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.)
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:
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?
Diagram-3 after black moves Rc2
In the position shown in Diagram-3, white first moves Qd4+.
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:
Diagram-5 after black moves Kh2
In Diagram-5, white will move Qd6+, quickly winning the rook or getting checkmate.
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:
What if black moves the rook all the way to the left?
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:
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:
Diagram-9 after black moves Kh1
White now will move Qh8+, practically forcing the black king to g1:
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.
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:
Here is the position after Rg6:
Diagram-12 after black’s Rg6
In the above position, white will move Qd4+:
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:
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+.
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.
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+.
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:
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+).
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.
Diagram-20 after the black king moves to h2
Do you see the fork now available to white? It’s Qa2+.
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.
Each of these eight positions is a Philidor [queen versus rook] corner position.
Let’s examine a particular corner defense in the queen-vs-rook chess end game.
. . . regarded by many as the greatest chess player in the world, during his tour of Europe in 1858
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.
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