Lucena Position

Lucena Position

It is no secret that understanding endgame theory is crucial to playing better chess. The Lucena position is one of the most common endgames, and as such, every chess player should learn it.

Here is what you need to know about the Lucena position.


What Is The Lucena Position?

The Lucena position is one of the most common rook-and-pawn endgames in chess. It occurs when the defending player has a king and a rook, and the other player has an extra pawn that is about to promote, a king that occupies the promotion square, and a rook that cuts off the enemy king by at least one file. For the Lucena position to occur, the extra pawn that is almost promoting cannot be on the first or eighth file.

The Lucena position.
The Lucena position works only if the enemy king is cut off and the extra pawn is not on the first or eighth file.

The name Lucena comes from the theorist and chessmaster Luis Ramirez de Lucena, author of the oldest surviving printed book on chess. Ironically, quite a few historians agree that this position was not featured in his book.

Why Is The Lucena Position Important?

Because rook endgames are the most common types of endings in chess, they are essential to study. The Lucena position is one of these endgames that is always winning for the side with the extra pawn. If a player knows how to proceed, there is no way to stop them from winning the game.

On the other hand, this position can be counterintuitive for those who are not familiar with its theory. If the defending player knows the principles behind the position and the attacking player does not, the player who is ahead can have a tough time trying to convert the game.

How To Win With The Lucena Position

Let's begin by looking at a possible starting Lucena position: an extra pawn on d7, a king on the promotion square, and a rook that is cutting off the opponent's king.

Another Lucena position.
The enemy king is cut off by the rook, and the king is in front of the pawn.

First, let's understand White's problem in this position. The king is on the d8-square, making it impossible for the pawn on d7 to promote. White wishes to move the king aside so they can promote their pawn and win the game.

Black, on the other hand, wants to prevent that sequence. They plan to keep checking the white king as soon as it gets out of the pawn's way. If White decides to chase the rook with the king, Black can eventually capture the white pawn on d7.

White cannot promote the pawn this way.
Black keeps checking the white king. Notice that White can never stray too far from their pawn.

Now that you understand White's problem in this position, you are ready to learn how to solve it. White's goal is to create a barrier between the black rook and the white pawn. This barrier would allow White to crown their pawn and win the game with their extra queen.

A barrier protecting the pawn in the Lucena position.
What would happen if White could block the squares between the rook and the pawn on the d-file?

Knowing that the goal is to create a shield for White's pawn to promote, you can now understand the correct way: move the rook to the fourth file (fifth if you reach this position with the black pieces). Let's take a look at the resulting position and think about Black's defense shown above. Would it still work?

Rook maneuver in the Lucena position.
White starts maneuvering their pieces to protect their pawn.

No, it would not! Now, if Black tries to stop White from promoting by delivering multiple checks, White will be able to create a barrier to protect their pawn and win the game. The reason behind moving the rook to the fourth rank is now clear: the rook can be one of the pieces that shields the pawn.

White converts the Lucena position.
The rook on the fourth file allows the king to march toward the black rook.

The fact that the king and the rook can create a barrier that protects the pawn is the central theme behind the Lucena position. If the attacking side reaches this position, there is no stopping them from winning. Now let's understand several important points of this endgame.

First, it is important to remember that the enemy king must be cut off from the action for this strategy to work. If the defending king is more than two files away from the pawn, you do not even need to worry about the rook maneuver.

Black's king is too far.
Black is completely helpless if their king is more than two files away from the pawn.

However, if the king is just one file away from the pawn, you need to take some precautions first. Always remember that your opponent's king needs to be at least two files away from your pawn for you to win.

The first step is to push the enemy monarch farther away from your pieces by checking it with your rook.

White needs to push the king away.
White checks the black king to push it away.

At this point, your enemy has two options: move away from the pawn or try to move closer. Let's start by looking at what would happen if they tried to step closer. In this scenario, your king can simply step directly in front of the enemy king. Black's king acts as a shield for your monarch, and they cannot stop you from promoting your pawn with the next move.

Black cannot go near the pawn.
Black can try to keep their king close to the pawn. Notice, however, that their king shields yours.

Since Black cannot move their king closer to the pawn, they must step away from it. In this case, we are back to the position we analyzed before, and you already know how to win.

White can now win easily.
You already know how to win in this position.

Tricks And Traps In The Lucena Position

If your opponent is familiar with the Lucena Position, they will do everything in their power to prevent you from performing the right attacking moves. Their best chance is to catch you off-guard by playing other defensive lines.

One trick your opponent can throw at you is to attack your rook with their king. Imagine that you move your rook to the fourth rank, and instead of passively stepping back, their king moves closer to your rook to prevent you from shielding your pawn.

Black tries to defend against the Lucena position.
This aggressive-looking move by Black seems strong.

It may seem like this defensive move can ruin your attacking plans. After all, your rook has to move, or your opponent can capture it.

However, by moving their king to the fifth rank, your opponent has left the eighth rank unprotected and will not have time to move their king back to its defensive post. The easiest way to win is to move your rook to the eighth rank to protect the promotion square of your pawn.

Black's defense does not work.
Black's aggressive play does not end well for them.

In this position, Black's strategy of checking your king multiple times does not work. You can keep moving your king closer to the enemy rook until they cannot check you anymore and stop your pawn from promoting.

The rook protects the pawn.
The Black king is no longer protecting the eighth rank, allowing the rook to defend the promotion square and the white king to chase the black rook.

Your opponent can also try another approach to avoid losing. Imagine you reach the position below with Black to move. Instead of giving you a check and helping you to carry out your original plan, they make a waiting move so you cannot move your king closer to your rook.

Black makes a waiting move.
Black plays a seemingly innocent waiting move to deceive you.

In this position, it is easy to make a fatal mistake. You cannot promote your pawn, or Black can capture it with their rook. If you move your rook to the fifth rank hoping to create a barrier for your pawn, Black has a surprising move that forces a draw. They can take advantage of your overloaded king and capture your pawn with their rook.

A tragic mistake for White in the Lucena position.
If you play the wrong move, Black can force a draw. Your king cannot protect both your pawn and rook.

So, how do you make progress? The easiest way is to move your rook to the eighth rank to control the promotion square.

Winning the Lucena position once more.
A familiar position to you.

After this move, Black must start checking your king again to try to stop you from promoting your pawn. This tactic also proves ineffective since you can now chase the rook with your king.

There is no way to defend the Lucena position.
Your king can now step away from the pawn since the rook is protecting the promotion square.

As you can see, if you know how to employ the correct technique for the Lucena position and how to checkmate using a king and a rook or a king and a queen, there is no way to stop you from winning.

Test Your Skills

After reading about the Lucena position and learning how to win, it is time for you to put your skills to the test. Use the knowledge you have just gained to win the game. Be careful with your opponent's tricks!

Puzzle 1: What move should you play in this position to start setting up a barrier to protect your pawn?

Puzzle 2: Your opponent is trying to trick you by attacking your rook. How can you guarantee a win?

Puzzle 3: How can you keep making progress in this position?

Conclusion

You now know what the Lucena position is and how to win when you reach it. Do not forget to head over to our Lessons page and learn other essential rook-and-pawn endgames such as the Philidor position.