Friday, February 24, 2012

The Kamikaze Rook

Few things in chess are more frustrating than out playing an opponent for an entire game only to come away with a draw due to falling victim to a stalemate trick.  One of the nastiest such tricks is the "kamikaze rook."  A player whose other pieces have no legal moves can sometimes force a draw by checking his opponent until he is forced either to capture the last rook resulting in stalemate or allow a draw by repetition.  It is an easy trick to overlook, particularly if you have not seen it before.

On his last move, Prospect freshman Marc Graff overlooked 52...Rf1# and played 52...c2?!  Wheaton-Warrenville South's junior Robby Badgley alertly uncorked 53. Rxg5+.  If Black captures the rook, it is stalemate because the White king has no legal moves.

The first thought in such a position is for Black to maneuver the White rook onto a square where Black can capture it with one of the pieces that is confining the White king, thereby avoiding stalemate.  Unfortunately, four out of five of the squares are covered twice so moving one piece won't do the trick.  The only square that is only covered once is d1, the only way for the Black pawn on c2 to capture the White rook is for the Black king to go to c1 forcing White to play Rb1+.  Unfortunately, ...cxb1=Q will still be stalemate.

SOLUTION:  Since there is no way for Black to give the White king any breathing room, the only solution is to free one of the White pawns to move.  This is accomplished by forcing the White rook to deliver check from b5 whereupon Black plays ...axb5 and White's a-pawn has a legal move. 53... Kf5 54. Rg5+ Ke4 55. Re5+ Kd3 56.Rd5+ Kc3 57. Rd3+ Kb4 58. Rb3+ Kc5 59. Rb5+ axb5 60. a6 Rf1#.  Unfortunately, Marc could not find this maneuver and the game wound up as a draw.


  1. Hi Vince - I love the blog and this post is quite intriguing! However, I think with a different check on move 54 white can keep the draw in hand. I.e., 53. ... Kf5 54. Rf6+! Ke4 55. Rf4+ Kd3 56. Rd4+ 57. Kc3 Rxc4+ and now white's king has no shelter. Other attempts in at escape might be:

    55. ... Kd5 56. Rd4+ Kc6 57. Rxc4+ =
    55. ... Kd5 56. Rd4+ Ke6 57. Rxd6+ Kf5 58. Rd5+ Kg4 59. Rg5+ Kxh4 60. Rxh5+ =.

    In fact, there are many more lines, but I still have not found one where white's king escapes. Of course, I might not be seeing something, so I would invite any analysis that proves my attempt unavailing.

    As a practical matter, of course, black should play the line you suggested and hope that white cannot find the miracle save. It took me a lot of analysis to see that 54. Rg5+ was incorrect and 54. Rf6 was (probably) drawing--I doubt I could have found it in time pressure OTB.

    Best regards,

    Chris Falter
    Summerville, SC

    1. Thanks for stopping by Chris. If Black plays 55...Kd5! instead of 55...Kd3?, White can't take the bishop on c4 because the Black king can return to the f-file and capture the kamikaze rook with the Black rook. With the bishop gone, either e2 or f1 will be available for the White king. However, your method does give Black another way to go wrong with 55...Kd3? since he can't get back to the f-file on the third rank.

  2. Hi Vince - In my initial analysis above I actually provided a drawing suggestion for white after 55. ... Kd5, namely 56. Rd4. Perhaps you could provide further analysis on those 2 lines I listed?!
    BTW, here are two more lines:

    * 55. ... Kd5 56. Rd4+ Ke5 57. Re4+ Kf5 58. Rf4+ Kg6 59. Rf6+ = (the black king cannot escape from the northeast corner)
    * Attempting to run around the e pawn also does not work, as we see in the line 55. ... Kd5 56. Rd4+ Ke5 57. Re4+ Kf5 58. Rf4+ Ke6 59. Rf6+ Kd7 60. Rd7+ = (the king cannot escape from the back 2 ranks).

    I am convinced even more that white can save the draw with accurate play, and I have provided a lot of concrete analysis in support of the notion. Perhaps more/better concrete analysis could prove me wrong, though, and I would welcome such analysis. In fact, why not unleash your students on this question and see what they can come up with? They might prove us both wrong! In any case, this discussion + their efforts would prove to be a very useful exercise in (1) the importance of analyzing for yourself, and (2) the availability of hidden resources in chess.

    Best regards,

    Chris Falter

  3. Also, please note that capturing the bishop (with check) does not stop the "kamikaze rook" defense because the black f2 rook still covers the e2 and f1 squares. However, white must be careful not to check on the f file in such a way as to allow the f2 rook to capture backwards and make the e2 square available.

  4. In fact, as I think about that last point, I'm wondering whether the key move after 56. ... Kc6 might be 57. Rxd6+ rather than 57. Rxc4+. Then white still draws, as we see in these 2 lines:

    * 57. ...Kc7 58. Rc6+ = (black's king cannot escape from the back 2 ranks),
    * 57. ...Kc5 58. Rc6+ Kb4 59. Rb6+ Ka3 (not 59. ...Kc3 60. Rb3+ Kd4 61. Rd3+ and black is making no progress) 60. Rb3+ Ka2 61. Rb2+ Ka1 62. Ra2+! (not falling for the trap 62. Rb1+?? cxb1=Q#) Kb1 63. Rb2+ Kc1 64. Rb1+ = (either capture results in stalemate). I don't think 59. ...Kb5 helps black in this line, as white has 60. Rc5+ Kb4 61. Rxc4+ = (black's king cannot escape from the a and b files, and if he tries to use the c2 pawn for shelter the white rook will drive him to c1 and then force the draw with the final self-immolation Rb1+.

  5. Chris,

    Once the bishop is gone, I don't think White can avoid being forced to allow the rook capture. After 53. ... Kf5 54. Rf6+! Ke4 55. Rf4+ Kd5 56. Rd4+ Kc5 57. Rxc4+ (or 57.Rd5+ Kb4 58.Rb5+ axb5 and Black wins) 57... Kd5 58.Rd4+ Ke5 59.Re4+ Kf5 60.Re5+ Kf4 61.Rf5+ Kg3 62.Rg5+ Kh2 63.Rg2+ Rxg2 64.Kf1 c1=Q#.

  6. Yep, I missed that one. The key moves in your winning line are 56. ...Kc5 (which forces 57. Rxc4, otherwise 57. Rd5+ Kb4 58. Rb5+ axb5 and the white a pawn has a move, spoiling the stalemate in a fashion similar to your original line); and 62. ...Kh2, which leaves 63. Rg2+ as the only check (which in turn permits 63. ...Rxg2 liberating the f1 square for the white king).

    So thanks for the additional analysis; I found this quite useful, informative, and fun! Good luck to you and the Prospect team.

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