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Silman's Basic Endgames
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THE SECOND KEY TO ALL ROOK ENDINGS
THE PHILIDOR POSITION
 

In my first basic endgame article you mastered the Lucena Position (You DID master that position, didn’t you? If not, click HERE and reread article #1.). Now we will take a look at something that’s almost as important: the PHILIDOR POSITION.

Okay, who can remember strange names about this position or that position? Fair enough. Suffice it to say that we’re talking about a situation where each side has one Rook (no other pieces), but the superior side has an extra pawn (one pawn to none). Thus: Rook and pawn vs. Rook.

This definition would still lead to many kinds of situations, so we’ll further shrink our choice to Rook and pawn vs. Rook positions where the defender’s King is in front of the enemy pawn.

In general, such a position is drawn. However, things can turn ugly if the defender’s Rook is passively placed, giving the stronger side free reign to do whatever he wishes to do.


Diagram one


BLACK’S PASSIVE ROOK LEADS TO HIS DOOM

In diagram one White wins because Black’s Rook is stuck on his first rank (moving the Rook off the first rank allows Rh8+). Since Black’s Rook is a bystander and can’t bother the White King, the first player can calmly play 1.Ra7! when 2.Ra8+ can’t be stopped. Black would then have to resign. The idea of swinging the Rook over to the other side is worth remembering since we’ll make use of it again in this article (and you’ll likely make use of it to win real games!).

This teaches us an IMPORTANT RULE: If you’re defending such an endgame, don’t allow your Rook to become passively placed!

Let’s glance at another, equally hopeless, passive Rook position (diagram two).


Diagram two


DIFFERENT PAWN, but BLACK’S STILL DEAD

White scores the point by using that same “swing the Rook to the other side” technique: 1.Ra7 Kb8 (not a happy choice, but 2.Ra8+ had to be stopped) 2.c7+ Kc8 3.Ra8+ Kd7 4.Rxg8 and Black might be well advised to find something better to do with his time.

Sometimes, though, you can play horribly and still exit with your skin intact. In diagram three Black has allowed his Rook to become passive, but it doesn’t matter because White can’t win if he’s left with a Kt-pawn or R-pawn.


Diagram three


BLACK DRAWS DESPITE HIMSELF!

If only White could swing his Rook over to the file left of the a-file! Sadly, such a file doesn’t exist. Because of this, White can’t force a catastrophic back rank check (as occurred in diagram one after 1.Ra7) and, as a result, can’t win the game: 1.Rb7+ Ka8 2.Ra7+ Kb8 and no progress can be made.

This gives us access to another RULE: If your opponent’s extra pawn is a Kt-pawn or R-pawn and your King is in front of it, you should effortlessly draw even if the lobotomy scar hasn’t completely healed yet.

Having taken a look at the key passive Rook positions, it’s finally time to study a basic Philidor Position in all its glory.


Diagram four


BLACK TO MOVE DRAWS EASILY

I can’t begin to tell you how many people have lost this position as Black. Yet, in just a few moments you’ll be able to draw Kasparov with ease! The big idea here is to take away the whole sixth rank from the White King: 1...Rh6!

Believe it or not, this simple move ices the draw. Black was aware that passive play failed due to our old “swinging Rook crouching check” trick: 1…Rf7 (“Why let White check our King?” is a common line of reasoning. But stopping such a check turns out to be unrealistic after) 2.Ra8! when Ra7+ can’t be prevented.

But why didn’t Black play for the active Rook by 1…Rh1 (threatening to check on d1)? Because after 2.Rg7+ Ke8 White has the strong 3.Kd6!.


Diagram five


NOT WHAT BLACK WANTS!

Suddenly Black can’t maintain a cascade of checks since 3...Rh6+ runs into 4.e6 (using the pawn to block the check and threatening Rg8 mate) when 4…Rh8 leads to the lost passive Rook positions already discussed in our first two diagrams. Also note that 3...Rd1+ also fails to 4.Ke6 when the checks are over and Rg8+ is once again “on.”

The idea of blocking checks by using the pawn as cover is a big one, and Black must do his best to avoid this pitfall. By the way, the position in diagram five turns out to be drawn after all, but it’s far from easy and is anything but “basic."Look for a future article to explain how Black faces his fear and survives against impossible odds.". For our purpose (i.e., proving that the Philidor Position is an easy draw), we’ll say that you would be smart to avoid the position in diagram five.

Fortunately, playing 1…Rh6! (from diagram four) makes life good (and easy!) again.

2.Rg7+ Ke8 3.Ra7 Rg6


Diagram six


“YOU SHALL NOT PASS!” shouts the Black Rook to the White King

The deep defensive idea is now clear. If left alone, Black will bravely play …Rh6 and …Rg6 until the cows come home (or wrist-cramp sets in). Of course, if Black lusts for adventure then he can toss in …Rb6 (a “longer” and more flowery move) but it all amounts to the same thing: White’s King desperately wants to step forward but can’t due to the blocking power of the Black Rook!

4.e6

Not what White wanted to play but he has no other choices since 4.Ra8+ Ke7 makes Black happy. Now White threatens the strong Kd6 when Black’s King will feel some serious heat.

4…Rg1!

Only now does this active move work. Since White’s King can’t hide behind his pawn any longer the upcoming avalanche of checks makes the draw obvious.


Diagram seven


NO COVER FOR THE WHITE KING

In diagram five White was able to use his pawn as cover. Here he cannot. You would be wise to compare the two positions!

5.Ra4

No better is 5.Kd6 Rd1+ 6.Ke5 Re1+ and White should be a good sport and shake hands.

5…Ke7

Also fine is 5...Rd1+ 6.Rd4 Rxd4+ 7.Kxd4 Ke7 8.Kd5 Ke8 9.Kd6 Kd8 10.e7+ Ke8 11.Ke6, draw.

6.Ra7+ Ke8 and White’s getting nowhere fast.

I strongly recommend that you ponder the ideas in this very common endgame. These themes will help you save games when down a pawn and win games when you possess the extra bit against an unschooled opponent.