Endgame Fundamentals: Mate with King and Rook

By Donny Gray

One of the first things I test a new student on is whether they can mate with a lone queen and a lone rook.  Today I will show you how I teach students how to mate with a lone rook.

As usual, there are always several ways to accomplish something in chess.  The old saying comes to mind: “Show 10 masters a winning position and get back 10 different solutions.”

That is one of the things I like about chess: You can have your own style.  So without further ado, let’s take a look at how I teach this basic mate.

If you use the following steps, you will mate with a rook every time.

Step #1: Get the king and rook together




At most, it will take you only 2 moves to do this.  For example, in our first diagram white can do this with:

1.Ra3 Ke5

As you can see in diagram #2, once you get the king and rook touching each other it makes a box around the black king.




Once we get the black king in a box, we will NEVER let him out nor will we ever make the box bigger.  He will be mated in the corner of the box, which in this case is a8.

Step #2: Always make the box smaller if you can. If you cannot, then move the white king as close as you can to the black king, all the while making sure your king still touches your rook.

3….. Ke4

Now we would love to make the box smaller, but there is a problem. If we do, the black king will just take the rook.

For example, if we play 4.Ke3 or 4.Rf4, it does indeed make the box smaller but the rook would be taken. So, as stated before in this case, we move our king as close as we can to the black king, but making sure we continue to touch the rook for protection.


Here 4.Kf2 would also work, but to me Kg3 looks closer to the black king. You want to get your king as close as you can to the black king, as this repels the black king faster than otherwise.  The faster we get him to the corner, the faster you will win.

4…… Ke5

Now we can make the box smaller with:


If we now take a look at the position and compare it with diagram 2, we see that the box has indeed gotten smaller, which is exactly what we want to happen.




Now let’s take a break here and discuss how small do we continue to make the box?

The last thing we want to do is make the smallest box possible, because that would be stalemate!

If we made the smallest box possible it would look like diagram #4:




As you see, black has been stalemated. Black is not in check and has no legal move, so stalemate. Not good if you are white and just threw away the win!

So, the question is when do we quit making boxes smaller and smaller? My answer to this has always been when we reach the magic squares!

No one else calls them the magic squares but me. It was just something I came up with to teach students. Let’s take a look at what magic squares are, and why we would want to get them.

First of all, IF you can get your king and rook on the magic squares, and the black king is trapped, it will be mate in either one move or two moves every single time!

Now let’s take a look at what magic squares look like. Each corner has them, so it does not matter which corner you are forcing the black king to be mated.




As you can see in diagram #5, each corner has magic squares. For example:

Corner a8 has the magic squares b6 and c7
Corner a1 has the magic squares c2 and b3
Corner h8 has the magic squares f7 and g6
Corner h1 has the magic squares f2 and g3

So the answer to the above question is to continue to make the box smaller and smaller until our king and rook occupy the magic squares of that corner.  Back now to our game.

5….. Kd5
6.Kf3 Ke5
7.Ke3 Kd5

With our last move, we once again make the box smaller.

8. ….. Kd6
9. Kd4

With our last move, we could not make the box smaller without the black king either taking our rook or jumping out of the box , so we move our king as close as we can to the black king.

9.  ….. Kc6
10. Re5

Making the box smaller again

10. …. Kd6

Now we come to a special case in this mate, as shown in diagram #6:




If we move Rd5+ it does make the box smaller, but black would just jump out of the box with Ke6. And if we make the box smaller with Re6+ black would just take the rook for free.  So what to do?  Remember we NEVER EVER make the box bigger, so we move here….


We sometimes have to back the king up, but NEVER the rook.  Once we do back the king up like this, however, black will once again be subjected to smaller and smaller boxes.  Let’s continue.

11.  ….. Kc6
12. Rd5

And as you see we have successfully made the box smaller yet again.  Now we will continue to make the box smaller until we reach the magic squares.

12…… Kc6
13.Ke6 Kc7
14.Rd6 Kb7
15.Kd5 Kc7
16.Kc5 Kb7
17.Rc6 Ka7

We have now put the rook on a magic square!  Now all we have to do is get the king to the other one.

18…. Ka8
19.Kc6 Ka7

We now have the king on the other magic square.

20…… Ka8

Let’s take a look now with another diagram.




We now have the black king trapped in a box with our king and rook on the magic squares. As I said before, once we have done this it is either mate in one or mate in two every time.

In this case,  as in diagram #7, it is mate in one with


The only other way the black king could have ended up with us having the magic squares is shown in diagram #8.




In diagram #8 we see that the black king ended up on a7 instead of a8 once we got the magic squares.  In this case it is mate in two.

All we need to do is “waste” a move.  In other words, make it black’s turn so he will have to move to the corner.

We can do that by playing the rook right next to the king!

1.Rc6! Ka8
Black’s only move.



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