Rook vs Bishop
The Winning Ending I didn't win

During a weekend tournament in februari 2013, I managed to reach a beautiful and promising position.

Please assess the position (white to move).

It had taken me thirty-eight moves to get here and I felt this position should be winning for White.

After another forty moves I was slightly disappointed. I didn't find the right plan.

The position had become even more closed and there were only 2 more minutes on my clock.

I reluctantly accepted a draw in this final position (you're invited to assess this one as well).

First Position

Back to the first position.


A lot of the black pawns have been fixed on the white squares. They hinder the bishop, so it may be called a bad bishop.

All of the white pawns are on the dark squares. They can't be attacked by the bishop, so White doesn't need to defend them.

These are good things for White, but it's not enough to win the game.

The rook looks silly. Rooks need open files, but here only half open files exist.

In order to claim the victory, White needs to create inroads into the Black position.

If either king or rook invades behind the enemy lines, the win will be achieved.

The g6-square looks like a promising square to use for invading with the king and the d5-pawn is backward and may be vulnarable.

But it's not that easy.
The g5-square can be defended by the Black king.

If White plays Kh4, all Black has to do is play Kf6.

And the d5-pawn may be defended by the black bishop. After 1...Rd1, Black defends 1...Bc6.

So an additional point of attack has to be created.

Could the threat of f3, followed by capturing on e4 be the solution?

And how to respond to exf3?

Playing f3 now, may trigger counterplay 1. f3, exf3; 2.Kxf3, d4+; 3. Ke2, d3+; And now Black has a passed pawn and the bishop will help defend.

To prevent this line, the Rook must go to d4, so this trick isn't possible.  But then the maneuver Ba4 Bc2 Bd3 is a plausible defense.

So... matters are complicated and that's because the bishop has a fine post on c6.

I didn't think of preventing Bc6, as this involves putting some pawns on the white squares.  As it turns out, putting some pawns on white squares is the winning idea here!

1. b5!

This move restricts the bishop for the rest of the game.

It's only possible at this moment because the pawn is poisoned.

1....Bxb5?? 2. Rxg6 and the rook dominates the bishop (2...hxg6; 3. g7 and wins). Maybe you saw this idea during your assessment of the initial position?

Now 2.a4 is the next move to play and the position is closed.

Black wants to keep the the rook outside, so he has to keep the position closed.

White wants to open the position, to penetrate with the rook (or the king).

White is going to succeed now, because the bishop doesn't have access to c6!.

The plan with f3 is winning now, because White's counterchances have gone.

There's also another plan available, due to the a-pawns flexibility. If the rook would be standing on a1, White is able to play a5 and open up some files. This would create room for the rook to invade the black position.

In this position a5 is winning. e.g.:1. a5, Bxb5; 2. axb6, axb6; 3. Rb1, and the rook invades.

Second position

This was the final position, when a draw was agreed.

The position is closed and there's no useful way to open it.

Although the bishop is bad, the rook isn't great either. 

The idea of playing a4 to open up the position fails to bxa4.

The idea of putting the rook on d4, king on g3 and then playing f3 isn't winning either. Black just captures exf3 and there won't be any open files.


There are multiple lessons to learn from this difficult endgame, and we've seen some general rules at work.

Rule: Rooks need open files. If you have a rook, you'll need an open file to put the rook to good use. Don't just assume you'll be able to open a position. You'll have to make sure. It's your responsibility.

Rule: A bishop is bad when its pawns are fixed on the same color. During endgames you'll have more chances if you're aware of this principle.

Rule: A tiny difference in the position (in this case the inaccesible square c6) can make a huge difference to the result of a game. So make sure you're always on the lookout for these essential moves.

Rule: Try to keep your pawn chain flexible. It may give you some extra chances during the endgame.

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