Chess Endgame Tactics: Rook and Pawn endings – Part 1

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All is well that ends well is probably at its truest in case of chess endgames! The endgame is the phase where the amateurs are at greatest disadvantage against experienced opponents. They are often at a loss on how to move or position their few pieces and pawns, with the result that they lose or draw games that should have been won.

We have discussed about the general principles of the endgame tactics that should be adopted in different kinds of endings though these were for King and other pieces against a lone King. But amongst the endgame situations that occur in chess games, Rook and Pawn endings are by far the most common and so you should learn the specific tactics that will help you in handling different types of such endings effectively.

In fact, knowing these patterns is helpful for deciding on your action plans. If you know that the situation is favorable, you will persevere to get the win. But if the position is a theoretical draw, you can settle with your opponent without wasting time and effort.

The knowledge of such patterns also helps you to decide on your strategy even before entering the endgame phase. Depending on the chessboard situation, you can exchange and/or move pieces and pawns to reach the pattern that is best possible for you.

Let us now examine some basic positions in Rook and Pawn endings. One fundamental tenet is that a Rook is helpless against two connected passed pawns that have reached the sixth rank.

White to move and win:

Rook and Pawn ending type 1

  1. g7 Rc8    
  2. f7 Rb8+    
  3. Ka6 Kc6    
  4. g8=Q      

In the following position, White will win no matter who has the first move. Check for yourself.

Rook and Pawn ending type 2

But had the Black King been ahead of the pawns to cooperate with his Rook, both White pawns would be captured and Black would win.

Let us now look at King, Rook and Pawn against King and Rook. There are various possibilities.

Rook and Pawn ending type 3

We remind you again about what we said on Chess Strategies for positioning your Rook with reference to your passed pawn. Rook behind your Pawn adds power to it, Rook in front of it makes both immobile. The above is a typical situation which results in a draw. The White Rook cannot come out as the Pawn will get captured. If White King tries to go towards its Pawn, it will not get any shelter against Black Rook’s checks!

But Black has to ensure that the King remains on the seventh rank. If it were on, say, the sixth rank, White Rook would gain a tempo by delivering a check, and the Pawn gets promoted on the next move. Black will lose his Rook against the promoted Queen and White King and Rook will win against the lone King.

Even on the seventh rank, Black King must not stray beyond one square from the edge. See what happens otherwise.

1. Kg2 Kg7
2. Kf2 Kf7
3. Rh8 Rxa7
4. Rh7+ skewers the Rook and wins the game

The presence of other pawns on the board may sometimes mask the position containing above theme. If you can identify it and can make your pawn moves, even sacrificing those as necessary, in such a way that the enemy King is exposed and forced to move to the sixth rank or two squares away from the edge, you can apply above tactics to capture the Rook. Of course, you should be sure that the result of exchanges will not allow your opponent to get one of his pawns to reach position of promotion!

In Endgame Tactics for Rook and Pawn Endings Part 2, we will discuss some more endgames with Rook and Pawn.