How to Play a Proper Endgame in Blitz #4: Rook Endgames: Part 1

How to Play a Proper Endgame in Blitz #4: Rook Endgames: Part 1

CM Chessdemon2019

Hello blitz players! Rook endgames are the most common endgame to be achieved. They have been analysed thoroughly and have more winning and drawing positions than any other endgame. They are extremely hard to play in blitz due to perpetual checks and time shortages.

Many people regard rook endgames as easy to convert and extremely hard to defend. But that is not true, especially in blitz. In blitz, it is much easier to defend all your pawns then to attack your opponent's pawns. There are so many important things about rook endgames that this will be the first part of 2 articles. I have a collection of tips for playing a rook endgame during blitz that could improve your game. Note: This article is best for players U2200 in FIDE rating.

The first part will be mostly about technique. The second part will show more analysed positions that have been analysed thoroughly.

1. Get Your Rook up the Board

Many of you are extremely familiar with the "Rooks on the 7th win" phrase. That is usually true, because most of the opponent's pawns are on the 7th rank when you enter a rook endgame. Having an active rook is so important. It is worth sacrificing time and pawns sometimes just to get an active rook. It is hard to play a good rook endgame in blitz because of the mobility and activity of the rook.

Although black has so much more activity than white, white can hold his position quite comfortably because all his pawns are defended by his rook and king. Obviously, black is playing for the win. He can try b4 and break through, but with best play, white should hold easily.

Getting your rook up the board will not do much if your rook does not attack the enemy pawns. In the position above, there is no way for black to attack white's pawns with his rook.

Rook endgames have a high drawing tendency, contrary to what most people believe. They are a lot more decisive than bishop endgames (see How to Play a Proper Endgame in Blitz #3: Bishop Endgames), but they are easy to draw due to how many pawns are lost while converting. Most rook and pawn vs rook endgames are drawn, so one-pawn advantage does not guarantee a win.

Some positions are extremely hard to convert, if not impossible. White in the above position is able to defend all key squares and get a draw relatively easily.

This might not be the case in blitz however, if you are up a pawn, never accept a draw offer from the opponent, even if in a drawn position. Your opponent must use up time to find the right moves, as in the above position, it is much harder to play as white compared to black.

Note that black's rook is up the board and white's must stay passive. Black brings his rook up, something that you should do no matter what. This tip is extremely important, so reread if you missed any details.

2. Cutoff

Many players just check the opponent's king when they are low on time. However, when you are low on time, this is exactly NOT what you should do. Your opponent's already know what you will try to do and premove with their king, after which you will lose even more time. Instead, use your rook and restrict your opponent's king from moving. If you are lucky, your opponent's premove fails and you win on time!

The fifth-rank cutoff, an extremely famous idea, takes its place in rook endgames as a fundamental weakness of the king. Rooks and control whole ranks and files, so a king that wants to cross over to one side cannot cross over to the other.

This is a typical winning position because of the black king being cut off by the white rook.

Black's king cannot help black's rook defend against the king and pawn. Rooks are horrible blockaders and are extremely bad with passed pawns. Without the king's help, black loses extremely easily.

It is always a good idea to cut off the king from the action, where the passed pawns and open files are. The king is a better defender while the rook is a better attacker. Maneuvering your king and rook while restricting the opponent's king is an extremely good strategy.

Notice that the king on f6 is cut off via the e-file while white's king was able to breach into black's position. White wins because black is so restricted and can't move anything.

3. Passed Pawns Must be Pushed

This endgame guideline is especially true in rook endgames. Like I said above, rooks are horrible blockaders and can't stop a passed pawn by themselves. The king is a much better blockader compared to the rook, which is much better at attacking the enemy's pawns. The reason why passed pawns must be pushed is to avoid the opponent's king to get in front of your pawn and to force your opponent's rook in the front.

In this case white pushes his passed a-pawn, even though it seems like it does not make a difference whatsoever. Black's king wants to blockade the pawn as he can't simplify. White takes advantage of that and pushes his pawn so the black king can't touch it. This theme repeats itself and is an extremely deadly weapon.

4. Risk Taking and Simplification 

In blitz, risk taking can make you lose the game or make your opponent lose on time. Like how I analysed knight endgames and bishop endgames in my previous articles (check out my blog for more info), rook endgames follow the same rules. Keep the rooks on the board if you do not have a passed pawn, and exchange if you do. However, rook endgames are a lot more complicated, so sometimes these positions arise. Calculation is still the basis of simplification.

Check out the bishop endgames article by clicking here for the basic guidelines on when to simplify. Bishop endgames and rook endgames both have high drawing tendencies, making them somewhat similar.

5. Stay Calm

Like in the previous 3 articles, staying calm is the source of success. If you do not stay calm, you will panic and thus lose your endgames. In blitz, staying calm is extremely important as that is when your brain is focused the most. In blitz, it is extremely hard to stay calm, sometimes even I can't as the game is extremely complicated. However, if you are able to stay calm, and you play your best, you will win your games, whether on or an OTB tournament game.

Thanks for reading!

CM Chessdemon2019

P.S please check out my previous articles for some more of my tips for playing proper endgames in blitz! Check out my blog for some more stuff to read!

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