A Brief Glimpse at the Vančura Position
Josef Vančura was a Czech composer born at the end of the nineteenth century and buried only 23 years later, in 1921. He’s remembered for a specific rook and rook’s pawn vs rook endgame which he carefully studied. Due to his work history will call this the Vančura Position.
Most chess player know that emphasis should be make on rook endgames in order to succeed. The Lucena Position —which I analysed in a previous article— and the Philidor Defense are a lot more famous than the Vančura Position, but as you rightly guess not less important nonetheless.
The position is essentially rook and rook’s pawn versus a rook where the pawn is not beyond its sixth rank, and the stronger side’s rook is in front of the pawn. Vančura’s analysis was published posthumously in 1924 and has belonged to the standard repertoire of strong chess players ever since. —Karsten Müller on ChessBase
Surely it’s not easy to devise a plan to draw. Black’s king is far from the pawn and White is threatening to approach it so it could advance. On the other hand, White’s rook is chained to the defense and lacks mobility for the moment. Giving checks from behind is out of the question, the king will end up in a7 and subsequently White will maneuver his rook successfully.
There is a threat of a march by the king to the queenside. The only antidote in such cases is creating a Vančura Position characterized by the placement of a rook at the side of the pawn. It is useless to approach the pawn with the king when the [black] rook is already on the sixth rank, as the monarch has no shelter from side checks, and the white rook is unable to leave the a8- and a7-squares, as it has to defend the a6-pawn. —Mark Dvoretsky, ‘Maneuvering. The Art of Piece Play’, Russel Enterprises, Inc., p.78.
1…Ra5+! 2.Ke6 Rh5!! Now the white rook cannot free itself from the defense of the pawn since a check on h6 would settle the draw. Black’s plan is to transfer the rook to f6 from where it could deliver annoying checks. Worth mentioning that the defending king must remain on the g-file keeping f5-, f6- and f7-squares free for the rook.
3.Kd7 Rh6 4.Kc7 Rf6 The white king has no shelter against the rook’s checks. 5.a7 Once a7 isn’t available for the attacking king it is time to transfer the rook behind the pawn. 5…Rf7+ 6.Kd6 Rf6+ 7.Ke5 Ra6 Voilà! The Vančura Position has been reached and the precious draw is secured. From g7 Black’s king prevents the maneuver Ra8-Rh8-Rh7+ winning the rook in case of …Rxa7.