The Rook endgames are the most common of all Chess endgames and that alone is a reason to study them properly. As many other phases of the game, there are a lot of principles in Rook endgames that you should know (for instance, put your Rook behind your passed pawn and so on). However, this article is not about principles, the Philidor position is one of the most important endgame positions (yes, it is THAT important), together with the Lucena position that is the topic of another article.
And as such, you have to learn exactly how to handle it. And here is some good news: mastering it is actually easy ! The moves are easy to understand and remember, so studying it is definitely time well spent.
For the sake of clarity, White has the extra pawn along this article.
The Philidor position
The Philidor position was discovered and analyzed by the famous French chess player and composer Francois-Andre Danican Philidor in 1777. If played accurately by both players, the Philidor position results in a draw.
To be classified as a “Philidor position”, the position has to match several characteristics.
How to defend in the Philidor position
First of all, it is extremely important for the defending side to keep the rook on the sixth rank.
Thus the correct defense from the initial position is to keep the Rook on the sixth rank to block the access to the white King.
What are the pros and cons of moving the f-pawn to the sixth rank ?
It is clear now that Black should not defend passively: energetic action must be taken.
How to defend if White does not play Kg6
First possible reaction: White does not play Kg6. In this case, how should Black defend ?
How to defend if White plays Kg6
If White plays Kg6, the position becomes critical. Black has no time to waste and must be precise. Here is what happens if Black plays a waiting move after Kg6: Black gets checkmated.
The correct defense is to harass the white King with the Rook.
How to defend if White tries to control the sixth rank
If we come back to the position where White’s pawn is not yet on the sixth rank, we can wonder if there are other dangerous tries for White.
A possible attempt for White to play for a win is to bring the rook to h6, trying to force the opponent’s rook to leave the 6th rank.
If you know your King and pawn endgame basics, White needs to have the King in front and the opposition, or the King in front and the pawn on the sixth rank in order to win. If what I am saying does not make any sense to you, go check the corresponding articles !
Thus in this position, the theory tells us it should be a draw. Let’s check now with a real line if exchanging Rooks leads to a draw for Black.
The reasons behind Black’s moves are explained in How to defend King and pawn endgames. The key takeaway here is that the position is a draw.
Test your understanding of the Philidor position
You know everything about how to defend the Philidor position. As I told you, this was not overly complicated ! Here are a few questions to consolidate your understanding.
That is it ! Most people avoid studying the Philidor and Lucena positions in Rook endgames, whereas those endgames are really not that hard to understand and to master.
Together with the Philidor position, the other absolute must know is the Lucena position in Rook and pawn endgames. Be sure to master this one as well: this time it is a position that the attacking side should win !