Queen Versus Rook – Chess Endgame

The most important key position in most queen-versus-rook end games is the Philidor. The winning technique for this kind of position has been known for centuries, among chess masters and enthusiasts. (François-André Danican Philidor lived from 1726 to 1795.)


queen-vs-rook endgame of chess

Diagram-1 with black to move


The 64-square chess board has four corners, with two Philidor (Q-vs-R) positions possible in each corner, making a total of eight possible appearances of this pattern. We’ll examine it from the perspective with the defending king (black) on g1, shown in Diagram-1.

In this position, black is in zugzwang, meaning that having the move is a disadvantage, with every potential move creating more of a problem for the defender. Let’s look at what black may do.

  • Rh2 (the rook attacks the queen) loses immediately to Qe1-mate
  • Kf1 (the only legal move for the black king) loses quickly to Qh3, winning the rook, for the queen pins it; the black king must then move, for the rook cannot move, after which the queen captures the rook.
  • Several other moves by the rook will allow it to be captured, with NO stalemate
  • Rd2 allows the queen to fork the rook with Qg5+, winning the rook

Let’s look at how white can handle Rb2:

White wins the rook after Qd4 check

Diagram-2 with the potential move Qd4+ winning the rook

After black moves the rook to left, to the b2 square, white can fork the rook and king by moving the queen to the left, to d4. If black moves (instead of to b2) the rook to g7 in Diagram-1, the same queen move shown in Diagram-2 will also win the rook.

What if, from Diagram-1, black moves the rook to c2?

Philidor after black moves Rc2

Diagram-3 after black moves Rc2

In the position shown in Diagram-3, white first moves Qd4+.

Philidor after Qd4+ - chess end game

Diagram-4 after white moves Qd4+

After the queen check at d4, the black king cannot remain on the first rank (with Kh1) without allowing the queen to move to d2, winning the rook. (Of course, if the black king moves to f1 then Qd1 would be checkmate.) Black must move the king to h2:

chess endgame - Philidor queen-vs-rook

Diagram-5 after black moves Kh2

In Diagram-5, white will move Qd6+, quickly winning the rook or getting checkmate.

Black must give up the rook or be checkmated

Diagram-6 after white moves Qd6-check

The winning move is shown in Diagram-6: Qd6+. If the black king moves to the first rank (with Kg1 or Kh1), the queen moves to d1, forking the black king and rook. If the king instead moves to h3, the result is Qh6-mate. This would be a good time for black to resign.

Let’s get back to Diagram-1:

queen-vs-rook endgame of chess

Diagram-1 (again)

What if black moves the rook all the way to the left?

Philidor - Ra2

Diagram-7 after black moves Ra2 (from Diagram-1)

The quickest way for white to win, in Diagram-7, appears to be Qd4+ as shown below:

black cannot move Kf1 because of mate

Diagram-8 after white moves Qd4+

After white move the queen to d4, black cannot get out of check by moving the king to f1 without getting checkmated when the queen then moves to d1. If black now moves the king to h2, the result will be the same as if it moved to h1, we we’ll now look only at Kh1:

The black king just moved to h1

Diagram-9 after black moves Kh1

White now will move Qh8+, practically forcing the black king to g1:

White moved Qh8-check and wins

Diagram-10 after white’s Qh8+

After white checks again, by moving to h8, black’s interposing with Rh2 fails to Qa1-checkmate. Yet if the king moves to g1, then white wins the rook with Qg8+. So we have only two other moves available for black, from the original position of Diagram-1: Rg6 and Rg8.

Black is about to move Rg6

Diagram-11 from the position of the first diagram, black is about to move Rg6

The following are the best defensive moves available to black, from the original position of Diagram-1, the first two of which we have already looked at:

  • Rc2
  • Ra2
  • Rg6
  • Rg8

Here is the position after Rg6:

The rook may look safe, but it's not

Diagram-12 after black’s Rg6

In the above position, white will move Qd4+:

Black cannot move Kf1 because of mate

Diagram-13 after white moved Qd4+

Notice the position in Diagram-13. If black moves to f1, Qd1# is mate. Black has two other choices: Kh1 and Kh2, which lead to the following (keep in mind that the black king cannot ever move to h3 while the white queen is on the above diagonal, the a1-h8 diagonal, or the result would be Qh8 with mate soon following).

  • If Kh2, then Qb2+ and when black then moves the king to g1 or h1 then Qb1+ wins the rook.
  • If Kh1, then Qa1+, Kh2, Qb2+ and white may soon fork the rook and king by Qb1+.

Here’s the final possibility for black:

black just moved Rg8 in this end game

Diagram-14 after black moves Rg8

The position in Diagram-14 may look safe for black. After all, the black king and rook are on opposite colored squares and on the same file and the maximum distance apart. But white actually has to moves that lead to a win here. The quickest way is probably Qd4+.

Philidor queen-vs-rook end game

Diagram-15 after white moves Qd4+

After white moves the queen to d4 (check), the king cannot move to f1 or it will be immediately checkmated. But if the black king moves to h1 then Qa1+ will quickly get a fork for white. Let’s now look at the last line for black: Kh2.

chess Philidor after king moves to h2

Diagram-16 after the black king moves to h2

Let’s look at this position logically. In Diagram-16, we can see one potential way for white to win the rook in the future. It’s by moving the queen to a1, checking the black king when it’s on g1 or h1. That is possible if the queen stays on the long diagonal from a1 to h8. But black is now threatening to move the king to h3, escaping away from the corner. And if white stops checking the black king, it may give the defender time to return the rook to the g2 square, continuing that corner defense.

Is there a move that will keep the queen on that long diagonal and yet stop the defender from moving Rg2 and also stop the king from escaping to h3? Yes there is. It’s Qe5+.

winning the queen versus rook Philidor position

Diagram-17 after Qe5+

After white moves the queen to e5, with check, black cannot move the king to h3 without allowing checkmate from Qh5#. As with many of the checks in this kind of endgame, the defender cannot interpose with the rook without losing it. So the black king must move to g1 or h1, where it will be checked by the queen moving to a1. Kg1 gives no advantage (to the defender) than Kh1, so let’s look at the king moving to h1:

chess position after Kh1

Diagram-18 after the black king moves to h1

Now the queen can move to a1 with check, preparing to make the next move that will fork the black king and rook (Qa2+).

chess position after queen moves to a1

Diagram-19 after white moves Qa1+

Now what if black uses the rook to block check? After Rg1, white would get checkmate by moving the queen to h8. The only other option for black, in the above position, is Kh2.

chess end game position after Kh2

Diagram-20 after the black king moves to h2

Do you see the fork now available to white? It’s Qa2+.

white moved Qa2, check, winning the rook

Diagram-21 white wins the rook by moving the queen to a2 with check

In this last line of the Philidor chess end game (queen versus rook), the black king and rook are forked by the queen. There is no stalemate possibility, so white wins the rook and will soon checkmate the lone king.



Examining the Philidor Pattern

Each of these eight positions is a Philidor [queen versus rook] corner position.

End Game [Chess] of Queen Versus Rook

Let’s examine a particular corner defense in the queen-vs-rook chess end game.

A Chess Combination by Paul Morphy

. . .  regarded by many as the greatest chess player in the world, during his tour of Europe in 1858

The Chess Champion Paul Morphy

At least from his early-middle-aged years until he died in 1884, Paul Morphy reportedly considered chess an amateur activity, not to be pursued as a profession.

A beginner can win a chess game

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