Chess Endgame Tactics: Basic Rook and Pawn endings

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In basic Rook and Pawn chess endings, as shown in following diagrams, White has a Rook and Pawn against only Rook for Black. White’s plan is to find ways to promote his Pawn with the help of his Rook while Black will use his Rook to try to stop that promotion.

Basic positions in Rook and Pawn endings

In position 1, the White Pawn cannot advance without getting captured. The White Rook cannot leave the seventh rank for the same reason. But the Black Rook is free to move up and down that file and still retain its hold on the Pawn.

In position 2 also, the White Rook cannot leave the seventh rank but White can now play Rf7 and Black Rook is unable to leave its position. If Black Rook moves along the rank, White will play Rf8 followed by g8=Q or gxf8=Q depending on Black Rook’s move.

The White Rook is badly placed in both these positions. But in position 3, the White Rook is able to move along the file and the Black Rook is tied to its position. If the White King can reach the Pawn first, Black will lose the Rook or the Pawn will get promoted. But if the Black King can do that, the Pawn will get captured. For the same reasons, Black’s position gets much better in position 4.

It should be clear that the Rook is best placed behind the pawn whether the Pawn belongs to you or not.

If we now examine the following position, we see how the promotion check can be effected or prevented.

Basic Rook and Pawn endings for promotion check

Here the White Rook cannot leave its position without allowing the Pawn capture by Black Rook. But to force White Rook to remain immobile, Black King itself is forced to shuttle between a7 and b7 squares only. If the King ventures to rank 6, White can immediately give check and promote the Pawn on next move. If the Black King remains on rank 7 but moves to c7, White will play Ra8! If Black Rook captures the Pawn, White’s move Ra7+ captures the Black Rook. Any other move by Black will allow White to promote the Pawn. In this type of situation, both the above two possibilities are to be considered when trying to move the King along a rank or file.

The rule that needs to be remembered in chess endings with Rook and Pawn against Rook is that if the defending King can reach the promotion square, it is a draw. If this can be prevented, the Pawn will get promoted. The exception is when the Pawn is on the Rook file because even if the attacking King reaches the promotion square. The defending Rook on Rank 7 or defending King in opposition or continuous check by defending Rook can prevent the Pawn promotion. It is extremely difficult to promote Rook’s Pawn because of the above and a draw is the most likely result.

We have shown in Chess Endgame Tactics for Rook and Pawn endings that a Rook alone cannot stop the promotion of one of the two connected passed Pawns when both have reached the sixth rank. But even a single Pawn in contact with its King, if able to advance to rank 4 or beyond, will draw against a Rook provided the enemy King cannot come to the support of its Rook. This will be clear from the following diagram.

Basic Rook and Pawn endings with Rook and Pawn against Rook

Though White Pawn has reached rank 4, White King has not. In this position with Black to play, Black would win as shown below.

1. Rh4  
2. a5 Kb1  
3. a6 Kc1  
4. a7 Rh8  
5. Kb4 Ra8  
6. Kb5 Rxa7   wins for Black


It can be seen that if the White King were one more step ahead, it would be supporting the Pawn preventing the capture by Black Rook. Having the first move, White would play Kb4 bringing both the King and Pawn to the 4th rank, and the end result would be a draw.

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