I’ve enjoyed watching Youtube videos by Derek Grimmell, instructional productions on various aspects of the queen-versus-rook end games of chess. I don’t recall even one of them that would not be of great value to an average (or above average) tournament player who might want to be more proficient in this kind of end game. Be aware that very few chess books teach anything about queen versus rook endings.
Attack With a Javelin
Notwithstanding the debt we owe to Mr. Grimmell for his detailed study and his many valuable instructional materials, of the many key position-types that he demonstrates in his videos, the one least convincing to me, in his instructions, is the javelin. It’s not that some javelin positions may allow the defender to escape eventual defeat; I’ve worked on some of these positions and found them adequate for the winning side to win. Yet some of his statements (and one of his demonstrations) regarding the javelin I’ve found to be questionable. If I’ve made an oversight in this, I accept correction (See Addendum).
Let’s first look at the video “Queen versus Rook endgame, Javelin 1.” I see no problem with the first few moves. I’d like to examine the consequence of the move Qd5+, however, what Grimmell calls “the key move.” Be aware that the following position is not itself a javelin but the resulting position we get to from his analysis of a particular javelin. See Diagram-5, near the end of this post, for the original position.
Diagram-1 after Qd5+
In the video, the black king moves to c3 but that is taken back, replaced with Kb4. I think I understand the reason that Grimmell may have thought that Kb4 was a better defense, for it prevents the white king from advancing with Kb5. But let’s look deeper into Kc3.
What if the defender now tries to get into a third rank defense, with the black king trying to get to d1 or e1? It takes only one little move for the rook to get to h3, setting up a defense that is not impregnable but which takes quite a few moves to break down. Here’s the position after White replies to Black’s Kc3 by moving Kc5:
Diagram-2 after White’s Kc5
This looks like a good time for the defender to put the rook on the third rank.
Diagram-3 after Rh3 (But see *Addendum at the bottom of this post)
Now let’s try the obvious: pushing the defending king towards the edge with Qd4+*. The black king would like to get to d1, so let’s have it then move to c2. What would then be more natural for the attacker than to advance the white king to c4? The rook would then be in danger, so the defender would move it to a3. That gives us this:
Diagram-4 after Ra3 (not likely you ever see this in a chess book)
Notice that if White now moves Qf2+, the black king may move to d1, creating a standard third-rank defense. To win by breaking through that defense, when the defender plays very well, requires not only a precise technique but a good number of moves. That brings into question the idea that all javelin positions are key independent setups for winning.
But what else is White to do in Diagram-4? If Qg1, denying the defending king the d1 square, Black has a number of check available from the rook. White may be able to convert this position into a corner defense, but that defies the concept of the javelin as a separate way of winning this queen versus rook end game.
In Grimmell’s first and second javelin videos on this chess end game, he makes a number of claims, one of which I extol while bringing others into question:
1) “From the javelin position, you’re always going to win the game on a fork.” [second video]
2) “The javelin differs from all the others [of the 21 position types] . . . when the javelin position appears on the board, you must win it by javelin rules. [first video]
3) You can’t turn the javelin position into one of the other kinds of position types. In particular, the javelin position is the only one where the attacker wins without going through Philidor’s position. [first video]
On point #1, his own demonstrations of two winning methods in his second video—they both show how to win, and I see no fault in the analysis. Yet one of those can result in the rook reuniting with the defending king, allowing the attacker to get a mate in three, and the other can result in a Philidor position. I would restate point #1:
Threats of forking the rook commonly restrain the defending king until the attacker eventually forces the defender to choose between being checkmated and giving up the rook.
I like Grimmell’s statement in point #2: “. . . you must win it by javelin rules.” That’s well put and correct. I recommend his videos on this special type of queen-versus-rook end game, for they are highly instructive in how to win as the attacker.
Yet it seems to me that point #3 contains an overstatement, for at the end of his second javelin video we see the Philidor position (although that is just one of two ways to win from a position in this video, both of which he demonstrates well). I would restate it thus:
The proper handling of a javelin, by the attacker, will not likely involve conversion into a Philidor position. Just remember that the Philidor is one of the easier and quicker position types for the attacker to win, if the opportunity comes up.
Now let’s look at the original position in Grimmell’s first javelin video, the position that gave rise to the one shown in Diagram-1:
Like all javelin positions demonstrated by Mr. Grimmell, the defender has the move. With White to move, just give checkmate, in this case with Qa4#.
Derek Grimmell has given us a wealth of instructional materials for handling these many types of variations in this wonderful kind of chess end game. Even if the two javelin-position videos are not quite up to the highest technical standards of many of his other videos, they are of great value to those who would learn how these variations can work. How grateful we should be to learn from them! And what a surprise it will be if one of us is ever the defender in a queen-versus-rook and our opponent is a less-well prepared master! (Not a pleasant surprise for the master.)
From Diagram-3, I later found another possibility for White: Qd1. Black’s Rd3 would quickly lose the rook after Qc1+ and then Qc4+. On other hand, Re3 would lose the rook even more quickly after Qd4+. Almost all distant rook defenses would also quickly lose the rook to a fork. Perhaps the best defense for Black, after White’s Qd1 from Diagram-3, would be to retreat the black king towards the corner, not a happy defense for Black. At any rate, the prospects of getting a third rank defense would appear bleak.
How should a chess instructor teach basic tactics to advanced beginners or lower-ranked tournament players? Consider using the endgame of king-plus-queen versus king-plus-rook. What marvelous tactics can be taught in this kind of endgame!
Short reviews of three chess books, including Beat That Kid in Chess