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LCB, Issue #008 -- Rooks and Bishops are Endgame Terminators
January 01, 2012

Endgame Terminators

Lapoc Chess Board, Issue #008 -- Rooks and Bishops are Endgame Terminators

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Last month we concentrated on King and Pawn Endgames where one side is two pawns up. We took a detailed look at the use of some tactical bombs that you can use in such situations to close out the win.

This month we're going to start with a specific Rook Endgame, figuring out how it should be played. This one is the Rook and Two Connected Pawns vs Rook Endgame which is always won. But finding that win can be tricky if you don't know how. Luckily it is surprisingly easy and a lot of fun. Then we'll consider why the seventh rank is so important to any ambitious rook and why it should always be a central theme in your game plan.

Later we discover the delights of a King vs Two Bishops Endgame. Ask yourself this. If you found yourself in an endgame with two bishops and a king against a lone king, would you know how to use those bishops to force the checkmate on the king? Yes? No? Well again this is a simple mating procedure and after today you will be able to do it with your eyes closed.

Finally to wrap up we will check in on a Bishops of Opposite Color Endgame where one side is two pawns up. We will find out how the weaker bishop can easily make a draw.

Rook Endgame Strategies

Rook and Two Connected Pawns vs Rook

A king, rook and two connected pawns vs a king and rook is always a win for the side with the two pawns. It doesn't matter what files the pawns are on although it only helps the stronger side if they are central. Even if they are on the two outer files, a rook pawn and a knight pawn, the win is still quite simple. It just takes a little longer, that's all.

It's just a matter of keeping your pawns close together and keeping the king in contact with the two of them. The rook is placed on an outer file at the edge of the board where it will slowly drive the enemy king back with lateral checks. The weaker king must stay in front of the pawns so as to delay promotion and the weaker rook will try to hassle the stronger king with checks from the side and the rear.

This is quite futile however as the king uses his pawns to shield himself from the attacks. As the rook does not have a diagonal move, it takes two moves to get from a rear check to a lateral check and vice versa. It is during these two moves, while the rook is turning the corner, that progress can be made and a pawn can be advanced.

Eventually when both pawns reach the sixth rank, they are shutting the enemy king out of the seventh rank, thereby threatening mate through the rook. This forces the weaker rook to take a permanently passive position on the home rank to prevent it. Checking the stronger king from the rear doesn't help, in fact it only serves to give the king free moves to take a threatening position on the seventh rank.

When the king reaches the seventh rank, the stronger rook is brought to a central position. Next, under the protection of the king, it is played on to the eighth rank forking the enemy king and rook, forcing the exchange. All that remains is the simple promotion procedure of one of the pawns followed by a simple mate. The initial advance of the pawns is a little more laborious if you have two outer pawns. This is because the stronger king only has one wing to work with, when evading the rook but this difficulty is easily overcome. To gain a full appreciation of how to play this one, play through the moves of the Rook and Two Connected Pawns vs Rook Endgame.

The Seventh Rank is the Promised Land

Everyone will tell you that you should strive get your rooks on the seventh rank by whatever means possible. It should always be one of your main objectives when devising your overall plan for a game. What's so special about the seventh rank and why do you want your rooks to take control of it? Well there are a couple of reasons.

  • It forms the base of your opponent's pawn structure. If you can get a rook on the seventh rank (sometimes called a pig), he can start gobbling up pawns, leading to a collapse of the pawn structure. Without the protection of the pawn chain, the enemy camp is defenseless to invasion and your troops can start pouring through for the decisive attack.
  • In the latter stages, all pieces especially the kings, should be centralized. If you get your rook established on the seventh rank with enemy king trapped on the home rank, he will be condemned to passivity for the remainder. If your king takes a central position and your opponent's king is frozen out of the game, then you have a major advantage in the endgame.
  • If you can get a rook or even two on the seventh, there are all sorts of potential mating possibilities if the enemy king is on the home rank. Back rank mates can be a threat, two rooks on the seventh can threaten pawns in front of a castled king.
Here is a taster of what damage you can do with rooks on the seventh rank.

Bishop Endgame Strategies

Two Bishops vs Lone King

So after an epic struggle, the dust settles and you're left with a king and two bishops and your opponent is down to his king. Great, you're up two pieces, victory is within touching distance. But how do you finish this?

Bishops are a little unwieldy for beginners. Most people don't like them starting off. I remember when I first learned to play, the bishop was my least favorite piece. Now sometimes I think it might be the one I like the best.

The secret in this endgame is to harness the power of the Bishop Pair. When the two bishops are standing side by side, one controls the light diagonals and the other controls the dark diagonals. When the two take up central positions, they actually control much of the board as their combined power reaches into the four corners. The enemy king is confined to one of four small island clusters of squares along each of the four edges of the board. He cannot approach the bishops head on as they control the adjacent squares.

Now all you need to do is to bring your king opposite the enemy king and drive him to the edge. When this is done you can use the bishops to herd him towards the corner, one square at a time, while your king keeps him pinned to the rim. When he moves into the corner, your king will control two of his three flight squares while the third will be controlled by the bishop that delivered the previous check. The second bishop will then deliver the check mate. Two Bishops vs Lone King.

Opposite Colors - Drawing from Two Pawns Down

Let's consider an endgame with bishops of opposite colors facing off against each other. Now lets suppose one bishop has two pawns and the other has none. So that's a king, bishop and two pawns versus a king and bishop. Should be an easy win for the side with the two pawns right. Well yes as long as there are two or more files between the pawns. But if there is just one, the defending king and bishop can work together to form a blockade against both pawns and the stronger side can't break through.

The defending king takes up a position on the home rank on the file between the advancing pawns while his bishop takes control of a long diagonal which one of the pawns must cross. If the bishop must take the pawn he will have the protection of the king so that pawn mustn't be advanced. If the stronger king takes a walk around to the other pawn to support it's advance, the defending king will step in front of that pawn to prevent his counterpart from reaching the seventh rank.

The stronger bishop is on the wrong color squares and is effectively irrelevant. Had it been on the same color squares as the enemy bishop, a trade of a bishop and pawn could be forced and the remaining pawn would be promoted. Play through the moves to get the gist. Yes if there is only one file between the two pawns you can draw a Bishops of Opposite Colors Endgame from two pawns down.
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