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Do or Die with Rook Endings

IM John Watson Avg Rating: 1470 Endgames

Endings with rooks and pawns are by far the most common endings in chess. You will probably lose or gain as more points in these positions than in all other endings combined. Therefore you need to know the basic positions, and some strategic principles when the play becomes more difficult. I want to have you learn and practice the former, and give you a feel for the latter.

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  • The Basic Position with Black's King on the Last Rank

    We'll start out with the most fundamental rook-and-pawn endings that involve rook-and-pawn versus rook. They are probably more useful to master than any other rook endings. In this lesson we look at a basic starting position.
  • Philidor Position

    The Philidor Position is the most basic of all defensive postures in rook-and-pawn endings, and the easiest to remember. I've twice seen promising young players rated above 2200 USCF lose games because they didn't know this defense. It's so simple that you can play it perfectly in Blitz, using almost no time on your clock.
  • The Short Side

    There's one more basic technique to know for the defender: checking from a distance. This relates to the concept of the king escaping to the 'short side'. It succeeds in securing a draw when the Philidor position isn't available. If you memorize the idea, you will even be able to play the right moves in time trouble.
  • Practice Makes Perfect!

    Let's practice the techniques of the previous lessons.
  • The Passive Defence

    You may be wondering what happens if Black just hangs around on the first rank. This is called the "passive defence", and like most passive setups in chess, it is a last resort.
  • An Exceptional Case

    When the extra pawn is a knight pawn, the situation is exceptional in two respects. This lesson illustrates the first one.
  • The Knight Pawn Exception, Part 2

    We just saw that the normal rook move behind the pawn doesn't work when White has a passed pawn. How else can Black try to draw?
  • Lucena's All-Important Position

    Very often the stronger side can cut the king of the weaker side off by one or more files. In the example in this lesson, White wins by a concrete method that MUST be memorized. As early as 1497, the Spaniard Lucena demonstrated this method. Along with the Philidor defensive method from the first lessons, it is the most important of the rook-and-pawn endings, since it arises so often. Getting to the Lucena Position is the goal of the side with the extra, and must be avoided by his opponent.
  • Practice with the Lucena Position

    Let's get a little practice with the Lucena Position method that you learned in the last lesson.
  • Defense From A Distance

    If the stars are aligned and White's pawn hasn't advanced very far, then you can sometimes still draw even if your king is cut off by a file.
  • Where do Rooks Go?

    Now we move to a situation of rook-versus-pawn. This doesn't happen as often as rook-and-pawn versus rook, but it's important to know when you're winning, losing or drawing such endings before you get them on the board.
  • Another Way to Stop a Pawn

    Sometimes you can't get behind the pawn in time, but there's another way.
  • Escorting a Pawn to the Ball

    When you want to queen your pawn, sometimes you have to be rude to the other pieces!
  • Practice the Shoulder Technique

    Let's get some practice with the shoulder technique we just learned. This one's pretty tricky!
  • Another Shoulder Problem

    Here's another look at the shouldering idea. The solution looks a little different this time.
  • Extra Pawns

    Let's put another pawn on the board and see how that changes things. Shouldering and opposition will be important here, too.
  • Rook vs Connected Passed Pawns

    Now let's look at the rook versus connected passed pawns. They are easy to get used to, with a couple of simple things to remember.
  • Connected Pawns Continued

    More connected pawns, and the 6th rank rule is still the most important. But it's not easy by a long shot.
  • A Little Calculation Never Hurt

    Here's another connected pawns example. This time it's with a knight pawn and rook pawn, which changes a few things.
  • A Study by Reti

    We finish with a study by the great Richard Reti. It illustrates several basic endgame techniques.

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