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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A Simple Endgame

Some chess books teach endgame technique: how to win when you’re ahead and draw when you’re behind. We’ll look at a simple position suitable for beginners, taken from Winning Chess Endings, by grandmaster Yasser Seirawan. Keep in mind that this chess book is not for beginners, at least not for low-level novices.

After Black moves axb6, White wins with a6!

Diagram-1  with Black to move

White has just advanced a pawn to b6, in Diagram-1, attacking a black pawn but allowing that black pawn to capture it. If things proceed as usual with exchanges, this endgame will probably end in a draw. Both sides will have a king and a queen, with neither side having enough of an advantage to win the endgame (all the pawns will be gone).

White wins with a6!

Diagram-2  with White to move

After the black pawn captured the white pawn that was on b6, in Diagram-2, it’s now White’s move. Don’t take it for granted that the white pawn must capture that black pawn; consider the other possibility, advancing that white pawn.

White did not recapture but advanced: a6!

Diagram-3  after the winning move a6!

Why is advancing that white pawn much better than using it to capture the black pawn at b6? Either way, the white pawn will be advanced to White’s sixth rank, two squares away from queening. Notice that the white pawn will soon be promoted to a queen on the corner square.

Winning-Chess-Endings-Seirawan-001D

Diagram-4  with White to move

As the opposing pawns race to become queens, we arrive at the position in Diagram-4. With White to move, the pawn at a7 will now move to a8, becoming a queen. If the black pawn on h2 then advances to its queening square, it will be captured by the white queen. Notice now why it was so important for that white pawn to advance forward rather than capture the black pawn. If the capture had been made, two queens would be on the board: one at b8 and one at a1. This endgame would then very likely have ended in a draw. By advancing the white pawn forward, White has a queen and Black does not, which should make this an easy win for White. This demonstrates the importance of looking ahead when deciding what move to make.

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Buying a Chess Book for a Gift

Making a good buying decision for a chess book to be used as a gift . . . requires care.

What is the chess-skill level of the gift recipient? That’s the big question. Is it a child who has already learned the rules but wants to win a game or two? Beat That Kid in Chess may be the best chess book for that child.

Four Books on Chess (reviews)

Tactics, checkmating patterns, and a book for beginners

For Beginners, the Best Chess Book

Before September of 2015, very few chess book reviews mentioned the nearly-identical positions (NIP) method of instruction in the royal game. Beat That Kid in Chess was then published, perhaps the first chess book every written that systematically uses NIP . . .

Draw With a Queen Against a Rook

Remember that stalemate can occur only when there is no check.

Winning in a Queen-Versus-Rook End Game

One example of how the attacker can win in this endgame, when the defending king is on the edge of the board

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Queen Versus Rook – Draw

Not many end-game chess books give much attention to the queen versus rook. Consider three books (none of which had beginners in mind, apparently):

  1. How to Play Chess Endings by Eugene Znosko-Borovsky
  2. Chess Endgame Training by Bernd Rosen
  3. Practical Chess Endings by Irving Chernev

The first book gives barely one page worth of text on queen-versus-rook, and the second one says nothing about it. The third book gives it the most attention, but that amounts to only one page demonstrating a win from the Philidor position. Let’s now consider a simple example of how to draw by stalemate (if you are the defender) and how to avoid the stalemate if you are the fortunate chess player to have a queen in such an end game.

Black can get a stalemate draw

Diagram-1 with Black to move

The chess puzzle of Diagram-1 is a bit advanced for some chess beginners, but it is simple once you have seen how it works. Black moves the rook down two squares: Rc6+. White must get out of check and capturing the rook is obvious. But if the white king captures that rook then it is a stalemate draw. That would be a disappointing end of a game in which the side with the queen was trying to win. But the only other move available to White (after Black moves Rc6+) would be a king move, which would allow the rook to capture the queen. The best that White can do to get out of that check would be to move the king to d5 or e5. After the rook captures the queen, the White king would capture that rook, ending the game with a draw, for a game in which there is only one king on each side is automatically a draw.

Avoiding a Draw for the Attacker

What can we learn from Diagram-1, that would benefit the stronger side? Be careful about putting your king and queen on the same rank or on the same file, especially when your opponent’s king is on the edge of the board. Don’t think of that as a rule, however, just a precautionary note.

queen versus rook chess end game

Diagram-2 with White to move

In Diagram-2, the white king needs to approach the black king, if white is to win by an eventual checkmate. But is it safe to move Kd6 or Ke6? That would put the king and queen on the same rank.

White can move the king to either d6 or e6, with no danger of stalemate in Diagram-2. If the rook then moves to g6, the queen would capture it with check. Remember that stalemate can occur only when there is no check.

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Winning in Q-vs-R end games

Notice that these simple puzzles have one thing in common: There’s a line from a king to the piece of the same color, and the opponent could take advantage of that line.

Chess Book for the True Beginner

So how does “Beat That Kid in Chess” compare with those books that are best for beginners? It may be the only chess book that systematically uses the nearly-identical-positions method of training . . .

Beat That Kid in Chess and Other Books

I’ve been promoting my own chess book (for novices) for several weeks now: Beat That Kid in Chess. So why would I mention two competing books on the royal game, both of them for beginners? Mine could be the only one ever written that uses a new teaching method called nearly-identical positions.

Exploring Chess

In Diagram-1, White may have more than one way to win this queen-versus-rook end game.

Chess Book for a Beginner

How few instructional chess books are suitable for the early beginner . . . who knows the rules but little else about the game! [like how to win]

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More on the Queen-Versus-Rook End Game

Let’s look at more tactics in simple end games, in particular when a only four pieces are left on the board, including a queen on one side and a rook on the other.

white can win quickly - queen versus rook

Diagram-1 (white to move)

Can white win quickly in the position shown in Diagram-1? The white king has only one move, and that looks like it would accomplish nothing. So look at queen moves. The solution is at the bottom of this post.

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white to move and win - chess

Diagram-2 (white to move)

In Diagram-2, white can win quickly, with the right move. There’s actually more than one way to win quickly, but one way is quickest. This kind of queen versus rook end game position is called a corner defense.

endgame of queen versus rook

Diagram-3 (white to move)

Diagram-3 shows a more difficult position, although there is more than one way for white to win quickly. This is more advanced than what most chess beginners are given in lessons: White to move and mate in three. You get one hint: The way to get checkmate most quickly is to first win the rook. After that rook is captured, checkmate can come quickly.

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Solutions to the queen-versus-rook puzzles

Diagram-1: The queen moves to the a5 square, checkmate

Diagram-2: The queen moves to the a8 square, checkmate

Diagram-3: The queen moves to either f4 or g5, pinning the rook and winning it on the next more

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Queen Against Rook

Many chess end game positions can be challenging, especially with queen versus rook. But Beginning Chess really is for beginners, so let’s look at easy puzzles with simple tactics.

Chess End Game of Queen Versus Rook

Whitcomb advocates using simple tactical themes in teaching this kind of end game: “The Philidor position is great to know for advanced chess competitors, but it’s too difficult for the raw beginner to remember all the details.”

Queen Versus Rook Chess End Game

The most important key position in most queen-versus-rook end games is the Philidor.

Three Kinds of Chess Beginners

I divide chess beginners into three levels of ability: raw, mid-level, and advanced.

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Simple Queen-Versus-Rook Endgames in Chess

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smaller rook against an armed queen

Many chess end game positions can be challenging, especially with queen versus rook. But Beginning Chess really is for beginners, so let’s look at easy puzzles with simple tactics.

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With the move, black does not draw but WINS!

#1: The defender usually tries for a draw, but here it’s black to move and WIN

With black to move, in the above position, what’s the best move? Notice that white has the king and queen on the same rank (on the squares d3 and g3). Black takes advantage of that with Rb3+ (move the rook to the light-colored square that is to the left of the white king), which wins the queen in a way that allows black to keep the rook. White has to move out of check, and the black rook will then capture the white queen. The resulting endgame should be an easy win for players who are beyond the early-beginner stage.

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queen vs rook chess end game

#2: White to move and win (quickly), in the above queen-vs-rook end game

In the second diagram, it’s white’s turn. Several checks are available, none of them useful.

The winning move is Qa3. Do you see why? The rook will then be under an absolute pin, unable to move because it would expose the black king to check. The black king is too far away to protect the rook in one move, so that rook is lost.

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black to move and draw in this end game

#3: Black to move and draw

Moving the rook to the right, to the d8 square (Rd8+) would be check but it would be worthless, for the white king could then move to c2 (Kc2), and black would not be able avoid both of the checkmates that white would then be threatening.

The correct move for black, in the third diagram, is Ra3+ (move the rook down to the dark square next to the black king). That rook would then be pinning the white queen, and it’s an absolute pin. In the resulting exchange, both queen and rook would be removed from the board, making an immediate draw, according to one of the rules of chess.

Notice that these simple puzzles have one thing in common: There’s a line from a king to the piece of the same color, and the opponent could take advantage of that line. Not all important moves (in queen-versus-rook end games) involve a horizontal, vertical, or diagonal line; but beginners need to be aware of them.

In general, with best moves made on both sides, a queen-versus-rook endgame (with only those two pieces plus the two kings) should always be a win for the side with the queen. In reality, many positions can be extremely challenging, even with top-level grandmasters. For beginners, learn the above simple principles and you can expect to do well against another beginner, if the two of you should ever play a game that comes down to this kind of end game.

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smaller rook against an armed queen

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Queen Versus Rook – Chess End Game Positions (two)

Let’s begin this kind of endgame study with defense: How do you draw when you have only a rook and king and your opponent has only a queen and king?

Philidor Position in Queen Versus Rook

In the queen-versus-rook Philidor, the defending king has only one legal move, and it results in the queen pinning the rook and capturing it on the next move.

The Absolute Pin in Chess

The black queen is pinning the white queen. In this case, it prevents the white queen from any move except along the other diagonal, the one leading from the white king to the black queen.

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