Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Rook & Pawn vs Rook

Today we delve deeper into rook endgames. I assume you already know Lucena and Philidor--if not, or you need a review--read this R & P vs R lesson first.

While the Philidor position and the sixth-rank defense are essential knowledge, if that's all you know, you will still be regularly crushed in R+P vs R endings by good players.

Consider 1.Rd2!?. Black's king will never be able to get in front of the pawn.

But there is a defense:   The Frontal Attack

The Frontal Attack is a defensive technique that works if the pawn has not crossed the middle of the board. The defending rook must perpetually attack the enemy king and pawn.

In the above diagram, 1.Rd2!? Rc8 2.Kb4 Rb8+! 3.Kc5 Rc8+! 4.Kb5 Rb8+! 5.Ka6 Rc8! and White's king is forced backwards 6.Kb5 =.

Key points:
    1. The defender's rook must stay on the 8th rank.
    2. The defender's king must stay on the 5th or 6th rank.

Do not forget these points, or punishment will be swift and deadly.

This is a position from Kochiev-Smyslov. It can be drawn by the frontal attack method you just learned. However, Kochiev fatefully played 1.Ke2??.

"His grave error had fatal consequences. A draw would have maintained excellent chances of his qualifying for the International tournament. After losing, he failed to qualify and the whole career of this young talented grandmaster fell steeply down thereafter." -- Dvoretsky

The game continued: 1.Ke2?? Kb5 2.Rb1+ Ka4 3.Rc3 Kb4 4.Rb1+ Ka3 5.Rc1 Rd5 6.Ke3 Kb2 7.Rc4 Kb3 0-1. It's instructive to play it out to see how you can punish opponents who have not mastered the frontal attack, and how you'll be punished if your forget.

Know the frontal attack... or suffer the fate of Kochiev!

[Addendum: If the defending king is cut off by more than one file, the attacker can win, unless the pawn is a knight- or rook-pawn. Rook pawns are very, very drawish.]

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