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LCB, Issue #010 -- Mastering the Ways of the Rook Pawn in Rook Endgames
March 01, 2012

Discovering the Magic of the Rook Pawn

Lapoc Chess Board, Issue #010 -- Mastering the Ways of the Rook Pawn in Rook Endgames

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Last month we dealt with some interesting tricks in King and Pawn endgames designed to turn the tables on your opponent. We discovered that there can be peculiarities hidden in some of these positions that can turn a game on it's head. Nowhere was that more evident than in the King and Pawn endgame composition given to us by the gifted Czech master of the 1920s, Richard Reti.

This month we'll be looking exclusively at Rook and Pawn vs Rook endgames. We're progressively upping the bar and this will be a little more advanced than what we have done before. We start out with some fundamental cornerstone type positions involving rook pawns. You saw a couple of issues back how to execute the Lucena Position and close out the victory. That's alright if the pawn is on a central file. But what if you're dealing with a rook pawn. You know those rook pawns always make things so much trickier. It's only possible to win if the enemy king is marooned four files away and you need to play it crafty.

Now that we've got you in the mood for Rook and Pawn Endgames, we'll make things even trickier. Let's take the king out from his hiding place and stick the rook in there instead! Let's make promotion a real challenge. Find out how to play the position from both sides when the rook is in front of it's seventh rank pawn. Then we'll do the same with a rook pawn on the sixth rank. And for this month's warm-down we look at Rook and Pawn endgames with central pawns on the fifth rank and then on the fourth rank.

Rook and Pawn Endgames

The Lucena Position - With a Rook Pawn!

A couple of issues back we talked about the fundamental, must know, Rook and Pawn endgame position, the Lucena Position. You've got a rook, king and pawn remaining. Your opponent has just a king and rook. You need to promote the pawn or force the rook sacrifice in order to win.

You get your pawn to the seventh rank with your king in front of it. Your opponent's rook is in the file behind the pawn and his king is on the seventh or eighth rank two files away. Your own rook is on the first or second rank on the file between the two kings. This is the Lucena Position and you force the win through the simple maneuvers we discussed before. Driving the enemy king away, dodging the checks on the way back to the fifth rank, building the bridge and so on. All very simple.

But what if it's a rook pawn. Slightly more complicated right? Right. It's no longer necessarily a win. In the real Lucena, where you have a knight, bishop or central pawn, the enemy king need only be isolated one file away for a forced win. Now there must be four files between the pawn and the enemy king, or else your opponent can hold for a draw. The defending king can be no nearer than the bishop file on the opposite wing. If you have those four files then victory is still within reach. Just a matter of learning the routine.

You simply bring your rook to the enemy knight's starting square beside your king, driving the weaker rook off the knights file. This allows the king to get out of the corner. The enemy rook will subject the king to some checks but this is fine because he can get on his bike and stroll along the eighth rank, eventually using the enemy king as a shield. When the enemy king tries to get across to intercept the pawn, you will sacrifice your rook by checking the king from close range on the third square in on the long diagonal. This will allow the pawn to queen with check, ensuring that your opponent cannot use his rook, which should be on the other wing by now, to skewer the king and win the queen. Play through the moves to nail the "Lucena" with a Rook Pawn.

Rook in Front of Sixth Rank and Seventh Rank Pawns

If you thought that was tough let's mix it up a bit. Same pieces but instead of a king in front of the rook pawn, let's put the rook in the corner in front of it's pawn with the enemy rook attacking it from behind.

The weaker king is shuffling between two squares, on the same rank as the pawn, and on the opposite wing. This is the only part of the entire board that he is not vulnerable to a decisive rook check winning the tempo for promotion or the corner to corner maneuver as the rook ready's itself to pick up it's opposite number should it dare to take the pawn.

The stronger king takes up a central position and will move towards his pawn. But this is a drawn position. The defending rook will harry the king with checks, not allowing the attacking rook to escape. However if the pawn is on the sixth rank, the stronger side has more chances for victory. The attacking king can get on to the seventh rank, taking shelter from the pawn and releasing the rook. But the defenders can still save it. They have another ace to play. It's called the Vancura Position. The active defending rook changes position and uses lateral checks to frustrate the enemy's progress. Play through the moves and learn how to navigate the seventh and sixth rank rook pawns including the Vancura Position.

Rook and Pawn vs Rook (4th and 5th Rank Pawns)

Okay let's suppose we have a king, rook and central or bishop pawn against a king and rook. Let's say the king is on his fourth rank and the pawn is just in front on the fifth rank. The defending rook is on the same file on his home rank. The attacking rook is on the adjacent file, on the Long Side of the board. This is the side with most files from where the pawn is. If the pawn is on the c-file, the long side is files d,e,f,g and h. The Short Side is files a and b.

If the pawn is on the 5th rank, and the defending king is isolated by one file, the attacking player wins if he has the move. The rook locks the defending king out of the action and the defending rook cannot stop the attacking king from shepherding the pawn to promotion. The only way to stop this is for the rook to be sacrificed and this loses anyway.

The defending player can only draw if he has the move and his king is close enough to his rook to support a takeover of the isolating file from the other rook. Then the defending king can get across and move in front of the enemy pawn and a draw is assured. If the pawn is on the fourth rank, the defending king needs to be isolated two files away for the victory to be assured. In the case of the defending king being only one file away, certain aspects of the position determine whether the game is drawn or won. Play through the moves to master the promotion or defense of 4th and 5th rank pawns.

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