Endgame Series 20 - Active Rook in the Endgame

Hello, Dear chess friends!

In the new issue of Endgame series, we will cover an important endgame principle: rook activity. Rook is a piece that often shows its greatest strengths in the endgame when most of the pawns and pieces disappear and it can move freely across the board. According to the statistics published by Mueller and Lamprecht in 2011, the most common type of endgame is exactly rook vs. rook endgame (8.45% in all games played), while endgames involving at least one rook appear in approximately 37% of all games played. So, when you sit at the board, there is more than one in three chance that you will play a rook endgame on that day! I do not think that we need to give further reasons why it is important to have a good understanding of rook’s capabilities in the endgame. Now, a well-known rule of thumb says that active rook in the endgame is worth a pawn. This does not apply to all positions, but in many of them, this is indeed the case. Our goal in this survey is to explore exactly such endgames where activation of the rook is the best strategy, even at the cost of a pawn. We start with a grandmaster encounter from the recently finished Russian Higher League: 


In sharp rook vs. pawns endgames, Tarrasch rule holds true as well. The rook is usually the most effective behind the pawns. An instructive application of this can be seen in the following game:


The other feature of the Tarrasch rule is putting the rook behind your own passed pawn. We already saw that this was the winning maneuver in Wojtaszek-Demchenko game. Let us see another example:

Following the Tarrasch rule is just one way to make sure that our rook is active in the endgame. There are various other ways in which the rook can be useful. We can activate the rook on the seventh rank, an open file, or generally wherever there are pawns that can be attacked. One of the worst things you can do is leave your rook in a passive position - if you have a choice, of course. With this in mind, let us look at one example where the ex-World champion did not follow this advice, remained passive with his rook, and rightfully lost the game.

Now that we know the right strategy for the defending side in rook endgames, let us see how to apply it in the following position:

Rook’s activity often enables us to take over the initiative in the endgame. 

In the next two examples, we will see how two of the world’s leading players have sacrificed a pawn to activate their rook and took the initiative in an equal endgame.