There are two crucial positions to know in Rook and pawn endgames: the Philidor position and the topic of this article, the Lucena position. Its name comes from the Spanish player Luis Ramirez de Lucena (1465-1530), who published the first known Chess book. The Lucena position is arguably the most important winning position in rook endgames.
Introduction to the Lucena position
The Lucena is very easy to identify. Here is an example.
The plans for each side
This section presents the obvious ideas for each side. Of course, White wants to promote its pawn. That is the condition to win the game.
Black’s plan to prevent White to progress seems solid. Is there a way for White to stop Black from delivering checks ?
Actually there is a way, the Lucena position is winning for the attacking side whoever is to play. What we are going to see next is the winning plan for White.
The winning method in the Lucena position
In this position, the white King cannot move, so White needs the help of his Rook to promote the pawn.
After the check, Black has a few possible retreats.
We will study these retreats one by one.
The black King goes to f6
This is the first defense, and not the best one !
King to f6 is immediately losing for Black. Other moves are tougher to beat.
The black King goes to d6
This defense is hardly better as the white King quickly finds a safe shelter on e8.
The black King goes to d7 or d8
A much more interesting line occurs after the black King goes to d7. This can be considered as the generic line of the Lucena position, so pay attention ! The retreat to d8 is similar and will not be considered separately.
Now that the black King has been pushed away, the win should be simple for White, right ? Just move the King out and push the pawn…
It is however a little early to move the king yet as he won’t be able to escape checks.
After those failed tries, I am going to share with you the ideal setup White needs to put in place in order to promote the pawn and win the game. It is called building a “bridge” and it is the key maneuver to convert the Lucena position.
This is the position White needs to get in order to force the win. Now I am going to show you the moves leading to that position.
Finally we come back to the right answer. After this tricky waiting move from Black, White builds the bridge on the fifth rank.
One may wonder: in the last example, after Black’s waiting move, the bridge is build on the fifth rank, so isn’t it possible to bring directly the Rook to the fifth rank instead of the fourth to ensure a quicker win ?
Remember this: the bridge has to be built on the fourth rank in first intention. The fifth rank is only a back up plan depending on the opponent’s moves.
Other defensive ideas
We know how to win the Lucena position against the best defense. Let’s move to less effective defenses now ! First, when Black put their King and their Rook on the same file.
Finally, a last quiz to check your understanding.
Again, the same plan: build the bridge and move your King out !
That concludes this longer-than-usual article about the Lucena position. This position should have no secret for you any more: as the winning plan is easy to remember, taking some time to fully understand this position is an excellent investment.
In the next article, I will wonder if defending Rook endgames passively is a good idea or not. We will see some interesting plans here as well !