Often in the endgame, one side gives up their rook for a queening pawn. What’s left is a rook vs a single pawn.
Before you sacrifice your rook, you’ll want to calculate if you’re winning, drawn, or losing.
The examples in this article will help explain which situations are winning, where you want your rook to be, and where you want your king to be.
I’ve broken this article down by the rank the pawn is on.
Let’s get started.
- Pawn on the 7th vs a Rook
- Pawn on the 6th vs a Rook
- Pawn on the 5th vs a Rook
- Pawn on the 4th vs a Rook
- Pawn on the 3rd vs a Rook
- Pawn on the 2nd vs a Rook
Pawn on the 7th
This type of ending can sometimes come around in an even rook and pawn vs rook and pawn endgame.
One rook must sometimes be sacrificed for the promoted pawn, which leaves a rook and pawn left in the game.
When it come to a far advanced pawn vs a rook, the win will depend on the position of the kings.
White needs to be able to get the king to support the capture of the pawn, on either side. Right now, the pawn cannot advance or it will be captured, so black needs to be able to get to either c2 or e2.
White wins if the king is inside this zone for a D pawn. Memorizing this zone will be an impossible and unnecessary task, but what’s important is to understand where the white king needs to end up.
This can help you calculate when to go into an ending like this.
The king blocks the king from supporting the pawn. The black king cannot move closer and must give up the pawn.
What about if the King is on the other side of the pawn?
The white king must either be able to stop the king from going to e2, or be able to add another attacker to the pawn, as shown in the diagram.
1. Kb3 Ke2 2. Kc2
When the Rook is in front of the pawn
With the rook in front of the pawn, as long as the king is close enough to prevent the king from threatening the rook, then white can win.
1. Kf1 Kd3 2. Kf2
White slowly forces the black king away until it can help attack the pawn on e2
2… Kc2 3. Ke2
If these situations do not occur, it can be assumed that the white rook will sacrifice itself for the black pawn, leading to a draw. These examples should help to show how white can still win even with the pawn on the 7th.
Let’s move the pawn back to the 6th rank, two files away from queening and see what changes.
Pawn on the 6th
With a pawn on the sixth and a rook in front of the pawn, white has more trouble winning.
1… c2 2. Ra1 Kc3 3. Rc1 Kd3
white cannot make progress as the king doesn’t need to move to b2.
If the king moves to b2, then white occupies the dream square of d2.
3… Kb2 4. Kd2
When the rook is behind the pawn
Always take note if the kings are in opposition. Since a check would force the king in front of the pawn, where it cannot move forward, white gains a tempo.
1. Re8+ Kd2 2. Kf2 Kc2 3. Ke3 d2 4. Rc8+ Kd1 5. Rd8 Kc2
Let’s see the zone if the rook is on the first rank. Where does the king need to be?
The king must be within these squares to win
1. Rh2+ Ke1 2. Ke3
What if the king is in front of the rook, and blocking it?
Since the king is in the way of the pawn, the rook needs to attack from behind the pawn.
1. Rh2+ Ke1
1… Ke3 2. Kf1 d2 3. Rh3+ Kf4 4. Ke2
2. Rh8 Ke2
2… d2 3. Re8+ Kd1 4. Kf1 Kc2 5. Rc8+ Kd1 6. Rd8 Kc2 7. Ke2
3. Re8+ Kf3 4. Kf1 d2 5. Rd8 Ke3 6. Rd7 d1=Q+
The winning method is more difficult closer to the edge of the board
Kc2 is the only winning move
2. Rh2 Ka1 3. Rxb2
Because of the close proximity to the corner, the king runs out of moves.
2… Ka3 3. Rb1 Kb4 4. Rxb2+
Knight pawn – rook behind
1. Kc4 b2 2. Ra8+
Ra8 leads to a draw. It’s best to move the king in.
1… Kb2 2. Kc4 Kc2 3. Rh8 b2 4. Rh2+ Kb1 5. Kb3 Ka1 6. Rxb2
2… Kb1 3. Kb3 Kc1 4. Rc8+ Kb1 5. Rb8
The main idea of many of these scenarios is to bring the rook behind the pawn when the pawn cannot move forward. This allows the king to also attack the pawn whichever way the opposing king goes.
5. Rc2?? Ka1 6. Rxb2
5… Kc1 6. Ka2 Kc2 7. Rxb2+
Pawn on the 5th
Now that we understand how to win when the pawn is advanced. let’s see how to get our king into the zone in the first place.
The king needs to be within these squares, or closer to the pawn, to win. He will use what is known as a bypass to avoid opposition by the black king.
If the white king is on h5, seemingly out of place, he can gain opposition and force his way in.
1… d3 2. Kc5 Ke3 3. Kc4 d2 4. Kc3
Ke2 5. Rxd2+
1. Kg4 1… Ke3 2. Kg3 d3 3. Re8+
When in opposition, a tempo gaining rook check is often decisive. Notice it becomes hard for the black king to ever move in front of the pawn and block its own progress.
3… Kd4 4. Kf3 Kc3 5. Rd8
With the white king able to move to e2 after advancement of the pawn, the rook should be behind the pawn.
5… d2 6. Ke2 Kc2 7. Rxd2+
Rook in front of the pawn
The winning zone is the same as if the rook is behind the pawn
1. Kg4 Ke3 2. Kg3 d3 3. Re1+
Still taking opposition and forcing the king back in the same fashion. The king moving in front of the pawn allows Kf2, protecting the rook.
3… Kd2 4. Kf2
The rook can also swing behind the pawn at this point to win.
4… Kc2 5. Rc8+ Kd1 6. Kf2 d2 7. Rd8
4… Kc3 5. Ke3 d2 6. Rd1
Kc2 7. Rxd2+
Rook on H1
1. Kg4 Ke3 2. Re1+ Kf2 3. Rd1 Ke3 4. Kg3 d3 5. Re1+ Kd2 6. Re8 Kc3 7. Rc8+ Kb2 8. Rd8 Kc2 9. Kf2 d2 10. Ke2
Rook Behind the Pawn
Moving the pawn left one file shifts the drawing zone as well, but the king can still win on h5
1. Kg4 c3 2. Kf3 Kd3 3. Rd8+ Kc4 4. Ke2 c2 5. Rc8+ Kb3 6. Kd2
Knight Pawn, Rook controlling 1st rank
1. Kc6 b3
1… Kc4 2. Kb6 b3 3. Ka5 Kc3 4. Ka4 b2 5. Ka3 Kc2 6. Rh2+
2. Kb5 Kc3 3. Ka4 b2 4. Ka3 Kc2 5. Rh2+
Kc1 6. Rxb2
Kb7 and taking opposition. Whichever way black decides to go to, the white king will penetrate the other wing.
1… Kc4 2. Kb6 b3 3. Ka5
Gaining tempo with a check
1. Rc8+ Kb2 2. Rd8 Kc3
White has reached the same position, but not the rook is behind the pawn. Effectively gaining a tempo.
3. Ke5 d3 4. Ke4 d2 5. Ke3
With the badly placed rook, white can re-coordinate it and gain a tempo with check. The key here is that the black king must move out from the front of the pawn, and either one will be with check. The king protects the rook on either f5 or d5.
1. Rg5 Kf3
1… Kd3 2. Rd5+ Kc2 3. Re5 Kd3 4. Kf5 e3 5. Kf4
2. Rf5+ Kg2 3. Re5 Kf3 4. Kd5
e3 5. Kd4 e2 6. Kd3
Creating the Bypass
Here, the only square that doesn’t win is the h8 square. White can create a bypass to move into position.
1. Kf7 d4 2. Ke7 2… Ke4 3. Kd6 d3 4. Kc5 Ke3 5. Kc4 d2 6. Kc3 Ke2 7. Rxd2+
Rook in Front of the Pawn
The situation is the same with the rook in front of the pawn
1. Kf7 d4 2. Ke7 Ke4 3. Kd6 d3 4. Kc5 Ke3 5. Kc4 Ke2 6. Rxd3
Let’s move this example over one file.
Moving the pawn left one file means one more drawing square appears on g8 in addition to h8.
1. Ke7 c4 2. Kd7 Kd4 3. Kc6 c3 4. Kb5 Kd3 5. Kb4 c2 6. Kb3 Kd2 7. Rxc2+
[Event “Rook Endgames – Rook vs 1 Pawn: 5th rank – rook out of position”]
[FEN “1K6/8/8/3p4/4k3/8/8/5R2 w – – 0 1”]
In this case, the king is in the correct square
not a8 but the rook is not in the ideal position. Now we need to shift the rook to the right square. If the rook were on d1 or d8, then Kc7 would be the easiest way as we’ve seen.
1. Kc7 d4 2. Kc6 d3 3. Kc5 Ke3 4. Kc4 d2 5. Kc3
1… Kf3 2. Rd1 Ke4
The key idea we saw before. The rook gets into place with check, and the king must move back to defend the pawn.
Retis famous rook move
The obvious Rd1 here is the incorrect choice because of mutual zugswang. Notice how the kings are in opposition. Either Rd3 or Rd2 is correct, followed by Rd1.
Now white cannot force the king to give way and create a bypass for white. White will lose a tempo because the rook must move again.
2. Kd7 then black maintains the opposition with d5.
2. Rd2 Ke4 3. Kd6 Ke3
Black gains a tempo on the rook.
4. Rd1 d3 5. Kc5 Ke2
1… d4 2. Rd1 Ke4 3. Kd6 d3 4. Kc5
Ke3 5. Kc4 d2 6. Kc3
[Event “Rook Endgames – Rook vs 1 Pawn: 5th rank – reposition rook”]
[FEN “8/8/4K3/1p2R3/2k5/8/8/8 w – – 0 1”]
1. Re4+ Kc5
1… Kc3 2. Kd5 b4 3. Rc4+
Kb3 4. Kc5
2. Ke5 2… b4 3. Re1
White can gain a tempo with check now that the kings are in opposition, so the king needs to move.
3… Kc4 4. Ke4 Kc3 5. Rc1+
5… Kd2 6. Rb1 Kc3
The check to get into position again.
7. Ke3 b3 8. Rc1+ Kb4 9. Kd2
Remember: Pawns cannot advance on their own without support of the king
It’s important to know that the black king must always assist in advancing the pawn. Otherwise, the rook can win the pawn without the assistance of the white king.
1… b4 2. Kg7 b3 3. Rh3 b2
[Event “Rook Endgames – Rook vs 1 Pawn: When the pawn and king block the rook from getting behind or in front of the paw”]
[FEN “8/5k2/2PK4/5r2/8/8/8/8 w – – 0 1”]
The black rook is unable to get in front of the pawn and therefore cannot win.
1. c7 Rf6+ 2. Kd5
2. Ke5 Rc6
2. Kc5 Rf1
The king is too far away from its own pawn to defend it. If the pawn promotes, then check wins the queen and black wins.
3. c8=Q Rc1+ 4. Kd4 Rxc8
2… Rf5+ 3. Kd4 Rf4+ 4. Kd3 Rf3+ 5. Kc2 Rf2+ 6. Kb3 Rf3+ 7. Kb4 Rf4+ 8. Kb5 Rf5+ 9. Kb6 Rf6+
Black is out of checks and the pawn promotes. A rook vs Queen ending should be a win if player correctly, but it is still hard to convert.
10. Kb7 Kg6 11. c8=Q
[Event “Rook Endgames – Rook vs 1 Pawn: knight pawns when rook can’t get in front”]
[FEN “8/4k3/1PK5/4r3/8/8/8/8 w – – 0 1”]
1. b7 Re6+ 2. Kc5
2. Kd5 Rb6
2… Re5+ 3. Kc4 Re4+ 4. Kc3 Re3+ 5. Kb2 Re2+ 6. Ka3 Re3+ 7. Ka4 Re1
Without the edge of the board, the white king is forced to move back onto the b file and it will end in a draw. Again, black can win if white promotes the pawn like so:
8. b8=Q Ra1+ 9. Kb5 Rb1+ 10. Kc4 Rxb8
[Event “Rook Endgames – Rook vs 1 Pawn: Protecting with the king”]
[FEN “8/2P5/3K4/1r6/8/8/8/3k4 b – – 0 1”]
1… Rb6+ 2. Kd5 Rb5+ 3. Kd4 Rb4+ 4. Kc3 Rb1
5. Kd3 Rc1 6. c8=Q Rxc8