Weekly Endgame Column #10

Averbakh 1981: White to move and win.

This week’s Endgame Column is about rook vs. pawn. In Sharp Endgames, I have dealt with positions where the White king approaches the Black king and pawn from the side – but this article will focus on positions where the White king attacks the Black pawn from behind.

  1. The king approaches the pawn from the side.

But first a note on what I call the key position: an important one to know where the White king approaches from the side:

Key Position: White to move wins, Black to move draws.

White to move wins with 1.Rb8+ Ka2 2.Kc2 Ka1 3.Kb3 a2 4.Rh8 and mate next move.

Black to move first is more interesting, and the way to draw is instructive:

1…Kb2!

Bad is 1…a2? 2.Rb8+ Ka3 3.Kc2! a1N+ (the best defense) 4.Kc3 Ka2 5.Rb7 This simple waiting move on the b-file leaves Black in a deadly zugzwang.

2.Rb8+ Kc1!

2…Ka1? 3.Kc2 a2 3.Kb3+- etc. Black’s priority is to prevent the White king from approaching the pawn.

3.Rc8+ Kb2

3…Kb1= is fine too.

4.Rc2+!?

The last trick, and surprisingly many go wrong here.

4…Kb3!=

Keeping the White king at a distance.

When Black goes wrong in this position, it is due to the following oversight: 4…Kb1? 5.Kc3 a2 6.Rb2+! These in-between checks are the main reason why rook endgames are so difficult 6…Ka1 7.Rh2 and mate next move.

Back to the beginning:

Key Position after 1…Kb2!: White to move.

If White instead plays 2.Kd2 a2 3.Rb8+, Black must respond with 3…Ka1!= and White has to back off due to stalemate tricks.

If instead 3…Ka3?, White allows the knight promotion once again and wins: 4.Kc2! a1N+ 5.Kc3 Ka2 6.Rb7+-

2. The king attacks the pawn from behind

I shall focus on 2 important ideas in these endgames:

  1. The position of mutual zugzwang with the rook in front of the pawn
  2. The in-between rook check that gains a tempo and sees the rook move to the same file as the pawn. This maneuver is possible both with the rook in front of and behind the pawn.
Position of mutual zugzwang: White to move is a draw, Black to move loses.

White would love to get the king around either side of the pawn, but 1.Kc7 is answered with 1…Kc5! The same goes for 1.Ka7 Ka5!=

Any rook move will worsen the position and lose a tempo later on: 2.Rc1+ loses control of the b-pawn, whereas a move like 2.Rb2 allows the Black king to attack it in time with a future …Kc3.

If Black is to move, White has a chance to approach the pawn down either the a- or c-file:

1…Kc4 2.Ka6! Kc3 3.Ka5 b3 4.Ka4 b2 5.Ka3+-

Similar with 1…Ka4 2.Kc6! etc.

Averbakh: White to move and win.

With a clever rook maneuver, White gains a tempo to transfer the rook from h8 to d8 – behind the passed pawn. In this position, this is the tempo required to win.

Please notice that the maneuver works when the Black king is at least one rank in front of the pawn!

1.Rc8+! Kb3

King moves to the d-file slow the pawn down.

2.Rd8! Kc3

We have the starting position, but with the rook on d8 instead of h8.

3.Ke5 d3 4.Ke4 d2 5.Ke3+-

White is just in time to stop the pawn from promoting.

3. Exercises for next week.

Use the instructions from above to solve the following 5 exercises. Solutions will be in next week’s column.

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