A Rook or Two Minor Pieces? Part Three.

  • GM Gserper
  • | Oct 14, 2012

In the first two installments of this article we mostly discussed positions where a Rook was fighting against two minor pieces in an opening or a middle game.  Today we will talk about endgames. The good thing is, unlike openings and middle games, it is much easier to evaluate the R vs. two minor pieces situation in an endgame.  The bad news is, it is still a very complicated endgame to play!

The simplest rule to remember is: a passed pawn is practically always a decisive factor. But if two minor pieces can sometimes stop such a pawn, a lonely Rook is completely helpless in the majority of the cases. Here is a very instructive example:

How would you evaluate the position from the game played by two of the best players of their time? It is a no brainer: having a Rook and two pawns for two minor pieces, very active Rooks and a possibility to create a passed pawn on either side Black must be better.  Now take a look at the next position from the same game:

Black has made a lot of progress: he exchanged a pair of Rooks (which is almost always beneficial for the side who has a Rook!) and  has created a passed pawn.  And yet, White managed to blockade the pawn and according to Bronstein, the best for Black now was to accept a draw by the move repetition: 33... Rb4 34. Bc1 Rc4 , etc.  Instead, in a time trouble Botvinnik made a horrible move 33... h5??  Yes, by this move Black gets a bunch of passed pawns, but White gets his own passed pawn which is more valuable than all of Black passers combined! Now take a look at the end of the game and notice how helpless the Rook becomes when it faces passed pawns!

In the next game also played by two super GMs, White has a Rook and two passed pawns vs. two minor pieces again.  Moreover, the pawns are potentially connected passed pawns!  But the key word here is 'potentially'!  White was not able to create a real passer and Lasker managed to save the game.

Now enter just one passed pawn and a Rook easily beat two Knights in the next game played by another World Champion:

So, as you could see, a passed pawn is a decisive factor indeed and sometimes it is more important than material (e.g. in the first two games a R + two pawns couldn't beat two minor pieces because it didn't have passed pawns, but in the last example a R + a pawn easily won the game thanks to the 'a4' pawn.)

In conclusion, let's analyze the positions that happen frequently enough, where one side has just a Rook for two minor pieces, but all the pawns are located on the same side of the board. In most of the endgames like this two minor pieces win because when both of them attack the same pawn a lonely Rook cannot provide a defense. And in the cases where both sides have an additional pair of Rooks, you can even create an attack against your opponent's King using your "extra' piece:

The correct way to defend such endgames was shown by great Lasker. He has built a fortress where the only weakness (the 'g7' pawn) was so deep in his camp that his opponent couldn't really attack it without trading a bunch of pawns.  But then, due to the limited material left on the board White couldn't win anymore!

to be continued....


  • 4 years ago


    This whole series wound up being very relevant to a winning choice that I calculated in a recent game. Perfect timing and, as always, very good article, GM Serper.

  • 4 years ago


    You said that "a passed pawn is a decisive factor indeed", but, to me, it looked like being Kasparov is even more decisive...

  • 4 years ago

    NM Bab3s

    @szubiszubi White's best move is something like Be8, not going for the puzzle-like 1. Rxc6+ dxc6 2. Rxc6+ Kxc6 3. b5+ Qxb5 4. Be8+ Kd6 5. Bxb5 Ke6 with a dead draw.

  • 4 years ago


    dear Gregory! thank you for your admirable way of imparting! you are the paragon of creativity and patience! 

  • 4 years ago


    mrSzubiszubi, pork seesaw moves is left wd a KRP,nice puzzle thanx!

  • 4 years ago


    nice illustrations from master games

  • 4 years ago


    so nice

  • 4 years ago


    extremely relevant for me:)

  • 4 years ago


    The last game was a very nice illustration by Lasker in how to save yourself in lost positions. Looking forward to another awesome article!

  • 4 years ago


    Awesome the Rc8!! played by Kasparov!!!! :)

  • 4 years ago


  • 4 years ago


    MrMars - 

    If white play Bc5 the black takes ....Bxc5 + (its a check) and then takes the whites Rook Rxb8. White looses

  • 4 years ago


    To MrMars, it is Rb8+ not Rb1+ because it is from Black's point of view

  • 4 years ago


    the last game, on move 30 for white, couldn't he play Rb1+ forcing black to put his knight on f8...if bishop goes then RxR...

    when the knight goes can't white just play Bc5...if black takes then white takes the rook. is that not a winning endgame?

  • 4 years ago

    NM talcapa

    Great article, thanks GM Serper! I often hear that the side that has two rooks should try to exchange one of them. Are there cases when the opposite is true?

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