Is Rook Vs Rook Always A Draw? Here’s The Truth

The vast majority of chess endgames involve pushing pawns trying to convert one into a queen to drastically change the advantage of material on the board. But what about those times where just a couple of pieces are left?

Is rook versus rook a draw? Yes, if the players play perfectly and are both relying on one rook (as well as their own king), then a draw is inevitable. With a rook versus a rook, a draw can only be avoided if one player makes a significant mistake.

However, that doesn’t mean that all tight endgames do end in a draw. Let’s take a look at rook vs rook (and some other unusual endgames) in more detail.

Is rook vs. rook always a draw? - ChessPulse.com
Is rook vs. rook always a draw? – ChessPulse.com

The Pawnless Endgame

In chess “the pawnless endgame” occurs when there are only a small number of pieces left on the board and there are no pawns among them. In practice, among high standard chess players – these endings are rare (though king and queen vs king, king and rook vs king, and queen versus rook, do still occur).

This is partially because optimal chess play should involve protecting some pawns to deploy them in the endgame to gain a nice advantage when one is promoted into a queen and also because once these endgames are reached – it ought to be a matter of relative common sense to know which player has won and which has lost.

There are only two states from an “optimally played” (by which, we mean that no player makes a mistake) pawnless endgame – a draw or a forced win. The drawn situation is often referred to as a “book draw” (that is, it arises from playing “by the book”).


The Objective Of Chess

While there are several ways to win a game of chess, there is only one certain way to win at chess and that is to place your opponent’s king in checkmate. Thus, pawnless endgames are always assessed in terms of their ability to force a checkmate, if they cannot they result in a book draw.


The Most Common Pawnless Endgames Involving Rooks

When we say “most common” here, we actually mean “most common” against weak players. Apart from Queen vs Rook, most of these situations will never arise on the board between two players of a higher standard.

Queen Versus Rook

Assuming that the queen is not available to be immediately captured by the opponent’s rook or king when reaching this state on the board then the queen should always win this set up. In most cases, this is done by forcing the rook into a fork with the king, taking the rook and then casually forcing checkmate. Though it is possible to force a checkmate without taking the rook if the other player makes a mistake.

It should take no more than 31 moves for the player with the queen to force checkmate in this endgame. It is worth noting that many weaker players, however, will end up falling foul of the 50-move rule or the rule of repetition while in search of victory in this condition.

Queen Versus Two Rooks

This is a more complex arrangement and unless there is a significant instant advantage when reaching this position (e.g. one rook or the queen can instantly be captured without penalty) then the theory says that this should result in a draw.

However, in practice this often isn’t going to be true and in older game records – it seems that either side may turn this into a win.

Queen Versus Three Rooks

Yes, we know, three rooks sound like foolishness when the pawn could be promoted to a queen, but it might occur when a player would cause a stalemate by promoting the pawn to a queen. There is no doubt that this ought to result in a win for the player with three rooks though.

Queen And A Rook Versus Queen And A Rook

Now, you’d think that given these are two materially identical positions that you would get a guaranteed draw from this set up. That’s not the case though and the statistics according to John Nunn in his book “Secrets of Pawnless Endings” show that the player with the first move has a significant advantage after this position is reached and in more than 80% of cases they can force a win!

Queen And A Rook Versus A Queen

This, however, is a significant advantage to one player and as you would expect, the player with the extra rook should be able to turn this into a win, assuming there are no instant removals of his or her queen or rook as soon as this position is reached, that is.

Rook Versus Rook

This is position which is so finely balanced that as we said at the beginning, the realistic expectation for any player would be to draw this game. Though it is possible if both kings are positioned correctly when this situation is reached that a quick checkmate might be forced. It would be unusual though.

Rook Versus Two Rooks

Again, the advantage of an extra rook is very significant and there are very few situations in which a player with two rooks versus one shouldn’t be able to reach a win from. In fact, we’d suggest that this may be one of the easiest pawnless situations to reach a win from.

Queen Versus Rook Plus Minor Piece

This is 9 points of material versus 8 points (the minor piece is either a bishop or a knight). This is not usually a decisive advantage and tends to a forced draw. However, if the king and rook are close together and the minor piece is on the opposite side of the board, it may be possible to fork the minor piece and force a win for the queen.

Queen Versus Rook Plus Two Minor Pieces

This too tends to result in a draw though, in theory, this tiny amount of advantage to the player with a rook ought to be decisive. In practice, no analysis has found anything better than a draw.

Queen Versus Two Rooks And A Minor Piece

This is a challenging situation. The two rooks and a minor piece have a definite advantage and were chess an infinite game – they ought to be able to force a win most of the time. However, there is a real risk that the game would require more than 50 moves to reach a winning position, in which case under the 50-move rule – it would be considered a draw.

Queen Plus A Minor Piece Versus A Rook And A Minor Piece

This should, in most circumstances, result in a win for the queen though it may be complicated to force the win inside 50 moves.

Queen Plus A Minor Pieces Versus A Rook And Two Minor Pieces

The queen ought to win in these circumstances, however, it can take more than 500 moves to force mate! Which means that in practice, this is likely to end in a draw.

Two Rooks Versus Minor Pieces

This is likely to result in a win for the rooks.

A Rook Versus Minor Pieces

Most of the time this ends in a draw though a long win may result in having 3 (or more) minor pieces on the board which is as likely to exceed 50 moves (and thus end in a draw) as it is to deliver a win to the player with the minor pieces.


Conclusion

Is rook versus rook a draw? Yes. In practical terms, a rook and a king when pitched against another rook and king can only, realistically, result in a rook exchange and thus, there is no material left to create a checkmate. The only exception to this would be if the pieces were all in very specific positions prior to the reduction to these pieces. Then, in theory, it is possible for a checkmate to arise. In practice, this will never happen.

However, if there are two rooks on the board for one player and only one for the other – you would expect this to result in a win to the player with more than one rook on the board as the attacking king (the one with more rooks) can usually avoid checks or block checks from his opponent’s rook whilst continuing to press his attack with the other rook.

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