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"Simple" Rook and Pawn vs Rook - Part 2: Drawing Mechanisms

In the previous article, we talked about simple cases of rook and pawn versus rook where the side with the pawn won. This included Lucena's position and how to win when you have the dreaded rook pawn. In this article, we will be looking at a couple of drawing mechanisms for the side that is lacking the pawn. These are the simplest of all drawing mechanisms, and are critical for all chess players to know.

Before we dig into these drawing mechanisms, I want to bring up some statistics. I personally have played roughly 3400 tournament games of standard time control. What I am about to cover has come up a good 30 to 40 times, or roughly once per 100 games. In contrast, Lucena's position has been reached six times in those same 3400 games, five of them going in my favor. But as we can see, that is less than once every 500 games. The reason for this is that for Lucena's position to occur, either the player lacking the pawn must have been forced into the rook and pawn versus rook ending where his own king started out of place, or else he made a major error. If the defending King can get in front of the pawn, it is almost always a draw with best play.

Here, we will be talking about the three most important drawing mechanisms to know. They include:

A) Philidor's Draw

B) The Passive Defense

C) The Short Side Defense

A) Philidor's Draw

If there is only one ending you ever remember from these articles, this is probably the most important one to know of them all. It will save you half a point more times than you probably want to imagine. The good thing about Philidor's draw is that there are no exceptions. The mechanism works against all pawn types, whether that be a central pawn, bishop pawn, knight pawn, or even a rook pawn, though in the case of the rook pawn, it isn't totally necessary, but it doesn't hurt to make a habit of using this mechanism.

The rule itself is fairly simple to remember. If the side that has the pawn has both his pawn and his king either on or behind the fifth rank, then the defending side needs to have his king on one of his back two ranks and on the same file as the opposing pawn, and his rook needs to defend the sixth rank from the perspective of the pawn. In other words, if it's a white pawn, the black rook needs to be placed on the sixth rank. If it's a black pawn, the white rook needs to be placed on the third rank.

Let's take a look at a concrete example:

If you are the player down the pawn and are trying to draw the game, this should always be the first method you try for. If this method is not available, like if the rook or king of the side that has the pawn is on the sixth rank, then you have to look at the following methods, and which one you use speciically depends on what file the opposing pawn is on.

B) The Passive Defense

The passive defense is the method used when unable to use Philidor's Draw method and you are defending against a rook pawn or a knight pawn, and I must emphasize, ONLY when defending against a rook pawn or a knight pawn.

The method itself is extremely simple, as we will see in the example below. Stopping a rook pawn is easy. For a knight pawn, there are a few "rules" to follow when using the passive defense. In any specific situation, there may be other methods to draw, but if you follow these rules, they always work with no exception.

The rules are:

  1. Always keep the king on the file of the pawn and on the back rank. In the one instance where he checks you, always go to the corner. Once it is legal to return to the original square for the king, return to the original square

  2. The rook must come to the back rank, and if the king is already on the desired square, toggle the rook between the two squares farthest away from the pawn that aren't attacked by the opposing rook.

It really is that simple. Let's see these rules put into action.

And now let's look at why this doesn't work against the four central pawns.

But fear not! We have a method to stop those pawns!

C) The Short Side Defense

The Short Side Defense is another method available when Philidor's Draw is not. The main difference between this and the Passive Defense is that this method is used when dealing with a pawn on any of the center four files. Let's take a look at a specific example to illustrate the concept.


Because these drawing mechanisms are monotonous and work virtually the same way every time, rather than giving "Find the best move" type problems, you will see three positions below. In all three cases, the questions is, if White trades queens, does he draw the game? If the answer is yes, your job is to determine which drawing method White must use to defend the position. If the answer is no, figure out what White should do instead.

Keep in mind, in cases where trading the queens draws, there may also be other ways to draw as well, but the main concern is whether or not to trade queens, and only if that doesn't work should you look for an alternative.

Position 1:

Position 2:

Position 3:


1 - Yes, trading queens in this case leads to Philidor's Draw. After 1.Qxf4+ Kxf4 2.Rc3, you don't quite have the "exact" position of Philidor's Draw, but the white king is only one move away from being directly in front of the pawn. If Black spends any time moving his rook or king, then White's next move will be 3.Ke1, or 3.Ke2 if 2...Ra1+, getting in front of the pawn, and if Black plays 2...e3, then 3.Rc8 and the black king cannot find shelter, and if the immediate 3...e2+, then just 4.Ke1 and White will follow with checks on the White king. This position is a draw.

2 - No, trading queens here wins for Black if he recaptures with the pawn. After 1.Qxf4+?? exf4, the white king is cut off from the pawn by the black rook on e8. In fact, this is going to lead to Lucena's position for Black, which was covered in the previous article published on March 16th.

Instead, White is actually winning in this position, despite being down the pawn. After 1.Qh3+ Qg3 (the moves given here are based on best defense by Black - other moves lead to Black getting mated even faster) 2.Qf1+ Qf2 3.Qd3+ Qe3 4.Rf7+ Kg4 5.Qf5+ Kh4 6.Rh7+ Kg3 7.Rg7+ Kh2 8.Qc2+ Qd2+ 9.Qxd2+ Kh3 10.Qh6# is checkmate.

3 - Yes, trading queens in this case leads to the Short Side Defense. After 1.Qxd3+ Kxd3 (1...cxd3 2.Re8+ is an easy draw for White as the black king has nowhere to hide - by capturing with the king, it is trickier for White if he doesn't specifically know the Short Side Defense) 2.Rc8 (Remember in the Short Side Defense, the defending rook needs to be behind the pawn. 2.Rd8+ allows 2...Kc3 with the threat of 3...Rg1#) 2...Kc3 3.Kb1 Rg1+ 4.Ka2 Rc1 5.Rh8 and Black cannot stop the checks from the far side of the board. After 5...Kd2 6.Rh2+ Kd3 7.Rh3+ and either this will go on to eternity, or else if Black goes chasing after the rook, then after 7...Ke2 8.Rh2+ Kf3, then with the black king far away from the pawn, White can now play 9.Kb2 and the rook will have to move and White can follow up with 10.Kc3 with a fairly simple draw at this point.


We have looked at three drawing mechanisms for the player down the pawn in rook and pawn versus rook endings. Philidor's Draw, The Passive Defense, and The Short Side Defense. It may require you to go through this article along with various endgame books multiple times, but these three drawing mechanisms are critical to know. It will save you a lot of games that you may have otherwise lost.


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