I have written multiple articles on chess strategy and the middle game, but for some reason, I have avoided writing on the endgame theme. I was scanning through the “Lazy Person’s Guide to Endgame” by GM Ian Rogers published in January 2010 in Chess Life Magazine and decided to write my own thing. The first endgame analyzed by GM Rogers is the famous Queen vs. Rook ending. He claims that it is an easy win for the side with the queen.
I decided to go ahead and test this Q vs. R endgame against the Chessmaster Grandmaster Edition, setting the Queen for myself and a Rook for the engine. After about 20 tries I found this task to be impossible.
In fact, according to ChessBase most GMs are not able to win against perfect defense of the computer. I used Nalimov’s Endgame Tables and concluded that it is possible to win in 30 moves if white to move or 31 move if Black to win, and if Black doesn’t win the queen.
Most guides show the way to checkmate in well known Queen vs. Rook “Key” position (shown below), but missing most important part – getting to this position. They assume it to be an easy task, when in reality it turns out to be extremely complicated against the perfect defense.
The most difficult thing for a human mind to overcome in this sort of endgame is so-called “third rank defense”. In this defense weaker side places its rook on the third rank and not allowing opponent’s king to penetrate:
According to the Nalimov’s Tables there is a win in 19 in this position.
1. Qf4 Kd7 2. Qa4+ Kc7 3.Qa7+ Rb7 4.Qc5+ Kb8 5.Kd6 Rg7 6.Qd5 Rg6+ 7.Kd7 Rb6 8.Qe4 Rb3 9.Qe5+ Ka7 10.Qc5+ Kb8 11.Kc6 Rb7 12.Qa5 Rb1 13.Qe5+ Ka7 14.Qd4+ Ka8 15.Qh8+ Ka7 16.Qh7+ winning the rook and the game
How to win Queen vs. Rook endgame?
- Against a human opponent there is a possibility of winning this endgame if weaker side plays incorrect defense resulting in winning a rook by the fork or mating the king. So, if you’re the stronger side with a Queen you should definitely play on and try to outplay your opponent. If you’re the one defending you have a hope: the game Gelfand – Svidler ended up with a draw and the game Morozevich – Jakovenko was drawn in this endgame.
- The “book” idea is to create the following position (or the symmetrical one) which is a win:
1. Qe4+ Kg8 2.Qa8 Kh7 3.Qe8 wins
Why is it hard to win Queen vs. Rook endgame?
- As we can see from the Nalimov’s Tables there is a mate in 30 moves possible in the worst scenario. Think about it, sometimes it is hard to find a mate in 4-5 moves, but here it is a mate in 30 (!) moves. It means, the player needs to calculate far upfront in order to see it.
- There is also a 50 moves rule imposed by FIDE and USCF, which states that if there is no pawn moves or captures for 50 moves the game is declared to be a draw. The stronger side cannot afford try to win twice.
How to practice this endgame?
You can play this endgame by setting up your favorite chess engine to play for weaker side and try to checkmate it in 50 moves. It is also a great exercise which improves overall visualization of a chess board and especially the coordination of Rook and King and Queen and King.
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