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


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.

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