Recently, I’ve personally seen the infamous rook and bishop versus rook endgame in play several times. A few things struck me oddly. First of all, the number of times I’ve seen it arise is quite considerable even though it is considered a fairly rare endgame. Secondly, even though the games I’ve seen were played by strong players, there were major errors made by both sides. That is definitely quite understandable, as many players probably forgot or never learned the correct defense or winning method. I also forgot how to win this position too, but after seeing the endgame in the exciting Paikidze-Zatonskih at the US Women’s Champs, I made it my duty to refresh my memory! It would be a shame to lose a half or whole point because of forgotten endgame theory. This is why I want to make a quick article that goes over the most important ideas in this endgame.
Most people know that this endgame should be a draw if no blunders arise, the defender’s king isn’t pushed to the edge of the board, and correct play is involved.
Note: In certain cases, the game could still be a draw even if the defender’s king is on the edge.
However, even if the attacker does manage to successfully drive the defender’s king to the edge of the board into the Philidor position, an extremely accurate and difficult series of moves will be needed to get the full point. For simplicity’s sake, we would discuss how to win the position if it arises in the central files.
The Philidor Position
This is the starting point of the Philidor Position. If this were Black to move, this position would be a draw because of the only move Re7+, and the white king will have to retreat. That also means that if Black were unable to play this check, he will be lost even if it was his move. Anyways, White’s first moves are simple. 1. Rc8+ Rd8 2. Rc7. White takes control of the seventh rank.
Here, the immediate threat by White is 3. Rh7, with unstoppable mate. If Black keeps his rook along the 8th rank like with 2…Ra8, he looses immediately to 3. Rh7. That means he either has to move 2… Kf8, or take his rook off of the 8th rank. After 2… Kf8, White has a straightforward win with 3. Rh7, still threatening mate. After 3…Re8+ 4. Kf6 Kg8 5. Rg7+ Kh8 6. Rg5 Kh7 7. Rh5+ Kg8 8. Kg6 and mate will come soon. Well that wasn’t so bad!
But if your opponent wants to give you a hard time to get that win, they will move the rook to either d3, d2, or d1. I will tell you right now that 2…Rd2 is the most tenacious defense for Black, and you will see in a second why 2…Rd3 or 2…Rd1 loses more quickly.
2…Rd2. Now, White plays a clever waiting move, 3. Ra7. The point is that Black must move his rook off of the second rank because any king moves loses. 3… Rd1
3… Rd3 looses quicker and is less intuitive. First, White wins time with 4. Re7+ Kd8 (4…Kf8 5. Rh7 Black can’t stop the mate with Rg3 because of the bishop.) 5. Rh7! Swinging to the other side. (5. Ra7?! would not work because of the simple 5…Ke8) 5… Kc8 6. Rc7+. Another maneuver to win time. 6… Kd8 (6…Kb8 walks into the discovered attack) And now, the amazing 7. Rc4!
White is threatening 7. Bf6+. Black must play 6…Ke8. Now, 7. Bd4! There is no way Black can stop the mate without losing his rook.
4. Rg7. The rook zips to the other wing.
Although 4. Rh7 looks prettier, since it gives more space between the Black king and White rook, the rook should go to the g-file for a reason you will see soon. 4… Rf1
4…Kf8 5. Rh7 Rg1 6. Ra7 Kg8 7. Ra8+ Kh7 8. Rh8+ Kg6 9. Rg8+. And Black loses his rook.
5. Bg3!! What a brilliant and stunning move!
This is why the rook had to be on the first rank. The e1 square is controlled by the White bishop so the king is protected from annoying checks. The bishop also controls the f2 square, so if the rook were to move, it’d have to go to the third rank. 5… Rf3
5…Kf8 does not work. 6. Rg4 (and this is why the rook should go to g7, not h7.) 6… Ke8 7. Ra4. Switch sides! 7… Rd1 (7… Kf8 8. Be5 Kg8 9. Rh4 and mate) 8. Bh4!! My favorite move in the ending!
This is the kind of move that would be impossible to find over the board if the White player didn’t know it beforehand. The bishop is an octopus, guarding the vital e1 square, and now threatening mate because the rook can no longer go to d8. Black is toast. 8…Kf8 9. Rg4 with imminent mate.
After 4… Rf3 5. Bd6 creats a mate threat. 6… Re3+ 7.Be5
This position is similar to the one we started with, but with one vital difference. Because of the mate threat, the black rook cannot return to the second or first file and will find itself on the deadly third rank.
7…Rf3. Now the win is almost the exact same as after 3…Rd3. 8. Re7+ Kf8 9. Ra7 Kg8 10. Rg7+ Kf8 11. Rg4 Ke8 12. Bf4 +-
We did it!
Note: It is important to note that the Philidor Position is also winning on the bishop files, however, some new defensive variations may come about. Unfortunately, the Philidor is not winning on the knight’s file. Good news though, is that the Philidor Position is surprisingly winning on the rook’s file!
There is often a lax of attention on the Rook and Bishop vs Rook ending. It is beneficial to refresh your memory on this ending every once in a while. You never know when your knowledge will come to fruit!
I hope this article have helped you all in some way… Next time you enter this endgame, be prepared to play out this grueling but fun maneuver!