Pawn Endgames #2 – Rule of the Square

Some games finish in 20 moves with a checkmate combination, others are decided in the middlegame, but many enter the final stage of the game – The endgame. The difference between understanding these positions or not equates to the result of the game, so it is really important that you don’t dismiss this part of the game. What I like about endgames is that because there are fewer pieces on the board, your analysis can be more complete, and a deeper understanding can be achieved. In this chapter, we will look at the rule of the square, which is both easy to learn and applicable to many positions.

To Push or not to Push

In this position below, if it is white to move, then white will win, but if it is black to move, then it will be drawn:

In this position, the only move that wins is to push the pawn with 1. a4 and so the race begins. …Kf6 2. a5 Ke6 3. a6 Kd6 4. a7 Kc7 5. a8 = Q it should be clear to see that white has won the race, and the game as well. You might still be wondering what the rule of the square is and how can it be used to help make your decisions. Here it is…

The Rule of the Square – A Visual Approach

Below is an example of the square coming into play in the first scenario we looked at:

The idea is that if the black king can jump into ‘the square’ at any point in time, then he will catch the pawn. In this position even if it is black to move, he won’t be able to jump inside the square, and will therefore lose after white promotes to a queen (or rook).

To construct the square, you count how many squares are ahead of the pawn, then make the same length to the side of the pawn. The main idea behind it is that the enemy king can approach from any direction: the side, below, diagonal, but if that king cannot get inside the square, then it won’t catch the pawn.

Different Routes, but the Same Number of Moves


An important concept to understand about all endgames is that the king can get to a final destination via several routes in the same number of moves. This is very important when the king plays a dual role – When it has to be able to go in a different direction if that is required to win.

Going back to the first example:

Let`s now suppose that it is black to move in this position. There are several ways to draw this. For example: 1. Kf8 a4 2. Ke8 a5 3. Kd8 a6 4. Kc8 a7 5. Kb7 a8=Q+ 6. Kxa8 draw.

But that is not the only way that black could draw the position. As long as the black king is moving in a leftwards direction – and is able to jump into the square, then it will be drawn. Here is another example: 1… Kf7 2. a4

Visually, it is clear to see that the black king is going to enter the square on the very next move. 2… Ke6 3. a5 Kd5 4. a6 Kc6 5. a7 Kb7 6. a8=Q+ and the queen gets gobbled up again … Kxa8 draw.

You should also note that if white tries to move his king forwards instead of pushing the pawn, this also fails to win, because the black king can just move back and forth.

Reti`s Study – Dual Purpose King Manoeuvers

Now that you are familiar with the simplest version of this idea, I want to show you how it can be applied to a more complicated example, which was a study of Richard Reti – one of the greatest players of the 1920s. White to move:

Reti, 1921

At first glace it looks like white is hopelessly lost, because there is no way to get the white king inside the square, and the white pawn is about to be devoured by the black king. There is one move that saves the day for white though.

1. Kg7! The king goes down towards the black pawn and across to help the white pawn at the same time. …h4 2. Kg6 now the white king is in its perfect position, ready to react accordingly.

In this position, black has 2 logical options.

A) Firstly, he could try to just march his h-pawn down to victory. The white king won’t be able to catch it. While this is true, it does not mean that black can win. For example 2…h3 3. Ke7 the king has now decided which way it must go – to help the white pawn promote. …h2 4. c7 Kb7 (4…h1=Q 5. c8=Q+ also draws) 5. Kd7 h1=Q 6. c7=Q+ Now both sides have a queen, and it will be drawn with correct play.

B) Alternatively, black could try to capture white`s c-pawn and hope that his black pawn will still make it. Let`s see what happens here: 2… Kb6 3. Ke5! (note that 3. Kg5 fails because of …h3! and the pawn is unstoppable) Even at this stage, the king has a dual role. If black now advances the h-pawn, the white king commits to helping the c-pawn promote. 3…h3 4. Kd6 h2 5. c7 h1=Q 6. c8=Q draw.

If black decides to take the pawn with 3… Kxc6 then white goes in the other direction, and enters the square of the black pawn. 4. Kf4 ( 4. Ke4 also works)

The fact that it is black to move in this position does not matter, because the white king is already inside the square. Hopefully you can now see how this concept can be very useful. 4… h3 5. Kg3 h2 6. Kxh2 draw.

To consolidate your learning, I would recommend working through this lesson on As always, if you have any questions about the content covered, feel free to ask them in the comments.



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