players feel helpless when they enter a Rook
endgame. This is quite unfortunate since Rook
endgames occur often - in fact, they are
more common than any other kind of endgame.
One thing that keeps players from studying such
endgames is their apparent complexity. Who can
understand such things? Who can memorize such
things? And which endgames are important, and
which ones are complete wastes of time?
In this article we will learn (yes, you will
completely master this particular ending in the
next few minutes!) the Holy Grail of Rook endings;
the sacred key that allows you to know what to
avoid when defending a pawn down Rook endgame,
while also giving you the knowledge to know what
to head for if you have the superior side.
This is one of those bits of chess knowledge
that EVERY player MUST possess. It's that important.
The LUCENA POSITION, first published in 1634
by Salvio (for some reason it wasn't in an earlier
work by Lucena), is a simplified position where
one side has a Rook and a pawn, while the other
side just has a Rook. The diagram shows us the
WHITE TO MOVE
White wins no matter who has the move, though
for instructions sake we'll give White the move
here. The key feature of the Lucena is the extra
pawn on the 7th rank, one square away
from turning into a Queen. Also, both Kings are
joined in battle, with the White King in front
of his pawn and the enemy King as close to the
area of battle as possible. Clearly, White needs
to do two things if he wants to win:
1) Move his King off of d8 so he can push his
2) Promote the pawn to a Queen.
Simple goals indeed, but is it really that easy?
Of course not! The problem is that White's King
is blocking his own pawn and, at the moment,
the Black King and Rook are preventing it from
getting out of the way. Since the Black Rook
can't be budged, White must force the Black King
to give ground. The first way to try and accomplish
this goal is:
Many players try this, but it simply doesn't
get the job done. After:
And not 1.Kf6?? 2.Ke8 followed by 3.d8=Q with
an instant win.
2.Re8+ Kf7 3.Re7+ Kf8 White is getting
Since this fails, White should play:
MAKING BLACK'S KING LEAVE THE SCENE OF
This is far more to the point! Since 1.Ke6??
allows 2.Ke8 followed by 3.d8=Q, Black has to
step to the side and give the White King room
Now comes a key moment. Of the following moves,
which one do you think is correct?
Let's take a look at each choice (and DO study
the flaws of every move since it will help you
acquire a clear understanding of what to avoid):
Threatening to promote the pawn.
2.Re1+ 3.Kd8 Rc1 and White hasn't made
any progress at all.
Again threatening to promote the pawn. This
is the move almost everyone tries!
It seems the White King is at last free to roam.
This is true, but its inability to support its
pawn in the face of the upcoming relentless barrage
of enemy checks makes the whole idea invalid.
And not 3.Ke5?? Rxd7, draw.
NOT GOOD ENOUGH
White's King is safe. Is he going to win?
No, this brings White back to reality. The pawn
can't safely advance, and it's threatened with
capture. White has no choice but to defend with
5.Ke6 Re1+ and White's again making no
This silly move helps Black by allowing him
to move back to f7, once again rendering the
White King immobile.
Thus, the RIGHT move for White is:
"BUILDING A BRIDGE" IS THE WINNING IDEA
This certainly looks odd, doesn't it? The idea
is to use the Rook to shelter its King from upcoming
checks. The legendary Nimzovich described this
maneuver as "building a bridge." Let's see how
Black can't improve his position so he marks
Only now should the White King leave the cover
of the pawn. Since promotion is threatened, Black
must go into checking mode.
3.Re2+ 4.Kd6 Rd2+ 5.Ke6
Don't toss the win out the window with 5.Ke5??
5.Re2+ 6.Kd5 Rd2+ 7.Rd4!
THE "BRIDGE" HAS BEEN BUILT
The bridge has been built and the pawn's promotion
to a Queen can no longer be prevented. Black
We can now sum up the winning ideas:
1) Force the Black King away from the action
2) Prepare to use your Rook as a check-blocking
("bridge-building") agent with Rf4.
3) Move your King away from the front of the
4) Block the opponent's desperate checks with
the Rook, which effectively ends the game.
Congratulations! You have now mastered the Lucena