Endgame Fundamentals: Famous Rook & Pawn Ending

By Donny Gray

Rook and pawn endings are extremely important to all players, regardless of their rating.  Between equal players there will be more rook and pawn endings than any other type.  Therefore, it is to your advantage to know them.

Today, I would like to work on one of the most important positions of all rook and pawn endings.  Take a look at the first position.




As you can see, white is a pawn ahead.  He can win this position.  But how?

Seems that to queen, white will have to move his rook out of the way, but if he does so black will just take the pawn on a7.

This is a position that you need to know how to play both sides.  You may one day end up on one side or the other, and it would be nice to know what to do!

Let’s take a look at some ideas.

The first idea that most beginners try is to move their king over to the black rook and then go help protect the pawn on a7.  Great plan!  However, if white plays Ke1, then black can force a draw with Kg7!!  At first, this makes no sense.  Why in the world would  moving the king away from the action draw?  Let’s take a look and see why.

1.Ke1        Kg7
2.Kd1        Kh7
3.Kc1        Kg7
4.Kb1        Ra6

Black, of course, makes sure that if the white rook moves he can just take the white pawn.

5.Kb2        Kh7
6.Kb3        Kg7
7.Kb4        Kh7
8.Kb5        Ra1

White has achieved his goal in protecting his pawn, so the rook can move away from the corner.  However…

9.  …        Rb1+
The point of black’s play.

If white moves his king to a6, then black just checks on a1.  If white moves away from protecting the pawn, black just plays back to a1 anyway, attacking the pawn.  White can make no progress ever.

So back to the starting position.  Since the king move to e1 draws, then the only thing left is to move the rook.  But where?  If he moves the rook, black just snaps off the pawn and almost all positions with no pawns and equal material are drawn.  Notice I said almost all.  There are exceptions, and this position is one of them.

White has 7 rook moves.  Only one works.  All others draw.




The winning move of course is Rh8!  Black has 2 choices.  He can take the pawn on a7, but this loses to Rh7+ with White winning the rook.  Now he can mate with his king and lone rook.  Black can also attack the rook with his king, but then he just plays a8-Q.  Now white wins again!  Easy once you see the solution.  This position should be stored away in your memory forever, as it will come up in play.  Trust me on this one!!


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