Queen v Rook Ending – From Philidor

Winning the Queen v Rook Ending - Part 1 from Philidor

DifficultyThis is a challenging ending to learn
FrequencyThis ending comes up quite often so you should know it!
DetailThere is quite a lot of material to learn even for this part

The queen v rook ending is a major irritant for a lot of developing players. To work out the win, it is fundamental to know the Philidor position.

Quick aside

If you want to see how to get to Philidor, see our article: reaching the Philidor position from an open board

It's such a significant material advantage (4 pawns) but still very hard to convert if the defender knows what he's doing. This ending involves patience and a bit of a leap of faith for the learner.

A monk-like patience is required to learn this ending!

The technique for this ending is rather unusual, as you have to learn a position first! However from this position there is a forced win in every line. It is very difficult to get to this position but also necessary.

We've split the material into two sections:

Three things you will learn today

  1. There is a forced win in the Queen and Rook Ending.
  2. The Philidor Position is winning whoever is to move.
  3. It's not so easy to get into the Philidor Position.

Part 1 of 3 - A forced win

The Key Position - Black to Play

More detail on the study position

The position above is The Philidor Position and the most important thing you need to take away from this page.

With black to move, white can win material easily

There are lots of nasty forks and tricks coming to win the defender's rook but nothing immediate so it's easier if black moves first to create a weakness:
[Event "Study of Queen v Rook"] [Site "Chess Toolkit (Author = KingAdmin)"] [Date "2017.02.16"] [Round ""] [White "A Queen"] [Black "S Castle"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "N/A"] [Annotator "QTM"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "1k6/1r6/2K5/Q7/8/8/8/8 b"] [PlyCount "44"] [EventDate "2017.02.16"] [EventType "Endgame Study"] [EventCountry "GB"] 1...Rb3 {this is the hardest for the attacker in practice (together with 1...Rb1)! - Note 1...Rc7, 1...Rd7, 1...Rb6, 1...Rb5 and 1...Rb4 lose a piece straightaway - any king move loses so we are left with rooks along the b file and the 7th rank:} (1...Kc8 2. Qa6! {easy enough if you see it!}) (1...Rb2 2. Qe5 Ka7 3. Qxb2) (1...Rb1 2. Qd8 Ka7 3. Qe7 Kb8 (3...Ka8 4. Qf8 Rb8? {4...Ka7 is the mainline} 5. Qa3)(3...Ka6 4. Qa3) 4. Qf8 Ka7 5. Qf7! (5. Qg7? Ka6!)5...Kb8 6. Qg8 Ka7 7. Qh7 Kb8 8.Qb1) (1...Ra7 2. Qd8) (1...Re7 2. Qd8 Ka7 3. Qe7) (1...Rf7 2. Qe5 Ka7 (2...Ka8 3. Qe8 Ka7 4. Qf7)(2...Kc8 3. Qe8) 3. Qa1! Kb8 4. Qb2 Ka7 (4...Ka8 5. Qa2 Ra7 (5...Kb8 {is the mainline}) 6. Qg8) 5. Qa2 Kb8 6. Qf7) (1...Rg7 2. Qe5 Ka7 3. Qg7) (1...Rh7 2. Qb4 {like the Rb1 line but already with a headstart!} 2...Ka7 (2...Kc8 3. Qf8) 3. Qa3 Kb8 4. Qb3 Ka7 5. Qa2 Kb8 6. Qb1 Ka7 7. Qh7) 2. Qe5 Ka7 3. Qg7! Ka8 {at least giving the possibility of 4...Rb8 but it doesn't help!} (3...Kb8 4. Qg8 Ka7 5. Qxb3) 4. Qg8 Rb8 (4...Ka7 5. Qb3) 5. Qa2

Summary of part 1

  • From the Philidor position with black to move, every move black makes is losing, either by dropping a rook or leading to a mate.
  • With white to move, there is no brilliant forcing line, so we learn a technique instead to transfer the move back to black by force.
  • Of course these analyses hold (by the symmetry of the board) for whoever is attacking and whichever corner we are in. The same techniques hold for example with Ka7, Rb7, Kc6, Qd8.
  • The Rb3/Rf7 and Rb1/Rh7 lines are the most tenacious defences. The attacker needs to know his stuff!

Part 2 of 3 - Philidor with the attacker to move

As the defender already has a rotten position and we have no killer blow, we are aiming to transfer the move to the opponent, which we can do with a triangle. Qe5-a1-a5.

[Event "Study of Queen v Rook"] [Site "Chess Toolkit (Author = Ed.)"] [Date "2017.02.16"] [Round ""] [White "A Queen"] [Black "S Castle"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "N/A"] [Annotator "TQM"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "1k6/1r6/2K5/Q7/8/8/8/8"] [PlyCount "44"] [EventDate "2017.02.16"] [EventType "Endgame Study"] [EventCountry "GB"] 1. Qe5! {this is the first move to find. We want to get back to where we've started but with the opponent's move. Every move we make must give that option as the best alternative for the defender:} 1...Ka7 (1...Kc8 2. Qe8)(1...Rc7?? 2. Qc7)(1...Ka8 2. Qa1 Kb8 {this is the mainline} (2...Ra7 3. Qh8)) 2. Qa1! Kb8 {forced} 3. Qa5! {now we have the exact starting position but with the defender to move}

Summary of part 2

  • There is no forced sequence to win with the attacker to move (e.g. 1. Qd8 Ka7! and we've made no progress) but there is with the defender to move from the Philidor position.
  • We transfer the move by getting back to the position by force and giving the move away. There is no better alternative for the defender.
  • From here, we know the winning technique from part 1!

Part 3 of 3 - It's not so easy to get into the Philidor Position

Whilst we now know how to win this position, it's not so easy to get there. We will go through the technique in another post.

What's helpful though, if you're playing someone who is not familiar with the ending, is to always be on the lookout for nasty forks with the queen.

The queen controls lots of juicy diagonals as well as ranks and files.

See if you can find some nice forks in these positions:

Summary of Queen and Rook from Philidor

  • This is a won ending but a very tough one - we have learned it's won once we get to the Philidor position
  • With the defender to move, we know how to win the game.
  • Defending, we will play Rb1/Rb3 or Rf7/Rh7 to make the attacker's job as hard as possible.
  • If we have to move, we pass the move to the defender instead.
  • Whilst getting to Philidor is tough in practice, we may win material by a fork on the way.