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Elementary endgames (Part 2)
Pieces in combat -- no Pawns.

The first article on elementary endgames covered basic checkmates and simple examples of King and Pawn vs. King. This article covers the simplest endgames without Pawns. These positions are important for two reasons.

  • They provide practical examples of the relative value of the pieces, and
  • while they may not appear in many games, they are often important when evaluating more complex endgames.

The positions on this page are all taken from Reuben Fine's Basic Chess Endings (BCE) and are numbered accordingly. The same ideas can be found in any competent introduction to the endgame.

Rook vs. Bishop

This endgame is generally drawn. The weak side's King heads for a good corner, where it cannot be dislodged by the strong side.

[Note: The terms strong side and weak side refer to the total relative value of the pieces on the board. In this example, the side with the Rook is the strong side.]

What is a good corner? This is one of the two corner squares opposite to the color on which the Bishop moves. Here are contrasting examples.

BCE #460

Note that the Black King is in a corner with a black square, but the Black Bishop travels on the white squares. The Black King is in a good corner and White has no better than a stalemate.

1.Ra8+ Bg8 2.Rb8 1/2-1/2

If, to avoid the stalemate, the Rook leaves the back rank, so can the Bishop. White can make no progress.

BCE #462

In this diagram, the Black King is in a corner with a white square, while the Black Bishop also travels on the white squares. Watch what happens.

1...Kb8 2.Kb6 Bg4 3.Rg7 Be6 4.Re7 Bg4 5.Re8+ Bc8

White has forced the Black Bishop to the side of the board.

6.Rh8 Ka8 7.Rxc8 mate

When the Rook loses a tempo with 6.Rh8, Black is not stalemated. The King is forced to move, allowing checkmate.

This is not the only elementary endgame where the relationship between the color on which the Bishop travels and the color of a corner square matters. The outcome of an endgame frequently depends on this relationship. This is particularly true when the strong side has a passed Pawn on the a- or h-file.

Rook vs. Knight

Like Rook vs. Bishop, this is generally drawn. The weak side's King, accompanied by its Knight, seeks shelter on the side of the board.

BCE #496

When the other King approaches, threatening a back-rank checkmate, the Knight drives it off the dangerous square.

1...Nd8+ 2.Kd6 Nb7+ 3.Kd5 Nd8 1/2-1/2

The weak side must be careful that its King is not driven into the corner. The corner is always a dangerous place for a Knight, because its mobility is severely restricted.

BCE #497

In this example, White mates or wins the Knight with 1.Kb6 Kb8 2.Rb2 Nc8+ 3.Kc6+ Ka8 4.Kc7.

Rook and Bishop vs. Rook

Like the previous examples, this is generally drawn. Unlike the previous examples, it is a difficult endgame to hold as there are numerous pitfalls along the way.

Many a strong player has succumbed before reaching the sanctuary of the 50 move rule. Strong players, who usually abandon Rook vs. minor piece as drawn, will play this one out, even against another strong player.

BCE #523

The diagram shows Philidor's Position, named after the strongest player of the 18th century. White can force a win.

Note that the White Bishop controls the Black King's first two escape squares (b7 and f7) not covered by the White King. Less obviously, it also controls b3 and f3. White starts by taking control of the 7th-rank.

1.Rf8+ Re8 2.Rf7 Re2 3.Rg7 Re1 4.Rb7 Rc1 5.Bb3

The Bishop prevents Rd1+, forcing the enemy Rook to the 3rd-rank.

5...Rc3 6.Be6 Rd3+ 7.Bd5 Rc3 8.Rd7+ Kc8

If 8...Ke8 9.Rg7, and mate can only be prevented by 9...Rf3, where the Rook is captured by the Bishop. This is why the Rook was forced to this rank.

9.Rf7 Kb8 10.Rb7+ Kc8 11.Rb4 Kd8

White can prolong the struggle by sacrificing the exchange, 11...Rd3 12.Ra4 Rxd5+, but this reduces to an elementary checkmate.

12.Bc4 Kc8 13.Be6+ and mates.

In the diagram, the Kings are on a center file. Philidor's Position is also a win for White with the Kings on a Bishop's file (c-/f-file) or a Rook's file (a-/h-file), but is a draw on a Knight's file (b-/g-file).

Rook and Knight vs. Rook

Once again, this is a draw. It is easier to defend than Rook and Bishop vs. Rook. The weak side must keep its King away from the corner. If its King is on the side, it must keep its Rook from being confined to the same side.

BCE #533

This diagram shows why a cornered King is in danger.

1.Kg6 Kg8 2.Nc7

The Knight heads immediately for f6. BCE gives 2.Rb6 Re8 3.Rc6 Ra8 4.Ng5 Kf8 5.Re6 Rb8 6.Nh7+ Kg8 7.Re7 Rb6+ 8.Nf6+, but the text is faster.

2...Rd8 (2...Rc8 3.Nd5 is similar) 3.Nd5 Kh8 (3...Rd6+ 4.Nf6+) 4.Rh7+ Kg8 5.Nf6+ Kf8 6.Rf7 mate

An economical mate!

Queen vs. Rook

Unlike the previous examples, this is generally won for the strong side. The Queen (and King) are powerful enough to force the Rook (and King)

  • first to the side of the board,
  • then into a corner, and
  • finally into a position like the following.

BCE #596, Black to move.

Black is in zugzwang. The Rook is forced to move away from its King, where it is soon lost by a fork. The toughest defense is 1...Rh7 2.Qa5+ Kb8 3.Qb4+ Ka7 4.Qa3+ Kb8 5.Qb3+ Ka7 6.Qa2+ Kb8 7.Qg8+ 1-0.

You should work out Black's other first moves for yourself. It makes excellent tactical practice.

 Related Resources
• Part 1 - Elementary endgames
• Part 2 - Pieces in combat, no Pawns
• Part 3a - Major piece without Pawns vs. Pawn without pieces
• Part 3b - Minor piece without Pawns vs. Pawn without pieces
• Part 4 - Piece plus Pawn vs. equivalent piece without Pawn
• Part 5 - King and Pawn
Part 6 - Rook's Pawn
• Part 7 - Outside Passed Pawn
• Part 8 - Rook plus a lone Pawn vs. a Rook
• Part 9 - Strengths and weaknesses of the minor pieces
• Part 10 - Endgame Studies