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Rook and NP (or RP) vs Rook
by Arthur E. Holmer
Rook endings are very common in chess and are estimated to account for approximately 50 per cent of all chess endgames. These endgames are very diverse and can involve all the other pieces and pawns. This makes for a massive undertaking to learn how to play all of these endings effectively.
Grandmaster Lev Alburt considers rook and knight pawn vs rook, and rook and rook pawn vs rook endgames to be the most fundamental of all rook endings and that they are a key to more complicated positions. So, they are a great place to start.
Grandmaster Reuben Fine gives us the guiding rule for these endgames on page 294 of Basic Chess Endings2.
“General Rule: If the Black king can reach the queening square, the game is drawn; if not the game is lost.“ Fine also comments “While this is true in most cases, it must be regarded as only a convenient rule of thumb. In particular the rook-pawn is an exception to the second part.”
To illustrate the rule, we will start with two model examples of this ending that Lev Alburt gives on page 201 of Chess for the Gifted and Busy1, to illustrate when the inferior side has a rock solid draw. First a knight pawn.
| Drawn with either side to move|
Alburt notes “Here it’s a draw, regardless of who’s on the move, as long as Black passively (and correctly) keeps his rook on the eighth rank for example 1. ... Rg7+ Kh8, etc. (but not 1. ... Kf8?? 2. Kh7 and White will win.)”
And now a rook pawn.
White to move|
Alburt notes “You can see that Black cannot be forced out of the corner here either.” If 1. h7+ , then 1. ... Kh8 and the Black rook will shuttle back and forth until a draw is declared.
So the technique is simple; the defending king must reach the attacking pawn’s queening square and the defending rook must be placed on the eighth rank. Sometimes attaining this arrangement is not so simple. As a caveat to this Alburt also adds “But that only goes for knight and rook pawns.” Keep this in mind as there is a whole universe of possibilities for bishop, queen and king pawns.
Going back to Reuben Fine’s general rule given above, what about the situation where the Black king cannot reach the queening square? Fine says the game is lost and sites this famous position as a model example.
Black to move, White wins|
This is position No. 623, page 298, Basic Chess Endings2, the well-known Lucena Position.
Wikipedia notes “The Lucena position is named after the Spaniard Luis Ramírez de Lucena, although it is something of a misnomer, because the position does not in fact appear in his book on chess, Repetición de Amores e Arte de Axedrez (1497). It does appear, however, in Alessandro Salvio's Il Puttino (1634), a romance on the career of the chess player Leonardo da Cutri.” Wikipedia also notes “the position can be moved as a whole or mirrored so that the pawn is on any of the files b through g.”
From Diagram No. 3 above, Fine gives “White wins in all analogous positions except with rook-pawn. The solution is 1. ... Rh3 2. Rf4! (‘building a bridge’ is an apt description of the winning method) 2. ... Rh1 3.Re4+ Kd7 4. Kf7 Rf1+ 5. Kg6 Rg1+ 6. Kf6 Rf1+ 7. Kg5 Rg1+ 8. Rg4 and wins.” The essential parameter in both cases is king location. The side that gets the king to the queening square wins.