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How to defend Rook endgame ? This article is a follow up of my previous articles on the Lucena position and the Philidor position. Rook endgames offer rich possibilities for both sides and, previously, I have only dealt with the most active defenses. For the sake of clarity, in this article, White will always have the extra pawn, and Black will be the defending side.

In the Philidor position for instance, the obvious drawing strategy for Black is to keep the Rook on the sixth rank, and, as soon as White pushes his pawn, to deliver checks on the first rank.

Against those defenses, the attacking side has a standard plan that we have analyzed in depth in the winning method in the Lucena position.

But Black has another option: keeping the Rook on the eighth rank and wait for White to commit on a move.

This is the idea behind defending with the Rook on the eighth rank: at least White cannot checkmate Black, so there is one less threat to consider. But is that enough for Black to get a draw ? That is what we are going to investigate now.

When defending passively does not work

Unfortunately for Black, in many cases, defending passively simply does not work, if White knows the winning plan.

So, is Black safe in this position ? Not at all, White has a winning plan that we are going to study together. First, White brings the King and the pawn to the sixth rank.

We have reached an important theoretical position, which is won for White. How to progress from there ? Here is the method to win this position.

So pushing the pawn immediately does not work.

Of course, the Rook cannot go from a7 to h8 in one move, but the goal of the following moves is to get the same position with the Rook on h7, and this will be winning !

You may have wondered why the intermediate check on g7 was needed ? Was it not possible to move the Rook directly to h7 ?

As an intermediate conclusion, the passive defense is losing in the generic case. The plan for White is to slide the Rook on the other side of the board, and then push the pawn.

However, there are cases where defending passively works, and we are going to study them now.

When defending passively is enough

In the generic case, defending passively does not work. But Black can get the draw in some cases.

The Knight pawn

The first interesting case is the case of the Knight pawn.

Playing Kf8 with Black would be a terrible mistake here.

So the takeaway is that against a Knight pawn, the passive defense is enough to hold the position if you put your King on the corner.

If zugzwang does not ring a bell, we have an article about the zugzwang in Chess.

The Rook pawn

Our next exception is rather straightforward. Any position with the rook pawn and Black’s King and Rook on the back rank is an easy draw, as long as the King controls the corner. There is no way for White to even try playing for a win. Black just has to wait with the King on h8 and g8.

Conclusion

Defending Rook endgames with the Rook on the eighth rank works against a Knight pawn and a Rook pawn. However, against the other pawns, Black has to try another method, for instance the one of the Philidor position. You cannot get around this: Rook endgames are hard !

Now that you know the basic Rook endgame positions, you can drastically increase your performance in your own games. Good luck !

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