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Endgame Fundamentals: Rook vs. 2 Pawns

By Donny Gray

Most chess instructors will tell you that in chess there are always exceptions to general rules. In math, 2+2 always equals 4. However, in chess there are exceptions. For example, sometimes if you Queen a Pawn you will stalemate your opponent, but promoting to a Rook will win. Therefore, in some cases a Rook is better than a Queen. Not always, but sometimes.

In many Rook endings you get into a Pawn race. In most of them someone will Queen first. However, that is not always an advantage. Let’s look at an example of 2 Pawns vs. a Rook.

 

9-1

 

In position #1, we see that Black is ready to promote on the next move. Believe it or not, however, with best play this position is a draw at best.  And if White is not careful, he will lose. The reason he does not win is that the White pawns are not far enough advanced. The “General Rule” is that 2 pawns on the 6th rank will beat a Rook.  Of course there is that term “General Rule,” and I am sure you can come up with exceptions. But most of the time 2 Pawns on the 6th rank will beat a Rook.

Back to position #1.  If White tries to win by pushing one of the pawns he loses!

1. b5 Rf3+ !
2. Ka4 Rh3

And now Black’s h pawn will Queen.

Correct for White is…

1. Rh2+
Take that Pawn while the taking is good!

Now it is a draw with best play. There are many ways for Black to draw. This is a great position to load on your chess engine and see how Black draws. If you were ever in this situation, you need to know how to draw as black. I will give one example, but load it up on your computer and watch it draw in many ways with ease.

1. Rh2+ Kh2
2. b5      Kg3
3. b6      Rf1
4. Kb4   Kf4
5. Kc5!

If 5. c5??  Black wins!

so….5. Kc5  Ke5

6. b7    Rb1
7. Kc6  Rb4
8. c5     Rb1
9. Kc7  Kd5
10. c6   Rb3
11. Kc8 Kc6
Draw

If we move the Pawns up just 1 rank, White wins because he gets his pawns up to the 6th rank.

 

9-2

 

One way to win would be

1. Rh2+ Kh2
2. c6      Rf1
3. c7      Rc1
4. b6     Rb1+
5. Kc4   Rb6
6. c8-Q

White can win this, however we will not go into this ending at the moment. We can look at Queen vs. Rook some other day, but it can be won.

Now let’s look at a position from a Grandmaster game with this theme.

Sergey Karjakin – Alexander Morozevich
Tashkent 2012

 

9-3

 

As you can see, White has 2 Pawns far advanced, but Black is in the way with his b pawn. Black still has some way to go to get his King-side pawns moving.

On move 52, Black played

52.  …   Rc7?

Now we put a ? by Black’s last move, but normal humans would not know why. However, Karjakin is one of the world’s elite and knew exactly what to do!

53. Rc6!!

White sacrifices his Rook just to get 2 pawns to the 6th rank against a Rook.

53.  …   bc
54.  b6

And there you have it. Rook vs. 2 pawns. It still took a few moves but Black is doomed. I give the rest of the game to show how it was done.

54.  …     Rc8
55. b7     Rb8
56. Kc5   h4
57. a7      Rb7
58. a8–Q Rh7
59. Qg8+ Kh6
60. gh      Rg7
61. Qh8+ Kg6
62. h5+    Kf7
63. h6      Rg5+
64. Kd6   g3
65. Qh7+ Kf6
66. Qe7+ Kf5
67. Qg5+ Kg5
68. h7 Resigns 1 – 0

 

Here is the complete game:

 

 

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