Basic Mates – King and Rook

How to Mate with a Rook and King against a King

TaskRatingComments
DifficultyThis is not a difficult ending to learn
FrequencyThis ending comes up very often so you must know it!
DetailThere is not a lot of material to learn

The ending with a rook and king against the king is quite straightforward and only requires a small amount of time to learn.
This is a basic mate and shouldn't take too long to master!

A common ending

It's seen very often in practice, as the rook and pawn v rook ending is common. At the end of this, with the right technique, the attacker will force the defender's rook off the board in exchange for the pawn and have to win this ending!

Castle

An imposing castle

The rook is a very dynamic piece, being able to move across all ranks and files. It can get to any given square on an open board in 2 moves (1. Go to right file, 2. Go to right rank). Like in the queen ending the rook can also create borders but only straight ones; this lengthens the mating process slightly.

Three things you will learn today

  1. This is a technically won ending
  2. It's enough to push the king to the side to deliver the mate, though the corner works too.
  3. There are two key ideas - 1. Cut off ranks/files or 2. Create a smaller box.

Part 1 of 3 - A won position

Your Turn! White to play

More detail on the study position

Black is stuck on the back rank as white covers all the squares on the 7th rank with his king. An attack of the king covering the 8th will checkmate the black king so 1. Re8+! is the right move.
Notice for all such mates, we also need the king's help!

Summary of part 1

  • This is a won position.
  • We need the king's help.
  • Must be at the side of the board (as the rook and king cannot cover enough squares in the middle).
  • The kings must face one another (or the king doesn't cover all the required flight squares).

Part 2 of 3 - Winning from the side of the board

Even when we restrict the king to a single rank or file, the process to win is not immediately obvious to chess beginners.

We learned in section 1 that we want the kings to face one another and we can also see it would be a good idea to keep our rook as far away from the king as possible. Let's see how to do this from a position where we've trapped the king on one rank but cannot mate so easily:

[Event "Study of Rook and King v King"] [Site "Chess Toolkit (Author = TQM.)"] [Date "2017.02.19"] [Round ""] [White "A King"] [Black "A Castle"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "N/A"] [Annotator "TQM"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "8/8/8/8/8/8/r7/2K4k b"] [PlyCount "44"] [EventDate "2017.02.19"] [EventType "Endgame Study"] [EventCountry "GB"] 1...Kg2 {we have the rook on the 2nd rank already and don't want to give the king a chance to escape - 1...Rh2 makes it much harder:} (1...Rh2 2. Kd1 Kg2?? 3.Kd2! {and black has some small hopes of survival}) 2. Kb1 Rf2 {as far away from the king as we can - this means we are not attacked when we check!} 3. Kc1 Kf3 4. Kd1 Ke3 5. Ke1! {now we have a nice subtle way to mate quickly!} 5...Rf5! {we force the king back to e1 in two moves} 6. Kd1 Rc5!! 7. Ke1 Rc1

In the final section, we will look at how to get the king to the side of the board!

Summary of part 2

  • From any position where the king is confined to a single file/rank, we know the winning technique.
  • Would be helpful to know how to get the king to the side
  • We will see there are two techniques to do this.

Part 3 of 3 - Winning Techniques - 1. Close off Files/Ranks 2. Create a smaller box for the king

Technique #1 - Closing off ranks and files:

This is an extension of the technique we learned in section 2. We close off ranks or files one by one using the same technique because we want to get to a position where the king has a single rank/file and then we know what to do from section 2.

[Event "Study of Rook and King v King"] [Site "Chess Toolkit (Author = TQM.)"] [Date "2017.02.19"] [Round ""] [White "A King"] [Black "A Castle"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "N/A"] [Annotator "TQM"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "8/8/8/8/4K3/8/1k6/r7 b"] [PlyCount "44"] [EventDate "2017.02.19"] [EventType "Endgame Study"] [EventCountry "GB"] 1...Rd1 (1...Rf1 {is also another way}) 2. Ke3 Kc3 3. Ke4 (3. Ke2 Rd8 4. Ke1 Kc2 5. Ke2 Re8 {etc.}) 3...Kc4 4. Ke5 Rd2 {now the defending king either faces our own after 5. Ke4 or runs further up the board where we can force it:} 5. Ke6 (5. Ke4 Re2 {and white has to move back to the f file}) 5...Kc5 6. Ke7 Kc6 7. Ke8 Kc7 8. Ke7 Re2 {and finally we've managed to push him back! The rest is more of the same:} 9. Kf7 Kd7 10. Kf6 Kd6 11. Kf5 Re8! 12. Kf4 Kd5 13. Kf3 Kd4 14. Kf2 Kd3 15. Kf1 Kd2 16. Kf2 Rf8 17. Kg2 Ke2 18. Kg3 Ke3 19. Kg4 Rf1 20. Kg5 Ke4 21. Kg6 Ke5 22. Kg7 Ke6 23. Kg8 Ke7 24. Kg7 Rg1 {and now we know the technique from section 2!}

Technique #2 - Making a smaller box:

You may have noticed there was a lot of chasing up and down the board so another technique is possible to restrict the enemy king. This is done by creating a smaller and smaller box. The reality is most players will use a combination of both techniques to bring around a speedy checkmate.

[Event "Study of Rook and King v King"] [Site "Chess Toolkit (Author = TQM.)"] [Date "2017.02.19"] [Round ""] [White "A King"] [Black "A Castle"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "N/A"] [Annotator "TQM"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "8/8/8/8/4K3/8/1k6/r7 b"] [PlyCount "44"] [EventDate "2017.02.19"] [EventType "Endgame Study"] [EventCountry "GB"] 1...Rd1 2. Ke3 Kc3 {with a nice trap!} 3. Ke4! (3. Ke2 Rd3! {and already the king is trapped between 2 ranks!}) 3...Rd3 {creating a box up from the 3rd rank and right from the d file} 4. Ke5 Rd4 {making a smaller box} 5. Ke6 Kc4 {we can't improve the position of our rook (as moving it would remove one of the box's "sides")} 6. Ke5 Kc5 7. Ke6 Rd5 8. Ke7 Rd6 {again, just closing the box...} 9. Kf7 Kd5 10. Ke7 Ke5 11. Kf7 Re6 12. Kg7 Rf6 13. Kg8 Ke6 14. Kg7 Ke7 15. Kg8 Rg6 16. Kh7 Kf7 17. Kh8 Rh6

The problem with both of these techniques is that they are quite slow! However, you should use a combination of the two to bring about a faster checkmate!

We can use three "skills":

  1. Lining up the rook and king to cut off certain ranks and files.
  2. Creating increasingly smaller boxes for the king to be confined in.
  3. The final mating trick where we waste a move with our rook to put the defending king in line with our own.
See below:
[Event "Study of Rook and King v King"] [Site "Chess Toolkit (Author = TQM.)"] [Date "2017.02.19"] [Round ""] [White "A King"] [Black "A Castle"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "N/A"] [Annotator "TQM"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "8/8/8/8/4K3/8/1k6/r7 b"] [PlyCount "44"] [EventDate "2017.02.19"] [EventType "Endgame Study"] [EventCountry "GB"] 1...Rd1 2. Ke3 Kc3 3. Ke4 Re1! {Using skill #1 - forcing the king to a rank/file nearer the side of the board} 4. Kd5 Re2! {Skill #3 - wasting a move with our rook to put the king on a weaker square} 5. Kc5 Re5 {Skill #1 again - sending the king closer to the side} 6. Kd6 Kd4 7. Kc6 Rd5 {Skill #2 - making an increasingly smaller box} 8. Kb6 Rc5 9. Kb7 Kd5 10. Kb6 Kd6 11. Kb7 Rb5! 12. Ka6 Kc6 13. Ka7 Ra5 14. Kb8 Ra2 15. Kc8 Ra8