Philidor Position

Do you struggle with rook endgames? Do you find it difficult to save your rook endgame when you're a pawn down?

Then you will certainly benefit from knowing the Philidor position (also known as the third rank defense).

The Philidor Position

If black is to play, he can draw this position. But if white is to move, he can win! Therefore, when you're defending a rook endgame with a pawn down, you'll need to know this position.

The essential elements in the Philidor position are:

- the defending king stands on the queening square of the pawn.

- the pawn has not yet advanced to the sixth rank.

- the attacking king has not advanced to the sixth rank either.

- the defending rook can reach a safe square on the third rank, preventing the other king to advance.

How to defend the Philidor position?

So the thing you'll want to know about this position is how to defend?

I'll break it down in two steps.

The first defensive step
You'll have to prevent the attacking king from entering the sixth rank.

This can be done by playing Rb6.

1.... Rb6! (other moves along the b-file may draw as well, but this one is clearly the easiest).

This is the position you'll want to reach when you're on the defence!

Now the white king can't advance.

You may be worried about a check along the eighth rank. But there's nothing to worry about. Why not? I'll tell you...

If white goes for checks from the side (like Ra8), you can play your king to the seventh rank (remember to stay right in front of the pawn, to prevent complications). You can always use the squares f7 and f8.

You may ask yourself: what if white tries to exchange rooks in this position?

Well, I can tell you that you may gladly exchange them. The resulting position is a clear draw (although you have to know how to draw that ofcourse).

So, the only other try for white is now 2.f6

Once the pawn has advanced, the king has no shield against checks from behind. So now the time has come for the second step of the defense.

The second defensive step
Move the rook behind the king and start checking from behind.

I'll give you a general advice: try to keep as much distance as possible.

So now it's easy to find the next move: 2....Rb1!

And this position is a clear draw.

White has no useful moves here.

A check accomplishes nothing, because the black king can always advance to f7.

And if white makes any other move black simply starts checking the king from behind.

Just like before you don't have to worry about exchanging the rooks. The resulting position would be a draw.

There's only one other thing white can do. He can move the king down to g2. This would threaten to win your rook.

But somewhere during that proces you can play Rf1, winning the pawn and securing the draw too.

Winning the Philidor Position

If you're White and you have the move, you're able to win.


1....Rc8 (activity doesn't help either see the variation Rb1); 2.f6,

The black rook can't leave the last rank, because of mating possibilities.

Therefore the king moves.

2....Kg8; 3.Rg7+,

Playing 3. Rh7 at once isn't winning because of Rb6. That's why you need to give this check first. You're able to play Rh7 next, gaining a tempo.

3....Kf8; 4. Rh7,

(if 3....Kh8; then 4.Rh8, Kg8; 5.f7+ is winning for white)

Now the threat is mate or winning the rook, so the king has to return to g8. This allows White to play...

4....Kg8; 5.f7+;

The black rook is lost after 5....Kf8; 6. Rh8+ and the pawn will promote.

Variation: 1....Rb1

After 1.Kg6, Rb1; White is able to finish the game another way.

2.Ra8+, Ke7;

3. f6+, Ke6;

4.Re8+!!, Kd7;

5. f7, and winning.

White will be able to obtain a Lucena position, so black is lost here too.

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