Studying Rook Endgames

  • WGM Natalia_Pogonina
  • | Nov 15, 2011

Rook endgames are the most common ones in chess. Unfortunately, they are also complicated both in terms of evaluation and in terms of knowing how to play them. Therefore, it is not surprising that Tarrasch used to say that “all rook endgames are drawn.” Sometimes having an extra pawn (or even two) is not sufficient for a victory. While in queen endgames one can often escape with a perpetual check (thanks to the queen’s mobility and power), in rook endgames the coordination between all the pieces is more important. Rook endgames are really must-know, so don’t forget to study them and get some practice. One of the most respected authors on rook endgames is Mark Dvoretzky. His books are arguably the best on this topic.

So, how does one study rook endgames? First of all, review the theoretical positions, i.e. those endgames where the result is well-known. For example, positions with five pieces: two kings, two rooks, an extra pawn for one of the sides. The defending player must make sure he knows the Philidor position, and the attacker – the Lucena position. These are two most common techniques. All the theoretical positions should be memorized and played out against an opponent. You can practice against your coach, friend, or even set up the position on a PC (that IS challenging). Regarding theoretical positions: you have to KNOW them, i.e. keep in mind how to play move per move. Relying on general principles may let you down; you have to memorize precise variations.

Comprehensive knowledge of basic theoretical positions allows us to understand which transformations are beneficial for us, and which are not. For example, should you trade into a certain endgame or not? Will it be won/drawn/lost? If you keep those in mind, it will be easier for you to study theoretical positions that involve more pawns, but where we know only principles and plans, not the precise move order. For example, in most cases one can’t win a rook endgame with just one extra pawn on one side of the board (e.g. 2 vs 1, 3 vs 2, 4 vs 3). However, a lot depends on the particular position and the players’ endgame technique. Rook endgames are very demanding both in terms of calculation and understanding.

After having studied the theoretical positions one can take on standard ones. In those we don’t know for certain what the outcome is, but we still can use some defensive/offensive plans. For example, a rook endgame with 3 pawns vs 3 pawns on one side, and an extra pawn on the other side. Such positions are tricky. Nonetheless, if you know the typical ideas, playing them will be easier. Don’t forget not only to read about those, but also to practice at home!

Once you are done with all the theory, you can go through different examples from masters’ games. E.g. in Dvoretzky’s books there are many interesting and insightful cases that will help you grasp the essence of rook endgames.

Naturally, no matter how good your memory is, you will have to review the manuals from time to time, as many positions are very difficult to memorize for any player.

[ed note: there is a lot of good material on rook endgames on as well: this guide to videos on the subject, and here you can also find a bunch of rook endgames to practice against a computer opponent

Rook endgames are really complicated. The good news is that if you study them well, you will often save worse endgames and win equal ones. Being confident in your endgame technique will greatly improve your overall mastery and make you a more universal player. Also, keep in mind that this will be noticeable not only in endgames, but in other stages of the games as well, as you will boost your calculation skills; adopt new opening lines; get a sense of what you are heading for in the middlegame.

The following game was played in the 2nd round of the European Club Cup vs WGM Olga Girya. The endgame that happened there was winning, but I failed to convert it.


After the opening a position with mutual chances occurred. I missed a few interesting continuations and ended up in a position in which I could press for a win only by taking risks. On move 29 I played an adventurous continuation and got a worse position, but my opponent didn’t take advantage of that misstep. Later she herself blundered twice in time trouble, and I got a winning rook endgame. Most rook endgames with extra connected passers are 1-0. In this case I had just one extra pawn, but the connected passers and Black’s lack of counter-play were enough for a victory. Nonetheless, I managed to spoil the game by blundering in return. Rook endgames require lots of precision and skill.


  • 13 months ago


    Dvoretsky's books are not meant for beginners, they are arguably the best, I completely agree, there is a systematic approach to his teaching, methodology, which is better compared to other leading coaches of the day. I like the other teacher members of his books also. His books are very mathematical, proves each point with the help of variations. 

    It is written in the very beginning of his book that they are meant for 2200 and above, and would help such players become GMs in 4-5 years time, 2004 written. Mark Dvoretsky's endgame Manual. They are not meant for young children, not all content.

  • 13 months ago


    Am new here, and not tech savvy, don't know how to use these sites, can someone please tell me how to follow these articles of Grandmasters or get regular updates on our account if possible?

  • 13 months ago


    Hi Natalia, that was a very insightful article, amazing clarity of thoughts. Lucena and Vancura positions are the first ones to be learnt, building blocks of Rook endgames. More than 50% endgames would be Rook endgames, because the probability of exchange of minor pieces in the earlier parts of the games is quite high, thus making it compulsory to master Rook endgames after mastering pawn and pawn and Knight endgames.

    Really good article. Nice.

  • 21 months ago


    Great article Natalia, i love it.  I can't wait to see the next one and hope that it is as fun and interesting as this one.  Oh, and that picture totally matches a chess board.Smile!  Cool!  Laughing!  

  • 3 years ago

    WGM Natalia_Pogonina

    Let’s stay in touch on social networks! Here are my official accounts:

    Account 1, Account 2, Account 3

  • 5 years ago


    Cool article, thank you. The 3rd edition of Dvorestky's Endgame Manual arrived on the shelves here last month and I can happily say I that am now the proud owner of a copy. Next to Kotov's Think Like a Grandmaster and Nimzowitsch's My System, I consider it one of my wisest purchases. Oh, and just in case anyone is wondering, I am neither friend nor relative of any of the aforementioned authors. ;P

  • 5 years ago


    Very good article thanks a lot for the post :)
  • 5 years ago


    great stuff.beautiful.impeccable.

  • 5 years ago


    i love steinitz and stouton haward and dubois and all the champion

    if we see the scandien défense dor exemple 1e4 d5 2 e*d5

    all this opening are not exctly because when 1e4 c6 2 d4 d5 3 f3 here this move i thik is not good like you play a scandinavien the jugment of opening and this game is like a deuch like 1d4 e6 2 c4 d5 3 Nc3 e6 4 e3 f5 is like that

    and here the player choice the Bb4 i thik is not stronf this move.

    Bd6 is more better.

    i think all the game we has not the piont of vue of tactic player .

    and we has not the sens of surprice.

    like for exemple.

    1e4 c6 2 d4 d5 3 e*d5 e*d5 and here pogonina can play the panov botvi,ik attack.

    of core when blanc play Nf6 you can contuned by NC3 and Nf3 AND take the d5 pown and Bb5+ and rook and Qb3 make some pressure.

    i yhik that if we see stratégie we see in our day the most tactic palyer with the 1d4 pown is boris gelfend.

    and if we want play 1e4 we should be more serious.

    i reas other article for you natalia and i see that you play ruy lopez 1e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5+ a6 4 B*c6 b*c6 5 00 Qf6 this move that you talk 5...Qf6 is not the main line because anand play 5...f6 so you should see the téorie game.

    the spéciliste of 1e4 is anand .

    so i think this games is not very strong.

    pogonina you has a chance to study more .

    i ask you a quetion how many position after 2 move can be in chess game it's a good question.

    so the game of chess . all player make mistake of jugment for exmaple kramnik vs judit pulgar 1e4 d5 2 e*d5 Q*d5 3 Nc3 Qd6 (the tiviakov systéme)

    kramnik here los because the jugment of this opening  is not very strong (lowenthal say we consider this move (1 e4 d5  here the d5 move) of evading an ope, games as decidely inferior to either 1....e6 1....c5 (the french and sicilien opening)though but some short time ago it was in high repture and was even adopted by mr staounton at the birminghal meeting) so good luk pogonina i heope that isee you the chmpion of the world here you can play vs some player like nikita volkov and all 2666 rating and tiviako why not second tiviakov is very strong. you systéme of game is not strange.

    when you want to be a chmpion you should has a stronge game of couse this why you play 1the 3...f3 your fide rating is 2446 i think that you can win all.

    you play the sécilien many times and the caro can with 3...f3 and the ruy lopez

    so the preparation with you is very easy. i think

    the marge of progressin of you natalia is not very clear.

    i give you some idéea of 19 th century you should scrifice pown in game and attack the king side and here you can win easly like this

    for example sacrifice the c7 and quenn side rook and attack the king side not bad idea iwin a game like that.

  • 5 years ago


    must ... mention ... Rubinstein ... rook endgames ...

  • 5 years ago


    turns out natalie wood's parents were russian immigrants

  • 5 years ago


    There is as much value knowing how-not-to-play as it is to know how-to-play. Thanks for explaining both sides Natalia.

  • 5 years ago


    nice article Natalia!

  • 5 years ago


    They all love it

  • 5 years ago


    MikeTiriko that's an embarassing thing to say, especially when your "optimum play" doesn't appear to have got you anywhere near this Woman GRAND MASTER's level....

  • 5 years ago


    +1 suzette!

  • 5 years ago


    Many chessmasters post articles recommending Dvoretsky and Muller endgame manuals as the best. It's misleading. Professionals or master candidates are knowledgable about these kind of stuff. If we address ourselves to the many ranges of amateurs (99% of members), these type of manuals will make you bore and later hate the endgame, which in fact, is one of the most beautiful aspects of the game.

    My advice, take a look at more simple books. I started reading the ending chapters of Capablancas Chess Fundamentals (one of the best books to understand many basic patterns of chess) and now I am taking slowly, spanish GM De la Villas book, 100 Endgames You Must Know. The title of this book is also misleading. In the -2000 FIDE level, don't feel obliged to learn the hundred. The basic endings an intermmediate player should master are about 20/25, and a begginer, much less. Anyway, De la Villa manual is great, well explained and easy to understand. Others in the same line are Averbachs Chess Endings Essential Knowledge and I haven't read Silmans but I guess it should be similar (specially if he is more concise than in his late, neverending articles in

    Then, watch videos (for non diamond members) in YT. and many others have posted loads of 10min videos. Really, considering Nakamura declared haven't read a single chess book in his life, perhaps you may skip the books and attack directly the videos.

    And last and least, practice what you learned in books and videos. Computer workout. If you aren't a premium member use your own engine. Set up the position you saw in the book/video and play against the engine. First the defending side and after a few times, when you guess you sorted out the pattern, switch sides.

  • 5 years ago


    an 1800 range commentator.   Barely noticeable and certainly forgetable.

  • 5 years ago


    yes, you are right :) my end game was good when i was 10-12 but then i gave up and started to study my lessons and mathematical olympiad :) now i want at least, to regain what i lost :) thanks for article :)

  • 5 years ago


    Did somebody really just make a disparaging comment about Studying weak IMs or Women GMs just leading down weaker path?  Really?  Somebody who has a 2500 FIDE rating posted an article about rook endgames and a commenter makes an insulting remark. I don't think I've ever commented on here since I'm a lowly 1400, but I would take lessons from Ms. Natalia any day!

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