Rook Pawn Endgames – Simple Theoretical Draws

If you can get your king in front of your own pawn, in a single pawn endgame, then you can almost always force promotion, and therefore win the game. This technique has been demonstrated in the king and pawn endgame post. In summary, what you do is gain the opposition – the 2 kings seperated by one square, with your opponent to move means “you have the opposition” – then you outflank the enemy king and drive him back, until you are on a queening square. Then you push your pawn up the board. That is all well and good, except it is no good in rook pawn endgames.

No Way to Win

In the following position, there is no way for black to win – I hardly need to mention that white cannot win – regardless of who has the move, because of stalemate themes. First of all let`s suppose that it is white to move:

The draw is easy. All you have to do is oscillate the king back and forth on the squares g1 and h1. For example 1. Kh1 The pawn can`t promote if your king is in the way! …h2 stalemate = draw. The alternatives are no better, for example 1…Kf3 is met by 2. Kh2 going for the pawn …Kg4 keeping the pawn 3. Kg1 and after …Kg3 we are at the starting position again. Black has made no progress. If 1…Kf2 then 2. Kh2 wins the pawn. If it is black to move, then you use the same technique, for example: 1… Kf3 2. Kh2 and we are in the line discussed earlier. If 1…Kg4 then simply 2. Kh2 or even 2. Kh1. They are equally vaild drawing moves.

 

The King is in Jail

The main conclusion from rook pawn endgames is that they are almost always drawn, as long as the defending king is nearby. Even if the attacking king is in front of the pawn, there is a way to draw, and as the title suggests, it is about not letting your opponent`s king escape. This position is drawn regardless of who has the move:


If white is to move first, then all you do is oscillate between the f2 and f1 squares. For example, 1. Kf1 Kh2 2. Kf2 Kh1. If the black king is in prison, then I guess the white king is like a prison guard patrolling the door to the cell. If the prison guard moves away from the door, then the black king escapes, for example 1. Kf3 Kg1 and now the black king is on a queening square, the pawn will promote. 2. Kg3 h2 and there is no stopping h1=Q. When black plays h2, Kf1 is stalemate.

 

A Useless Bishop

If a bishop starts on a light square, then it will never land on a dark square, and vice versa, because of the nature of how the piece moves. This is important, becuase it means that bishops can only ever control half of the squares on the board. In the first endgame position, you can add a dark squared bishop to the board and it would still be a draw. In the second endgame, adding a dark squared bishop would create a way to win, because the black king is active enough. Lets consider these possibilites one by one:


As there are stalemate themes available, provided that white follows the right procedure, black can`t win. Black can try tricks of course, but these are normally quite easy to avoid. Let`s say it is black to move. 1… Bd4+ 2. Kh1 if black does not move his bishop off the diagonal a7-g1 then it is stalemate. …Bg7 3. Kg1 white will just move back and forth from g1 to h1. Any checks directed at g1, and the white king goes to h1. If black does not let the white king out to g1 it is stalemate, if he does, then the position repeats itself. …h2+ 4. Kh1 Kh3 stalemate.

Bad Bishop but Active King

In these endgames you want to have a bishop of the same colour as the queening square of the pawn, to support promotion, but if the attacking king is active enough. By which I mean it is in control of the queening squares, then a win is possible, even if your bishop is on the wrong coloured squares.

White to move:

Of course black does not have to rush, and can even waste moves if needs be, by making irrelevant bishop moves. 1. Kf1 patrolling the prisoners door, not allowing say Kg1 and the promotion of the pawn. …Bc7 (1…Bb8; 1…Bd6 and 1…Be5 also work) 2. Kf2 Bb6+ The bishop is on the right diagonal. 3. Kf1 keeping the black king in prison. Now we waste a move with …Bc5! wins. For example 4. Ke2 Kg2 If it was black to move first, then we would just get on with the plan, and play 1…Bc7!

Practical Example: Good Bishop and Pawn

At a chess congress I played at – 20th 4NCL (Nottingham) 2018 – There was an endgame between a FIDE master and an amateur, which was pawn and bishop versus lone king, but the bishop was on the right coloured sqaures. I included this example, to illustrate the difference between a good and a bad bishop. When you have a good bishop in these endgames, it is always won.

Nottingham, September 2018

Kramaley, David 

Willow, Jonah B

0-1

After 39 moves, this position was reached, with white to move:

At first glance, you might think that white is doing okay, because he has a couple of pawns for the piece, alas one of them is about to drop, because they are too weak, and the black king is actively placed.

White`s most stubborn defense is 40. Kc2 but black will win a pawn after …Bg5 e.g. 41. Kd3 Kf4 and white loses a pawn. In the game play continued 40. Kc4 Bxb2 41. Kxc5 Bxc3 42. f3 Kf4 43. Kxc6 Kxf3 44. Kd5 Kf4 

 

White is now in zugzwang. In other words, having the move is a disadvantage, because when the white king moves, the e4 pawn will drop (If you are unsure about this, then please leave a comment and I will reply within a couple of days). White can play a4 (played in the game), but that is to no avail, because black can just wait. If on the other hand 45. Kc4 then  …Bb2 and 46. Kb3 Be5 now the e-pawn will drop.

45. a4 Be5 46. a5 Bc3 47. a6 Be5 48. Kc4 Kxe4 49. Kc5 Bd4+ 50. Kc6 Bb6 51. Kb5 Kd5 

52. Kb4 Kc6 53. Ka4 Bd8 54. Kb4 Kb6 55. Ka4 Kxa6 56. Kb4 Kb6 57. Ka4 a5 58. Kb3 Kb5 59. Ka3 a4 60. Kb2 Kb4



61. Ka2 a3 resigns… There is no way for white to stop the pawn from promoting. For example 62. Kb1 Kb3 63. Ka1 Bf6+ 64. Kb1 Bd4 (wasting a move, to force the white king to a worse square) 65. Kc1 (only move) …a2 and there is no way to stop the a-pawn.

What is Strategy in Chess? – A Simple Overview

As you come across various chess books and talk with other chess players, you will hear certain words such as ‘strategy’ and ‘tactics’ being casually flung around. You may think you know what these words mean, but it is quite likely that you don’t understand the precise meaning of them, and what they are telling you about a position or game. In my glossary of chess terms, I have explained all of the jargon used in my posts, but the two aforementioned words require further explanation. The first question I am going to answer is: What is Strategy in Chess? and then: What is the difference between tactics and strategy?

The Difference Between Strategy and Tactics

A commonly held misconception is that the difference between the master and the club player is the ability to see ahead many moves. Some even go as far as to say some 20 moves ahead. While it is indeed an important part of chess, calculating concrete lengthy variations is not necessary in many positions. A more abstract approach can be taken, by evaluating certain positional elements and formulating a plan. This is called ‘strategy’. The ability to do this well comes with familiarity of master games and analysing your losses.

The term ‘tactics’ is referring to the means through which a player brings about an immediate change in the evaluation of the position. There is a vast array of tactical patterns, which can be applied to particular positions, for example the fork which often wins the ‘exchange’ (a rook for a minor piece). This winning of material can often be enough to win a game at a competetive level. Of course tactics can lead to other winning positions, such as checkmate combinations, which win on the spot, and (for example) the creation of a passed pawn, which wil lead to a win through typical means.

Here are the main features of strategy.

  1. The relative value of the pieces
  2. Pawn structure and pawn weaknesses
  3. Coordination of the pieces
  4. Opposite side castling and pawn storms
  5. Time and space

A Thematic Sacrifice – A Tactical Breakthrough

In the position below, there is a tactical motif, which allows white to obtain a winning posiiton immediately.

White to move

The move 1. Nxg5! punishes black’s weakening move. If black doesn’t take the knight, then white has proven black to be wrong, won a healthy pawn and destroyed black’s king safety. If …hxg5 The obvious move, then 2. Bxg5 and white has a horrible pin on the black knight. Black cannot move the queen, because his knight will drop. In the game, 2… Kg7 was tried. Here 3. e5 was very unpleasant for black. Play continued 3… Rg8 4. Bxf6+ Kf8 The question that arises here is: Should white take the queen?


Here we have to calculate.

5. Bxd8 Rxg2+ It seems like black has a perpetual check, by sliding the rook back and forth along the second rank. This would indeed be the case if it wasn’t for our queen on e2. 6. Kh1 Rxf2+ (other moves are inferior, for example any vertical rook move like 6… Rg3+ can be met by 7.f3 shutting out the bishop. White is simply a whole queen and some pawns up) 7. Kg1 Rxe2 (7…Rg2+ is not possible, because of 8. Qxg2) 8. Bxe2 Let’s count up the pieces. White has 2 bishops and 2 rooks. Black has a bishop, a knight and a rook.

Therefore white is a whole rook up, and will go on to win, so we can take the queen on d8. Although the thought of losing your queen on e2 can be scary, you have to step back and count up the pieces. If you yourself are winning their queen, then you should still be calculating this variation – In this case it turns out to be white’s fastest way to obatin a completely winning position.

Winning by Superior Strategy

This was a game between Nimzowitsch and von Scheve (1907). We can still learn a lot from old games, as the strategical principles are still of value today. In the position below, neither side has a knockout blow, but the strategies chosen will determine the course of the game.


Black opted for the aggressive 13… g5 which aims to generate some sort of attack on the kingside. This would be a suitable plan, if white was not able to open up the centre. There is a general maxim ‘A wing attack is doomed to fail if the centre is not closed’. This can be applied here. Let’s see how the game continued. 14. Be1 g4 Continuing with the original plan of a wing attack. 15. Ne5 Bxe5 Other options are similarly unpleasant for black.

  •  15… Nxe5 16. dxe5 (16… Bxe5 is problematic after 17. Bxe4 and black’s centre will fall apart.) Nxc3 17. Bc3 Bg7 18. cxd5 exd5 19. Qb3 White has 2 strong bishops and pressure against black’s king position.
  • 15… Nxc3 16. Bxc3 (16… dxc4 17. Bxc4 and white has permanent pressure on e6) Nxe5 17. dxe5 Bg7 Lands in the same position as above, by transposition of moves.

 16. dxe5 Ng5 17. Ne2 Qe8 18. Bc3 dxc4 19. Bxc4 e6 will be a permanent target for white now. Bd7 20. Nf4


Let’s evaluate this position. Black’s attack on the kingside has fizzled out into nothing. Black would like to have his queen involved in the attack, on a square like h4, but his queen is tied down to the passive role of defending the d7 bishop. Black’s e6 pawn is a permanent backwards pawn and a weakness that must always be defended. White has complete control of the d-file, the bishop pair aimed towards the black king, and a strong knight on f4, which plays both a defensive and offensive role. It is clear to see that white has a much better position than black does. The original position was roughly equal, therefore we can conclude that black has chosen a faulty strategical plan.

In the original position, the best plan to play for an equal position was 13… Qd6

  • If White continues 14. cxd4 exd4 15. Qb3 Rd8 black is equal; he will move his c6 knight (to e7) and play c6 cementing his d5 pawn.
  • If White continues 14. Ne2 Since white’s knight is not controlling the central squares any more, black can try: g5 15. Bxe4 dxe4 16. Ne5 Bxe5 17. dxe5 (A gross mistake would be 17… Qxe5?? 18. Bc3 wins the queen.) Qd3 With an approximately equal position.

The Relative Value of the Pieces

Bishops

Of course the value of the different pieces depends conpletely on the posiiton they take on the chess board. For example a bad bishop, which is hemmed in by many pawns will be much less valuable than a good bishop, which is free to move across the whole board. A typical example of this situation is the French defence (opening). They say that black has a bad ‘French Bishop’ – It is always the same bishop that is bad in this opening, because of the pawn structure that defines it.

1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 c5 4. c3 Nc6 5. Nf3 Bd7 6. Bd3 Qb6 

White’s light squared bishop is much better than black’s light squared bishop. This can be explained by considering the pawn structure. White’s pawns are on dark squares (i.e. c3, d4, e5), whereas black’s pawns are on light squares (i.e. f7, e6, d5), and this restricts the mobility of the black bishop on e7. The bishop can’t go anywhere if pawns are in the way. This brings us onto a more general rule: A bishop is a good piece if allied pawns are on the opposite colour to the squares that it travels along. In this example the bishop travels along light squares, so it would like allied pawns to be on dark squares. Since this is not the case, this bishop is a bad piece.

In the French defense, black has 2 main ways of dealing with the bad bishop:

  1. Playing an early b6 and Ba6 to trade off the light squared bishops.
  2. Bringing the bishop outside of the pawn chain via Bd7, Be8, Bh5.

In my game against Manvith Sandhi (125 ECF), I employed plan #1 and obtained an equal position out of the opening.

1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Bd3 Nf6 4. e5 Nfd7 5. Nf3 Be7 6. 0-0 0-0 7. Be3 b6 8. Nbd2 Ba6 9. Qe2 Bxd3 10. Qxd3 c5

Knights

In the centre of the board, the knight has control of 8 squares. On the edge it has control of only 4 squares. There is a saying: ‘knights on the rim are dim’ and more often than not this is true. From the centre, the knight has not yet commited to attacking one area of the board, and there is more flexibility. Tarrasch made the sweeping claim that ‘The best squares for the knights are the c3, c6, f3 and f6 squares’ This rule should not be taken as a definite truth, but there is a lot to be said for it. On the aforementioned squares, the knights are controlling the 4 central squares (e4, d4, e5, d5), which are of paramount importance to any opening. Another point he is making is that on the squares g3, g6, b3, b6 the knight only has control of 6 squares, and of these 6, only 1 square is in the centre. Remember that central control is an important opening principle.

In the middlegame, you want to find an outpost for your knight. An outpost is a square that cannot be controlled by enemy pawns. The idea behind this is that you can cement your knight there, and short of swapping your knight off altogether, they are not going be able to get rid of your well positioned piece. Here is an example, white has just played 10. Ne5


White has a lovely knight on e5, an outpost, because both the d and f pawns are unable to kick the knight away. The only way to get rid of the knight is by swapping it off. This knight caused black some problems here. Play continued: 10… c5 11. h4! A strong attacking move. Nfd7 (The natural 11… Nbd7 loses a pawn) 12. Ndf3 Nxe5 13. Nxe5 

Just as you get rid of one knight, the other one takes its place! Black has to make a decision now. Either allow the knight to stay where it is for a while. Taking the knight leaves white’s dark squared bishop uncontested, and leaves the f6, g7 and h6 squares as weaknesses, so I would be reluctant to play that. The game continued 13… Bf6 14. Bh6 Re8 15. h5! g5 Black must try to keep the position closed. 16. f4 trying to open it up. Nd7 17. Bb5! Pinning the knight. Bxe5 18. dxe5 g4 19. Bc6 White has a large advantage here, and went on to win.


So we saw from this example that a strong outpost for your knight can be enough to win the game. The well placed knight restricts your opponent’s pieces, and can be the basis for an attack. If your opponent has to make unfavourable exchanges, in this case losing the dark squared bishop, then you have proven that it is the right strategical plan to position your knight on such a square. I am not going to talk about rooks and queens, because they need to be treated differently, and are the content for another post.

Approximate Relative Values of the Pieces

It is not possible to assign intrinsic values of the pieces, because it depends hugely on the position of them. For example someone might make an ‘exchange sacrifice’. Trading a rook for a minor piece. This is done, because they believe that their rook is worth less than the piece it is capturing. As a rough guideline, you can use these values:

  • Queen = 9
  • Rook = 5
  • Bishop/ knight = 3
  • Pawn = 1

Of course the king is not assigned a value, because he is priceless. Lose him and you lose the game! From these values above, we can conclude that 3 pawns is usually sufficient compensation for a piece, and that a rook and a pawn is usually about equal to a bishop and knight (normally the rook is better in the endgame, but the 2 minor pieces are better in the middlegame). The 2 rooks are supposed to be stronger than the queen, but in practice I have found it is much easier to play with the queen. However, if you are down material – i.e. your opponent’s army totals more points, then you must have positional compensation if you are to be equal or better. Here is an easy way to think about it, consider an extreme situation, where you are about to checkmate your opponent. You might be a whole queen down (9 points), but you are going to win, so this is irrelevant.

Please do leave comments below, with any questions you may have 🙂