The bishop versus rook endgame is a chess endgame where one player has just a rook and king, and the other player has only a bishop and king.
A rook vs. bishop endgame if played correctly is a draw unless the defending king is trapped in a corner that is of the same color square as his bishop, or the bishop is won through a skewer, pin, or some other means.
Endgames, if you have been looking in a lot of tutorials online then you know that this is the first thing that we should focus on (in order to improve).
And one of the basics in learning endgames is the basic theoretical checkmate setups! which is the topic for this article.
Specifically I want to address the rook and bishop endgame, what is it exactly?
The main point that I want to talk about is whether the rook vs bishop endgame is a definite draw? or maybe not?
I will be discussing the main points that you should remember when playing both sides since I want to make sure that you don’t mess this up. I definitely made some mistake with this endgame before which I am hoping you don’t make yourself, let’s begin.
How can the bishop be captured in a rook vs. bishop endgame?
I want to start with the basics first, which is that the king and rook vs king endgame are easily winning for the one who has a rook.
This meant that the defending side in a bishop versus rook endgame cannot afford to lose their bishop since it would automatically lose the game.
Here are the ways you can possibly get the bishop captured in this endgame:
A skewer to the king and bishop will lose the bishop
A skewer is basically the opposite of the pin, where there is a piece behind the king that will inevitably be captured if the king is put in check on the line of attack. In this case for example here is what it would look like:
The rook on a1 wants to deliver a check at a4 that would put the king and bishop in an x-ray (or a skewer), the bishop behind is undefended so it will be captured next turn.
In the endgame where this has occurred and the bishop is eliminated, the conversion to winning is simple.
A skewer involving the king and the bishop (which would lead to the bishop’s capture) will make winning pretty easy for the one who has a rook.
It will basically be a king vs. rook and king endgame that is easily winning, this usually occurs when the king is near the center of the board (where the space is much open).
There is much more opportunity to deliver this near the center where the king is usually too far in defending the bishop.
Pinning the bishop to the king will lose the bishop
Now we have the opposite side, where the bishop will be in front and the king is the one at the back (the opposite of skewer, which is a pin). This is what it would look like in this specific endgame:
The rook on d2 pins the d5 bishop to the white king, this means that the bishop cannot move since the king will be captured (therefore it is pinned). The king is too far away to defend the bishop and this would naturally get the bishop captured next turn.
Unlike a skewer, a pin commonly occurs even at the corner of the board, you can also lose the bishop this way and therefore this endgame. This can be easily avoided though since you just have to avoid aligning the king and the bishop horizontally or vertically.
Rook and king can capture the bishop together
It’s not only about tactics, there are positions where the king and the rook are in the right place making the capture of the bishop possible.
The one with the king can also participate in the capture of the opponent’s bishop if the one who has the bishop is keeping his piece close.
This is an example of that:
The rook from a1 checks the king on e4 which puts a skewer, but the king this time is actually close to defend the attacked bishop.
However, the bishop on f4 can actually be captured since the black king is already covering that in the first place, which makes the defense of the white king imaginary.
If the black king is not already attacking the bishop, then the black rook wouldn’t be able to capture it (it will be defended by the white king) and this would be fine.
However since the black king is already attacking the bishop the capture is possible, and this would be winning for black.
A discovered check can win the bishop
This is something funny that I’ve encountered while researching this, that the bishop can actually be won through a discovered check.
A discovered check winning the bishop will result in a normal king and rook endgame which is obviously winning for the one with the rook.
This is the case for this example:
The king on g6 moves to h5 to attack the bishop residing at h4, the bishop can move if this was a natural case however, the king is in check so the king has to move (and therefore the bishop will be captured).
The rook vs bishop endgame has transformed into a rook and king vs king endgame once again, this is totally winning for black.
This is something you should take note of in order to avoid it, and any potential future scenarios of this endgame (if you are the defending side with the bishop).
If you are the one who has a rook, the best strategy is to keep the opponent’s king in the center where there are more opportunities to mess up, or somehow lead the opponent king to the corner with the same color as their bishop.
To draw this endgame the defending side who has the bishop should occupy the corner that has the opposite square of the bishop with their king, then only moving the bishop back and forth, which is the next topic.
How to draw a rook vs. bishop endgame?
I think it is time to answer the main question of this article, which is how to draw a rook vs. bishop endgame if it is possible?
Well, one way not to do it is to run out of time. Running out of time in a rook vs. bishop endgame will end in a win for the rook or a draw for the bishop.
In order to learn how to differentiate a draw from a win in cases of a timeout, check out another article that I have written. Even without timeouts though, there is a way to draw this endgame.
It is not simple, but a rook vs. bishop endgame will definitely be a draw if you place the king in the corner which has the opposite color of the existing bishop.
If I have a bishop that is in the dark square then I should aim for a corner that has a light square, which is one of the only two opposite corners (there are only four corners in a chessboard).
If the king ever lands on a corner that has the same color as the bishops, then it will be a win for the one who has the bishop (more on that later). This is the perfect example of that:
The king on h1 is in the corner having the opposite color (light-square) of the existing bishop (dark-square) where this is most definitely a draw.
White’s objective here is to basically move the bishop back and forth and just draw the game, progress cannot be made here.
If the king goes to h3 it will be a stalemate, if the rook moves anywhere then the bishop is free to move back and forth.
There is actually a maneuver here to kick the king away from that corner (Ra2+bishop moves, h2 check kicking the white king from the light-squared corner in this example) however it should still lead to a draw.
If you ever achieve this position (tucking the king in the opposite color corner) and your opponent has managed to kick you away through a similar maneuver, just run straight to the next corner that is the opposite color of your existing bishop (the a8 corner in this case).
As long as you stay on these corners you will never lose (unless you hang the bishop of course) and just move the bishop back and forth.
You will only lose this position in two ways: first, if you hang the bishop (just like what I have said above), and second, you put the king in the corner that has the same color as the existing bishop.
How to lose a rook vs. bishop endgame?
Now it is time to talk about this one, which is what happens if you put the king in the same color as your existing bishop. This can be easily demonstrated by this example:
As you can see this is virtually a mirror image of the earlier example, except that the king is in the corner having the same color as the existing bishop.
This means that when the bishop blocks it is no longer protected by the king unlike (in the earlier example).
In this demonstration to be specific, king move to g8 protecting the bishop, however, the black rook should only waste a move to either b8,c8,d8, or e8 in order to force what is known as a zugzwang.
In zugzwang such as in this case, white has to move even without any good moves which is king back to h8 in this example, leaving the bishop free for capture and a checkmate at that!
There are so many ways to win against a king that is in the same corner color as the existing bishop, but the point is it just loses. You should do the opposite and aim for a corner color that is the opposite of the existing bishop’s color.
General guideline in a rook vs bishop endgame
So what can we take from all of this? Of course we now know the things we have to do if we were in this endgame.
If you are on the attacking side (basically you have the rook) then try to take the game into their corresponding corner color since that is losing for the one who has the bishop.
If you cannot do this, try to keep the play on the center since that brings more opportunities for their bishops to be captured. If they make any mistake, you will know how to capitalize since you also know how to play their side correctly.
If you are the one who has the bishop then the guideline is clear, prioritize going into the corner that has the opposite color as the existing bishop and execute what has been discussed above.
It doesn’t matter which color the surviving bishop has, as long as you put the king in the corner where it is opposite of that color (the bishop) then it will be a draw.
Is rook vs. bishop endgames mostly a draw?
Rook vs. bishop endgames are usually a draw in professional levels but are commonly decisive in those who cannot properly defend. If your opponent is below the rating 2000, then it is likely that they cannot hold this position.
What I suggest against such opponents is you should stall the game as long as possible until they have made one of the mistakes (either hanging the bishop or going to the wrong corner) giving more opportunities for a mistake to occur.
This is a definite draw if played correctly, but with the stress to being played correctly, not everyone, after all, can play this endgame with accuracy.
If you feel that the opponent cannot hold the position you shouldn’t offer a draw, try and try until there is an opening.
Do you now know if rook vs. bishop endgames is a draw?
This is one of the most common endgames following the pawnless endgame patterns, these are usually the endgames where the idea is clear (since there are no pawns).
The idea is pretty clear here too, you just have to tuck the king away in the opposite corner color of the existing bishop.
This knowledge is much more important than you think, I had these endgames multiple times in online rated play already. And is not that hard to execute once you have grasped the general idea! I’m sure you can properly apply this.
I’m sure you will draw some losing bishop vs. rook ending with this (or win if you are on the rook side). I sure hope so, sleep well and play chess.