Rook Endgames



When writing about chess, the three main phases of opening, middle game and endgame make varying demands on an author.  The opening is mostly a matter of personal taste and can be somewhat speculative.  The middle game requires rather more precision in that such established themes as open files, outposts, minority attack, etc. have to be examined to a point where judgement of the resulting positions  can, to a very large extent, be tested.  The endgame is by far the most demanding, as there is very little scope to leave obscure results to the readers speculation.  The result has to be absolute as this is the end of the game.  Also in modern times, an author has to contend with very sophisticated table bases that will put to the test any conclusions he might put forward.  

It is indeed a very brave person that will launch into an exposition on the endgame, and Karsten Müller is just such a person.  From his book authorship, regular columns in ChessBase Magazine and "Chess Café", together with various other writings, Karsten has established a reputation of being one of the world's foremost experts in the endgame field.  Now he has transferred his expertise to a series of DVD's produced by ChessBase, that has the ambitious objective of covering the whole of the endgame panoply. At the moment three DVD's are available, but more will be required in order that an exhaustive examination of this subject can be completed.

This is the second DVD  in the series (the first addressed pawn endings) and deals solely with rook endings.  The importance of knowing one's way around rook endings can be seen from the fact that on the Fritz 9 database, rook endings are 25% of the total endings listed.  In his introduction Muller gives an explanation as to why rook endings are the most prevalent of all endings and this is borne out by a study of many standard databases.  

The subject is so vast that ChessBase intend producing another DVD that will deal with double rook endings.

One difficulty for an enthusiast aiming to buy a DVD is that, unlike a book, one cannot flick through the pages and assess the virtues of the contents.  To give an idea of what the structure and contents of this DVD are, the following table may be helpful.


Number of lectures 

Video time - minutes

Examples examined


1   7 -

Rook v pawn(s)

4 54 13

Rook & pawn v rook




Rook & rook pawn v rook




Rook & 2 connected pawns v rook




Rook & 2 pawns v rook




Rook and doubled pawns v rook




Rook & 4 pawns v rook & 3pawns




Classic  - Flohr - Vidmar





1   8   3





Checking distance




Recent rook endings from supergrandmaster practice






5 hours 46 minutes


In this table the number of examples examined is somewhat misleading in that other examples, not included in the above list, are buried in the many variations given. 

The first section on rook v pawn endings is really quite simple to assimilate but there are a few principles that need to be stated, such as the ideal rank on which to cut off the weaker king in order to capture a lone pawn and positions that are favorable for the pawn(s).  A student needs to know this in order to be able to correctly reduce from a position containing more material to either a won or drawn ending.  Müller examines endings with either one or two pawns.  When two pawns are involved they appear as either connected or separated pawns.  Also he gives cases when the pawns can only draw when one is promoted to a knight.  

 As can be seen, most time is devoted to rook and single pawn v rook endings, and rightly so as this is the cornerstone to all rook endings.  In this section we find expositions on Phillidor's Defence, the Lucena position, Karstedt's draw and Tarrasch's back rank defence together with positions where the defending king is cut off on either the rank or file.  Of course, use of these techniques are vital for the clear understanding and resolution of all rook and pawn endings, and Müller gives plenty of explanation and examples of how these are employed and how the positions are reached in practice.  Furthermore, in the following lectures these critical techniques occur time and time again and Müller re-iterates the moves in order that the methods are firmly established in the viewer's understanding. 

Even though tablebases are being rapidly developed for more and more pieces, this subject of endgame analysis has not been fully exhausted.  In the section on rook and four pawns versus rook and three pawns, Müller uses the example of Dautov's analysis of the end game Krakops - Dautov, Batumi, 1999.  From the diagram arising from one of the variations, Dautov in his analysis, with which Muller agreed, had continued with 53. Rb5,Kxf3, 54. Rb3+ Ke4 55. Rb4+ Kf5 56.Rb5+ Ke6 etc and Black was winning.  However, it was pointed out later that White could draw with 53. Ra5, Kxf3 54. h5, Ra1 55.Kh2. 

In this section some classic rook endings are examined.  Noteworthy are Botvinnik - Najdorf, Moscow 1956, and Alekhine - Capablanca, 1927.  Later more recently played supergrandmasters games are given, being Kramnik v Krischuk, Corus 2005, Topalov - Kazimdzanov, San Luis and Anand - Lputian, Armenia v Rest of the World, 2004. 

The Kramnik game is a fine illustration of rook activity with the following starting position.  As one would expect from an endgame expert such as Müller, the examples chosen are very instructive, and in his commentary he lays emphasis on ideas and strategy so that the viewer is fully aware of the reasons why particular moves are good and others are bad.  Also, he is very ready to acknowledge other experts input into the theory of endings such as Mark Dvoretsky.  He also advocates study of "The Survival Guide to Rook Endings" by John Emms. 

Müller is extremely proficient in his use of the ChessBase media system and there are times when pieces fly around the board so fast that I fully expected to see them fall of the edge of my desktop.  This is a mild criticism as on one or two occasions his enthusiasm for the subject becomes such that his commentary matches the speed of the movement of the pieces and one needs extra concentration at these times.  His use of graphical aids to illustrate the points that he is making is first class and is an invaluable supplement to his commentary.  As he says so often in the course of his lectures, he is offering practical advice and not a theoretical discourse and this makes the material very understandable for players of all strengths. 

I would have liked to have seen a database of the examples discussed as part of the DVD so that it would have been possible to go over the examples at leisure and experiment with one's own ideas.  As so often with ChessBase, they continue to refine a good product and if this comment is noteworthy I am sure that they will give it serious consideration.  In a previous review I lamented the fact that the work could only be viewed on a Fritz programme, but I note that this DVD is a "stand alone" and a ChessBase Reader containing the media system can be downloaded from the DVD.  It should also be mentioned that the DVD has both a German and English commentary and the production standard is impeccable as we have become to expect from ChessBase.

No one could fail to improve their skills in rook endings by a close study of this DVD. 

For sample examples from this DVD click here.

For further details click below