lost situations).

Rook and pawn endings are very complex, and even professional players don't always execute them correctly. This module cannot provide a completely comprehensive guide of the subject, but aims to educate you to the most common, basic techniques.

Following is a list of different rook vs. rook scenarios. They assume that there are no other pieces on the board not indicated (except for kings). The goal in each for the attacking side is to promote a pawn, in which case the attacking side can then exchange rooks and execute a king-and-queen-versus-king checkmate.

Three or More Pawns and Rook vs. Rook[edit | edit source]

This situation should always be a win for the side that has the pawns and is not terribly difficult to play (especially if at least two of the pawns are on adjacent files.). The defending player's rook cannot cover all pawns at once as they advance down the board.

Two Pawns and Rook vs. Rook[edit | edit source]

This scenario usually results in a win for the player that's ahead, but in practice can be more challenging to execute. If the two pawns are connected, or on adjacent files, then the win is comparatively easy because one pawn can support another as they march down the board and the defending side cannot block one pawn with his king without getting checked.

When the pawns are separated, then things are less clear. If there is a large distance between pawns (two or more files), the attacking side may have trouble defending both at once and may opt to give up one pawn to transition into a more favourable (but harder) single pawn endgame.

It is also important to take into consideration how advanced the pawns are. If they are on the second-third rank, then queening will be inherently harder because of the distance they need to travel to reach (which results in more time for the defending player to blockade).

One Pawn and Rook vs. Rook[edit | edit source]

Situations where one side has only a single pawn are the most complex of all rook and pawn endgames. Unlike the two above scenarios, they are not cut-and-dried, and there are more factors involved, such as the positions of both kings and rooks and the file the pawn is on.

a b c d e f g h
8a8 black kingb8 black kingc8 black kingd8 black rooke8 black kingf8 black kingg8 black kingh8 black king8
7a7 black kingb7 black kingc7 black kingd7 black kinge7 black kingf7 black kingg7 black kingh7 black king7
6a6 black kingb6 black kingc6 black kingd6 black kinge6 white kingf6 black kingg6 black kingh6 black king6
5a5 black kingb5 black kingc5 black kingd5 white pawne5 black kingf5 black kingg5 black kingh5 black king5
4a4 crossb4 crossc4 crossd4 crosse4 crossf4 crossg4 crossh4 white rook4
3a3 black kingb3 black kingc3 black kingd3 black kinge3 black kingf3 black kingg3 black kingh3 black king3
2a2 black kingb2 black kingc2 black kingd2 black kinge2 black kingf2 black kingg2 black kingh2 black king2
1a1 black kingb1 black kingc1 black kingd1 black kinge1 black kingf1 black kingg1 black kingh1 black king1
a b c d e f g h
Diagram 1: Black cannot prevent the pawn from queening, even if it's his turn, because his king is cut off from the action by White's rook.

As a general rule of thumb, if the defending side's king is a rank or more behind the pawn, then the pawn will queen because the attacking Rook can cut off the king from the action. (see Diagram 1). In this instance, white to play wins with 1. d6 Re8+ 2. Kd7 Rg8 3. Kc7 Rg7+ 4. d7! when black is out of checks and cannot defend the queening square.