A Simple Rook End Game

Some chess books teach how to win an end game of king-plus-rook versus king. Instead of a move-by-move approach, let’s now look at several such endgame positions and see the right way to handle each one. The checkmating positions themselves will not be shown: Just imagine those checkmate moves.

Ideal position for White to move

Diagram-1  White to move wins with checkmate

The ideal type of position for the attacker, when that player has the move, is seen in Diagram-1. Move the rook up the board one space (in diagram perspective): checkmate. Let’s examine how to get into this ideal setup.

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White to move

Diagram-2  White to move

The rook has already hemmed in the defending king, in Diagram-2, so there’s nothing else for that rook to do now. The white king is a little too far away, however: It needs to get closer, to make checkmate possible.

How should the white king approach the black king? Should it move up to the left, to a dark square or straight up to that light square? Remember the basic form of the position in the first diagram and that it needs to come about with white to move.

Regardless of where the white king moves to, the black king must move one space to our right, for the rook prevents any other move by that defending king. If the white king moves in a diagonal way, up and to the left to the dark square, then the black king will move to a square directly in front of the white king, and it will then be white’s turn. Let’s look at the resulting position:

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White to move wins with checkmate

Diagram-3  with White to move

The white king moved up and to the left and the black king moved to the right. With White now having the move, checkmate comes from moving the rook up the board. There’s nothing new about the logic of that approach. It still works, after centuries of chess end-game battles, a timeless technique.

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king and rook versus long king

Diagram-4  How should the white king approach (White to move)?

The black king is confined to the lower edge of the board, in Diagram-4. With White to move, how should the white king approach that lone king? It can be one of the following:

  • Down to the left
  • Straight down
  • Down to the right

Notice two things about moving the white king straight down:

  1. It creates a similar pattern to that shown in Diagram-1 and Diagram-3
  2. It will not be White’s turn to move

Point #2 means don’t move the king straight down, in the position of Diagram-4.

The Complexity of a Simple Chess End Game

Have you ever studied this apparently-simple rook end game from a chess book? If so, the following may be easy. This kind of ending can be tricky, however, so let’s take it in simple steps.

Look again at the position in Diagram-4. Imagine that the black king has moved three squares to the right. It will then be attacking the rook, which might need to move to the left for safety (depending on the position of the white king).

For the attacker, it’s not a serious problem to have to make one defensive move to keep from losing the rook. At most, it’s a temporary delay on the way to getting a checkmate-victory. In Diagram-4, we can avoid that little snag by moving the white king down to the right. We’ll then get the following position:

Black to move in this endgame

Diagram-5  with Black to move

Notice that the black king may legally move only to the left or right, for the rook confines it to the bottom rank. Notice also that if it moves to the right it will be directly in front of the white king, similar to Diagram-1 and Diagram-3, so checkmate could follow immediately. Black has no desire to give the attacker a free checkmate gift, so the black king moves to the left.

Now image that the black king has moved to the left and the white king has followed, also moving to the left. As that pattern is repeated, the black king will end up in the lower-left corner as follows:

The black king must move to the right

Diagram-6  Black to move – the black king must now move to the right

How have we arrived at the position in Diagram-6? Until now, the black king has had a choice: move left or right, but moving right will allow the rook to make a checkmate, so that king keeps moving left and the white king follows it. Now Black has no choice: The black king has only one legal move, to the right, and the white rook will then make the winning final move. Imagine the black moves to the right, in Diagram-6, and the rook moves down to get the mate.

Let’s call that maneuvering the king chase. But what if the rook is on the other side, in what would otherwise be a simple king chase? That requires a special trick: giving up two moves.

The Rabbit That Tried to Bite the Fox

king-and-rook versus rook chess endgame

Diagram-7  White to move

The rook is attacked, in Diagram-7, and White cannot ignore the threat: If the rook is captured, the game will be an immediate automatic draw. The rook needs to make two moves, the first one to avoiding being captured.

Let’s move the rook far to the right:

White moved Rg2

Diagram-8  after White moved the rook to the right

It’s Black’s turn, in Diagram-8, and there’s nothing wrong with moving the black king to the right. That gives us the following position, with White to move:

White to move and lose a turn

Diagram-9  White to move and lose a turn

Not many puzzles in chess books will say, “White to move and lose . . .,” yet in Diagram-9 White needs to make a waiting move, seeming to lose a move on purpose, and it needs to be a rook move. Notice that if the white king moves to the left it will be the kind of position the attacker needs when it’s the attacker’s turn to move. But then it would be the defender’s turn, so that won’t work. Let’s go instead into the standard king chase by moving the rook to the right, which is a waiting move.

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Black to move in this chess ending

Diagram-10  with Black to move

The white rook seemed to waste a move by moving a bit to the right. But notice that it’s Black’s move, and this is the standard position for a king chase. The black king cannot move to the right without getting immediately checkmated, so it moves left. The white king follows and the pattern continues until we get the position in Diagram-6.

Those were not the only kinds of positions you might encounter in this kind of rook end game, and we have not looked at how to drive the defending king to the edge of the board, when it’s in the center. Yet the basic principles we have here covered are critical to knowing how to get the final checkmate after the defending king has been cornered on the edge of the board.

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New Chess Book for Beginners

On September 2, 2015, the nonfiction book Beat That Kid in Chess was published and is available online. It’s intended to be the most useful book ever written for the beginner who knows the rules but little else about chess.

End Game Logic in Chess

Does common-sense logic work in the chess end game? Simple logic definitely can help you, provided you combine it with knowledge of the general type of ending in which you find yourself, and you work out the move calculations that are often critical.

Gift of a Chess Book

Most chess books are purchased by the players who use them, rather than by those giving them as gifts. One exception is a gift-book for a beginner.

New Book on Chess

Beat That Kid in Chess has . . . the NIP system of teaching (nearly-identical positions), which naturally strengthens the beginner’s tactical abilities.

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