The Endgame Tactician: Rook vs Pawns

Sep 16, 2007, 10:34 AM |

I've been studying Rook vs Pawn endings. Would you guess, in 54% of games the pawn suffices for a draw?! Read on to learn the secrets.

1. The Force Field

In the simplest case, you prevent the enemy king from accompanying his pawn.

If his pawn advances alone, your rook picks him off. For example, 1.Rg5 a5 2.Rf5 a4 3.Rg5 a3 4.Rg3! a2 5.Ra2 a1=Q 6.Rxa1 wins.

If his pawn doesn't advance, your king strolls to the a1 promotion square, and again it's an easy win for White. Eg, 1.Kh7, 2.Kh6, 3.Kh5, 4.Kg4, 5.Kf3, etc.

This technique works best against rook pawns, but only if the enemy king can be prevented from reaching his own fourth rank.

2. Entombing

If the enemy king steps on the same file as his rook pawn, you can trap him there.

1.Kc4 Ka3 2.Rb3+! Ka4 3.Rb5 Ka3 4.Rxa5+ wins.

3. The Tempo Count

The Tempo Count is a general tool you'll use in 80% of your Rook vs Pawn endings.

Count how many tempos it will take for the weaker side to promote. The king needs 2 tempos to reach a2. The pawn needs 4 tempos to reach b1.

Now, count how many tempos it will take for the stronger side to protect b1. The king needs 3 tempos to reach c2. The rook needs 1 tempo to reach g1.

Since the stronger side can protect b1 in 4 tempos, but the weaker side needs 6 tempos to promote, this game is a win for the stronger side. Tempo counting is faster and easier than thinking "I will move here, then he will move there..."

4. Checking for a Tempo

Sometimes you're one or two tempos away from winning.

The weaker side is 3 tempos from promoting. The stronger side is 3 tempos away from protecting b1, but the enemy king blocks the way.

However, after 1.Rc7+! Kb2 the weaker side is now 4 tempos away from promoting because his own king blocks his pawn. White can still defend b1 in only 3 tempos, and so wins easily.

5. Knight Underpromotion

What if you're on the weaker side, and your opponent threatens mate? Black's situation looks desperate.

1...c1=N+!, and it's a drawn Rook vs Knight ending.

6. The Cold Shoulder

The weaker side also has a trick to gain free tempos.

White needs 2 tempos to guard the promotion square: Kg2, Kf2. Black needs 3 tempos to promote: Ke3, Kd2, e1=Q is a loss for Black--too slow.

However, Kf3! draws by simultaneously moving Black's king closer to the promotion square while blocking out White's king.

7. Barbier,Saavedra 1895

This is a rare and fascinating study. White to win?! The natural moves 1.c7 Rd6+ 2.Kc5? Rd2! only draw.

I found a stronger sequence: 1.c7 Rd6+ 2.Kb5! Rd5+ 3.Kb4 Rd4+ 4.Kb3 Rd3+ 5. Kc2... but Black still draws if he spots 5.Rd4! 6.c8=Q Rc4+ 7.Qxc4 1/2-1/2. Barbier knew this.

However, the monk Saavedra invented an incredible continuation! 6.c8=R!! Ra4 7.Kb3 Kb1 8.Kxa4 and White wins.

8. Connected Pawns

A rook can even stop connected pawns all by itself--as long as it acts before they both reach the sixth rank.

The secret is to get behind the lead pawn. In this diagram, Rg6 then Rg4! wins.

9. Split Pawns

A lone rook can't stop a king and split pawns unless four or more files separate them.

In the diagram, if Black plays 1...Ke2? or 1...Kg2?, White plays 2.Rxa2! and draws.

With these tricks up your sleeve, you'll win or draw more than your fair share of Rook vs Pawn endings.   :)