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Rook and Bishop-, Queen- or King-Pawn vs Rook Ending
Arthur E. Holmer
In a previous article (Rook and Knight-pawn or Rook-Pawn vs Rook in the April - June 2021 Chess Correspondent, p. 48) we saw that the inferior side of a rook and knight pawn or rook pawn vs rook endgame could draw if the defending king could reach the pawn’s queening square and the defending rook can operate on the eighth rank. This approach is known as the passive defense. As a review, here is an excellent example of this type of solid draw given by Mueller and Lamprecht3.
|Diagram No. 1 - White to move|
This is Diagram No. 6.34 on page 178 of Fundamental Chess Endings3. Here Mueller comments “It is important to know that a back-rank defense is only possible with a knight or rook pawn and gives 1. Rg7+ Kh8! 2. Rh7+ Kg8, draw. To win, White would need there to be an 'i-file'.” The situation changes significantly when we substitute a bishop, queen or king pawn for the knight or rook pawn.
Mueller gives an illustrative position for a bishop pawn on page 178 of Fundamental Chess Endings,3:
|Diagram No. 2 - White to move|
Here Mueller gives “1. Rg7+ Kf8 (1. ... Kh8 2. Rh7+ Kg8 3. f7+ winning) 2. Rh7! Kg8 3. f7+! winning. This illustrates what Mueller’s previous comment about a hypothetical i-file is all about. So, is all lost for the inferior side when we have a bishop pawn? Not at all. Mueller and Lamprecht now show when the inferior side can hold the draw against a bishop pawn. It is called Philidor’s position or method. Mueller and Lamprecht consider this technique to be the most important position in the entire Fundamental Chess Endings volume!
|Diagram No. 3 - Black to move|
This is Diagram No. 6.33 on page 177 of Fundamental Chess Endings3. It is attributed to a 1777 study published by Andre Philidor, a French musician and composer who happened to be one of the strongest chess players in the world. The key difference in the Philidor position is that the pawn has not reached the sixth rank. This is a crucial aspect of the position. The method depends on the pawn not having reached the sixth rank. Reuben Fine sums up the general approach on page 151 of Chess the Easy Way2. Fines gives “The general draw is achieved by keeping the rook on the third rank until the pawn reaches the sixth, and then by playing to the eighth.” For diagram No. 3, Mueller and Lamprecht give “1. ... Rb6! 2. f6 There is no other try. A rook exchange results in a drawn pawn ending and other ideas are answered by ... Kf7 or waiting moves by the rook on the third rank. 2. ... Rb1(!) Once the pawn has advanced, White lacks a shield against checks from behind, and Black immediately exploits this. 3. Kg6 Rg1+ 4. Kf5 Rf1+ 5. Ke6 Re1+ =.”
Alburt and Krogius give a more generic version of the Philidor position in Just the Facts! Winning Endgame Knowledge in One Volume1.
|Diagram No. 4 - Black to move|
This is diagram 175 on page 140 on page 140 of Just the Facts!1 Winning Endgame Knowledge in One Volume. Alburt and Krogius give “Diagram 175 represents one of those “generic” or matrix positions that can be moved to the left or right, up or down the board.” So, in other words, Philidor’s method can used to defend against bishop, king and queen pawns as well. Alburt and Krogius continue with the steps to a draw in this position. “1. ... Rb6 Step 1. Black keeps White’s king off the sixth rank. 2. e6 Rb1! Step 2. After White pushes his pawn to the sixth rank, Black’s rook immediately drops all the way “back” to harass the White king from the rear. 3. Kf6 Rf1+ 4. Ke5 Re1+ 5.Kd6 Rd1+ draw.
Philidor’s method is one of the most fundamental and important technique for rook endings. All chess players should become familiar with the technique.
1. Alburt, Lev, Krogius, Nikolay, Just the Facts! Winning Endgame Knowledge in One Volume, W.W. Norton, New York, 2001.
2. Fine, Reuben, Chess The Easy Way, David McKay Company, New York, 1942.
3. Mueller, Karsten, Lamprecht, Frank, Fundamental Chess Endings, Gambit Publications, London, 2001.