Wishbone – Queen Versus Rook

Few chess books contain anything about the queen-versus-rook end game, even those books that are especially about end games. Yet adventures abound in this kind of chess end game. Let’s now consider one variation in Q-vs-R, the wishbone pattern.

Grimmell calls this "wishbone" pattern in this kind of end game

Diagram-1 (classic wishbone pattern; white to move)

In this pattern, it’s white to move. With the defending king on the edge, it’s best to use a technique that Derek Grimmell calls “pivoting the thorn.” In Diagram-1, white should move Qa6+, forcing the black king to b3. The white king will then move to c5.

thorn at c4 limits black's options

Diagram-2 (white has just moved Kc5)

The black king has no move, in Diagram-2, that does not lose the rook in one or two moves. On the other hand, the obvious rook move, Ra4, loses quickly to Qb5+ (after which black moves Ka3) and Qb1, resulting in the Absolute Seventh position, which is an easy win for white. The best move for black, in Diagram 2, is Rh4.

black to move in this queen-versus-rook end game

Diagram-3 (after black’s Rh4, white moved Qd3+)

After white checks with Qd3+, black has three choices. Let’s consider Ka4:

white's move in this end game

Diagram-4 (after black moved Ka4)

Keep in mind a future possibility with a discovered check: If the black king is at a3, and the queen can move to e7, it would attack the rook and prepare a discovered check. A key point of this pattern is that if the rook then checks the white king with Rh5+ then Kc4 partially hems in the black king, which would itself then be in check.

Also observe how important other squares can be for the queen, along two diagonals starting at the square where the rook is sitting: h4-to-d8 and h4-to-e1. The queen can begin to get access to those squares by now moving to d7.

Yet that direction of attack may not be the best. It allows many options for the defender, and there’s another simpler method. See the bottom of this post, with a duplicate of Diagram-3, and observe the simple approach for the attacker.

But for here, let’s see what could happen if white moved Qd7+.

black to move in this chess end game

Diagram-5 (white just moved Qd7+)

After Qd7+, the defender’s king is better at b3 than a3, because of a potential discovered-check setup with the queen moving to e7. Black therefore moves Kb3:

white's turn to move

Diagram-6 (after black moved Kb3)

White needs to find useful checks, unless or until the discovered check (mentioned before) can be set up. Notice the f2 square, on the lower rook diagonal. Queen access to that square would prevent the defending king from moving to the second rank, for the queen would then fork the rook with f2+. Now see that if the queen now moves to f7, it would accomplish three things with that check:

  1. Prevents the black king from moving to the second rank (b2, and c2; Ka2 is illegal)
  2. Prevents the black king from moving to a4 (because of Qa2-mate)
  3. Prevents it from moving to c3, because of the queen-fork after Qf6+

That leaves only one legal move that appears reasonable for the black king: Ka3.

black to move: only one reasonable choice: Ka3

Diagram-7 (after Qf7+)

(Probably few chess books go into such detail on this variation of Q-vs-R endgame.)

To avoid queen forks and a mate, black must now move Ka3:

white to move in this Q-vs-R

Diagram-8 (after Ka3)

White now prepares a discovered check by moving Qe7, attacking the rook.

white prepared a discovered check

Diagram-9 (after Qe7)

Black must move the rook to save it, for there is no stalemate defense in the position shown in Diagram-9. If the rook moves to h3, the white king moves to c4+, and the black kind is forced down to the second rank. This would mean that the black king is being forced down to the lower edge of the board. Assuming an actual end game (in this position) was not in danger of soon reaching the 50-move limitation, resulting in a draw, white should win, for black would be running out of space at the lower edge of the board.

Let’s consider now black’s reasonable options:

  1. Rh3 (which only shifts the pieces down one rank, as we have seen)
  2. Rh8 gives the white queen only one forking diagonal to work on
  3. Rh5+ allows the white king to move to c4 with check
  4. Rh2 also allows the white king to check with Kc4
  5. Rh1 is similar to Rh8, giving one long forking diagonal for the queen
  6. Ra4 allows white to move Kb5+, soon winning the rook
  7. Rb4 allows the diagonal position, covered in another post
  8. Rg4 loses the rook pretty quickly after Kb5+

2) Rh8 From Diagram-9

The defender’s problem becomes obvious after Qe3+. The black king must keep off the dark squares to avoid a queen fork. The queen will soon get to c2 when the black king is at a2, with a check that will force that king to a dark square that will get the rook lost.

3) Rh5+ From Diagram-9

After white’s Kc4+ (check), black would have two apparently-reasonable choices, but either one would lose quickly. To avoid the queen fork at e2, the black king would move Ka4. But after Qa7+, then Ra5 would be forced. The white queen would then move to b7, and the defense fails.

4) Rh2

White would move Kc4+, practically forcing the black king to a2. Then Qa7+ would force the black king to the b-file, allowing a queen fork with Qb8+.

5) Rh1

After Kc4+, black moves Kb2 (to avoid mate). Qb7+ then wins the rook.

6) Ra4

After Kb5+, black moves Kb3 to protect the rook, but Qe3+ destroys that hope and the rook is lost.

7) Rb4

After Qd6, the diagonal position is on the board, and black will soon run out of good moves. It’s not a very simple technique to win, but white will prevail.

8) Rg4

With Kb5+, the black rook will soon be lost to a queen fork.

***

Now we return to Diagram-3, for black has two additional options:

black to move in this queen-versus-rook end game

Diagram-3 repeated (with best defense, Ka2 and Kb2 are practically the same)

It’s not use for black to try to escape to the right, after the queen checks the BK by moving to e2, for if the black king moves to c3, in the near future, white will fork the rook soon after Qf3+. With the queen stepping to the right, while checking, black’s only hope is to keep close to a4. Consider now the position after the following moves from Diagram-3:

1) . . . . .   Kb2

2) Qe2+  Kb3

3) Qf3+   Ka4

4) Qf2!  . . . .

white is winning in this queen versus rook end game

Diagram-10 after Qf2!

If black now tries to defend against the Qa2 mate threat with Rh3, white quickly mates after moving the queen to a2 and then to c4. But the rook is attacked, in Diagram-10, so what can black do? Let’s look at the obvious option: Rh5+. Notice the position after the white king moves out of check, to c4:

white wins, black to move

Diagram-11 with black to move

Notice that white is threatening mate with Qa2#. But if the rook defends against that mate with Rh3, white mates on the other side with Qa7#. The only way out for the defender appears to be Ka3, which allows a queen fork with Qf3+. White now wins.

This kind of technique for the attacker (seen with Qf2! in Diagram-10) is common in some of these queen-versus-rook end game variations. The defender has only one check from the rook, and then the attacking king moves to a safe square that allows the queen to threaten a mate that cannot adequately be defended against.

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