Who’s move is it? Rook endings I

Lucena Position

What is the most famous rook ending there is?  The Lucena Position comes to mind. A rook ending where one side has an extra pawn that is about to promote. Still, many people do not know of this ending, or more precise, how to execute the win or draw. Let’s take a look at the basis, and make sure that the main ideas stick.

What is the deal with this position?

Let’s first put it on the board:

This is it. Rook and pawn versus rook. Now, which chess player has never had such a position on the board? Chances are you have. But did you managed to win with White? And what about Black? Can the game be drawn?

Turns out Black can. White to move wins, Black to move draws. How is that for an interesting fact? Let’s look at the main idea, shall we?

Lucena Position – White wins

If White wants to move, then Rg1+ is the logical move, forcing the Black king to the h-file. Now, Black needs to stay close to the pawn, so h7 is the logical move.

Now, as you can see, the Black king is further away, so the White king can move to f7. And here you see the reason why Rf4! is such a crucial move. The White king will move towards e5 and eventually the White rook will block the checks by Black. This will lead to the following position:

The White king moves down the board, and eventually the White rook is used as a wall (literally) to stop the checks. The pawn on e7 will promote, and the game is over. So the learning points here are the following, when you are the side with the extra pawn.

  • Your rook has to be used to stop the checks by your opponent.
  • The opponent’s king has to be chased away, to make sure it can’t reach your promoting pawn.
  • Your king and rook have to work together to make sure the blockade of the opponent’s rook is achieved. The fourth rank is a crucial theme to remember!

Lucena Position – Black draws

Black to move has a challenge, but he can actually draw this position. Now, what are the crucial steps here?

Black needs to find the ‘long side’ of the board to give checks. The long side is that side of the board where the rook has the most space to give checks to the opponent’s king and still can get away. In this case, the Black rook is position just fine. On the other hand, if the rook would be on the other side, that would be the end of the game.

So after the initial check on a8, the White king will move to d7. A new check on b7 will follow. And then? Well, White has to choose. Both d8 and d6 seem good options (diagram). But let’s take a look at all of them

  • Ke8: blocks the pawn, we are back to the initial position
  • Ke6: slightly better, yet Black can just continue with checks. DO NOT stop the pawn by playing Ra8?? This loses after Rg1+! and now the White king can move to f7…
  • Kc6/Kc8: loser the pawn
  • Kd8: again, Black can check. Ra8+ follows, and this will eventually lead to the final move
  • Kd6: again, Black can check. Ra6+. And now what? White has several moves

Here, all the yellow arrows will lead to a continuation of checks. Black can repeat checks ad infinitum and the position is a draw.
The final chance that White has lies in the move Kc6?! This move hopes for a mistake made by you, and if you’d give another check, this would indeed be the case. Keep your rook away from a king – two squares is the bare minimum! The cool Re6! picks up the pawn and the game is drawn! The learning points here are the following:

  • Keep your rook on the long side of the board. Checks need to be given from the side or the back!
  • Keep your king as close as possible to your opponent’s pawn, just in case.
  • Give checks with the rook whenever you can.
  • Know that your opponent can only win when you forget to keep at least 2 squares between your rook and the opponent’s king! Do not let that happen 🙂

Lucena Position: even GMs make mistakes

I have several games in my database that show GMs missing out on the win or the draw. This will almost always be time trouble, yet it shows how important it is to ingrain this position in your mind. So have fun winning/drawing the Lucena Position!


  1. Boeiend onderwerp! In het jaar 1497 kwam de Italiaan Lucena met deze verbluffende , eenvoudige methode om te winnen van toren en pion tegen toren: de zogenaamde BRUG. Proberen te onthouden, komt altijd één keer voor in je schaakcarriere.

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