Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Two Rooks vs Rook + Pawn: Discussion

Hope the CNY holidays were a good break for all of you! Sorry for the delay in this post, for I have been trying to analyze the position with the limited time I have. Let us look at the puzzle again:

White to move

Can White win in this position? The answer is yes, though of course it is far from easy! Before we see the variations, it is important to note the key points of this position:

  • Black's king is in a poor position. He is trapped at the side of the board, and blocks his own pawn. If White's king can safely reach f2 and/or get rid of the h pawn he possesses a strong checkmate threats on the h-file
  • If we remove one rook from both sides, the resulting rook vs pawn endgame is a win for White because his king is close enough to the main action. Conversely, it would be a draw if White's king were lured away from the battle.
  • In an attempt to draw, Black must keep his rook active, raining checks on the enemy king from afar whenever possible.
  • Another trick that Black can try will be to advance his pawn to h2 and stick the king on h1, creating stalemating opportunities. White must watch out for this.

Attempts at quick checkmates don't work: 1. Rg4 (threatening 2. Rxh4#) is met with 1... h3/Kh3, while after 1. Rg2 Kh3 2. Ke2 (preparing Kf2 followed by Rh1#) Black can play 2... Ra3! and rain checks from the side.

Having eliminated any chances of a quick mate, White is left with two possibilities: Simplify into a winning rook vs pawn endgame (with his king close enough to participate in the battle), or win the h-pawn.

Let us look at a variation which I analyzed, and see how White executes his plans:

It is clear that White can win in this position. But that leaves us with another question: Why would White relocate his rooks with 8. Rd7 to attack the pawn from the side? Wouldn't it be better to put the rooks behind the pawn, as according to Tarrasch's Rule?

One reason I can give is that with White's king currently sitting at the side of the board, relocating the rooks to the side gives him chances to protect his king from any rook checks. For example, this is what could happen if White had attacked the pawn from behind:

Although it is recommended to place rooks behind a passed pawn, this endgame is one such exception to the rule, where king safety turns out to be more important. So be careful in such situations!


Overall, what can we learn from this endgame?

  1. Sometimes, when a quick mate is not imminent, you need to be patient and look for other winning plans.
  2. A king stuck in the corner offers mating threats for the opponent.
  3. Keep your rooks active! This is how Black was able to prolong the struggle.
  4. The king is a powerful endgame piece. White needs his king to be close to the action in order to have winning chances in a rook vs pawn endgame.

There are of course other variations which White can try (e.g. Ke2), but I will leave them for you to explore. Hope you have learned much from this endgame, and happy CNY!

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