The following is a simulation of two masters playing a queen versus rook end game. It’s not played like two average masters who have had no experience or study of this end game but as if both of them had a little knowledge of the queen-vs-rook. In this demonstration, we’ll have the attacker play about as well as the defender, with no major blunders for either side, for we’re trying to simulate master endgame play.
Diagram-1 (White to move)
The position in Diagram-1 was chosen somewhat randomly, and the resulting moves demonstrate how difficult it can be for the defender to remain in or near the center when the attacker plays the queen versus rook with skill.
In this position, White should get the king towards the center, and the defender needs to try to keep both rook and king in the four central squares or at least close to them. No checkmate is possible except at the edge or corner of the board.
Diagram-2 (Black to move)
If Black now moves Rc4+ (in Diagram-2), the white king will get to an ideal position at d3, where it cannot be driven off. Black’s best option now is probably to move Ke5, although with best play White will still be able to soon drive the defending pieces out of the center.
1) . . . . . Re4
Diagram-3 (White to move)
The white king now comes into opposition to the black king: Kd3. The only way for the two black pieces to then remain in the center will be with Re5.
2) Kd3 Re5
Diagram-4 after Re5
How does the attacker make progress now? One way is simply to deny Black the option of moving the rook back and forth between e5 and e4 by moving Qb4. Black will respond by creating a rosette (often a good choice for either attacker or defender).
3) Qb4 Kc6
Diagram-5 — an “opposite rosette” pattern (White to move)
In the formation-type seen in Diagram-5, the queen-versus-rook expert Derek Grimmell would recommend the quiet move Qa3. Whatever temporary defensive moves Black would then make would actually result in progress for the attacker, with best moves. But we are simulating an over-the-board contest between masters with limited knowledge of those intricacies, so in the above position White moves Kd4. Black responds with Rd5+.
By the way, the type of formation seen in Diagram-5 is called, by Grimmell, “the second-rank type opposite rosette.” In general, rosettes are better for the one not having the move. What exactly is a rosette, in the queen versus rook endgame? Each piece is a knight’s move away from its neighbor, with adjacent pieces on the same color square.
4) Kd4 Rd5+
White now gets the queen and king into an awkward position, yet progress continues, eventually. Black will try a distant or harassing defense.
5) Kc4 Rh5
Diagram-7 — Black just moved Rh5
Black tries to take advantage of the temporary awkwardness of the white pieces. White’s best move now may be Qe7. If the rook then moves back to d5, it will soon be lost after Qe4. From the position in Diagram-7, however, White moves Qa4+, which has the merit of quickly forcing the defending king toward the edge of the board.
6) Qa4+ . . . .
Diagram-8 — after White moved Qa4+
Notice that the black king, in Diagram-8, cannot move Kd6 without losing the rook after Qd1+. Perhaps Black’s best move is instead Kc7, but we’ll look at the move Kb6 for Black and White’s response of Qb3+.
6) . . . . Kb6 (moving out of check)
7) Qb3+ . . . .
Diagram-9 — after White moved Qb3+
Why did the queen move to b3 instead of b4? White is controlling where the defending king will move. Black cannot move Kc6 because Qf3+ would win the rook. If the black king moves to c7 instead, then Qg3+ would eliminate the sixth rank from the defender’s safe squares for the king (because of the queen moving to g6 and winning the rook). Black now moves Ka5, probably the best defense here. White answers with Qa3+.
7) . . . . Ka5
8) Qa3+ . . . .
Diagram-10 — after Qa3+
Black’s only move here is Kb6 and White will play Qd6+ to get a possible angle on that rook. Yet White has something else in mind for that queen.
Notice that every move by White has been a check, for several moves. The attacker avoids allowing the defender to harass the white king with rook checks. White wants to remain in control of the direction of this end queen versus rook game.
8) . . . . Kb6
Diagram-11 — after Qd6+
White is positioning the queen to get to f7 when the black king is on a5, for it would threaten both mate with Qa7# and the rook. Yet the black king is best not playing around on the seventh rank for long or a queen move to f7 could fork the rook. The defender decides to keep using the a5 square, a place that best protects the rook from a fork.
9) . . . . Ka5
Diagram-12 — after Qd8+
Black is now practically forced to move Ka6, allowing the queen to obtain f6 with check.
10) . . . . Ka6
Now Black is forced to play Ka5 (to avoid the rook fork of Qf7+). But White moves Qf7 anyway, giving the defender another problem.
11) . . . . Ka5
Diagram-14 — after Qf7
White now threatens mate with Qa7# and the rook is attacked. If Rh6, White gets a mate in three beginning with Qa7+, so Black moves Rh4+, saving the rook with a check that gives the defender a bit of time. Nevertheless, White still controls this end game.
12) . . . . Rh4+
Diagram-15 — after White moves Kc5
In Diagram-15, White threatens two mates: Qa7# and Qa2#. The defender has no useful check from the rook and the only king move that prevents an immediate mate is Ka6. But moving the king to a6 would allow the queen to win the rook with Qf6. Now’s the time for a master defender to resign.
Notice how quickly the defending king was forced to the edge of the board in this example of a queen versus rook end game. Neither side appears to have made any major mistake, and yet how far was the defender from achieving the fifty-move draw!
Not all over-the-board queen-versus-rook encounters by masters end so quickly, to be sure, but this example may be instructive in how to win this kind of end game.
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The most important key position in most queen-versus-rook end games is the Philidor.
Few chess books contain anything about the queen-versus-rook end game, even those books that are especially about end games.