Rook vs Two Pawns

How do you play with a rook vs two pawns?

Let's start with rook vs seperated pawns.

If your king can help your rook, you should be able to win this ending.

If your rook has to do all the work alone, you may in many cases still win.

Only if the pawns are very far advanced (or get help from their king), the pawns will win.

Example nr.1

Here the king is helping the rook. This is an easy win for Black.

Black to move plays 1....Rh1 winning.

If it's White to move first, Black always has a winning continuation. After 1.h7, Rh1 wins. And after 1.Kf4, Kxd7 wins.

Example nr.2

The rook has to do the work alone.

With the kings out of side, this isn't very difficult. 1.Re1 wins easy.

Example nr.3

The rook has to do all the work alone. Unfortunately the pawns are very far advanced. The rook will lose the battle.

Example nr.4

Black would like to promote one of his pawns.

If it's his move he'll succeed. After 1...Kc2;  one of the pawns will promote. The rook can win one of the pawns, but the other one will certainly queen.

During over the board play White's best chance would be to liquidate into a Rook vs Queen endgame (2. Rg1, b1Q; 3.Rxg2+).This endgame isn't an easy win and your opponent may not know how to win it.

Now consider the initial position once more, but now it's White to move.

In this case, White can force an immediate draw.

If White plays 1. Rg1!, he stops both pawns, and the black king can't help them.

The king can't cross the second rank due to a rook check, and the pawns disappear (1...Kc2; 2.Rxg2).

Black may try 1....Ke3;( threatens Kf2). Only to see the rook return with 2.Rb1.

Black can't make progress because there are four squares between the pawns.

Example nr.5

This position is almost the same as the previous one. The only difference is the room between the pawns. This time there are only three squares.

Now it doesn't matter who has the move. If it's Black he will play 1...Kc2, promoting a pawn.

White to move first can choose to capture a pawn (and again try to hold the rook vs queen endgame). The other pawn will certainly promote. The defending mechanism of the previous example doesn't work here. If White plays 1.Rf1, then Black will play 1...Ke2; and win.

Example nr.6

In this position, Black to move will win.

After 1...c4; there are two variations.

Variation 1: try to win the pawn with the rook.

2. Rc8, c3; 3. Rxc3, Kb2; Now the rook has no squares to prevent the promotion of the a-pawn.

Variation 2: Bring the king in to help (this doesn't help either).

2.Kf5, c3; 3. Rc8, Kb2; 4. Rb8+, Kc2 5. Ra8, Kb3; 6. Rb8+, Kc4; 7. Ra8, c2;

Example nr.7

Here Black's king is very active. It's stopping the h-pawn and the White king can't help the f-pawn promote.

Black will win this without any problems.

Now consider the following position.

Here the Black king is out of play.  The white pawns aren't very far advanced (this makes White's task more difficult). White has to put all his trust in one pawn.

1.Kg4!,  (1.f4 would be betting on two pawns and this loses to 1...Kb3; 2.Kg4, Kc4; 3. h5, Kd5; 4. Kf5, Rc1; 5. h6, Rh1; 6. Kg6, Ke6; 7. Kg7, Ke7!; 8.h7, Rg1+; 9.Kh6, Kf7!)


Black is going to attack the pawns from behind.

2.h5, Kb3;

3.h6, Kc4;

4. Kf5 (bodycheck), Kd5;

5. h7 (threaten to queen), Rh1 (preventing the promotion);

6. Kg6 (supporting the pawn), Ke6 (taking away as many squares as possible);

7. Kg7 (going for promotion) ,Rg1 (the only way to prevent it);

8. Kf8! draw.

And now the rook has to return to h1 to prevent promotion (or let the pawn promote and capture it next move after Ra1, Ra8, Rxh8).

Notice the white f-pawn? It didn't move at all.

Rule: if you're defending with two seperated pawns against a rook, put your hopes on one pawn.


After all these examples, we can now state some rules.

Rule: if you're defending with two seperated pawns against a rook, put your hopes on one pawn.

Rule: if you're attacking two seperated pawns with your rook, it's best to have your king helping.

Rule: very far advanced pawns are hard to stop with only a rook.

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