Last week, we looked at the further development of our minor pieces (Knights and Bishops) as well as three things we shouldn’t do during the opening; bringing the Queen out early, moving the same piece over and over again (during the opening), and making too many pawn moves. This week, we’re going to look at something beginners overwhelmingly fail to do, connecting their Rooks. While, the central pawns and minor pieces play the largest role in the opening, the major pieces, the Rooks and Queen, can contribute to this phase of the game as well. However, this doesn’t mean you should bring either the Queen or Rook directly into the game. The Queen and Rook can play a supporting role rather than a leading role in the fight for centralized control during the opening.
Wait a minute, didn’t I write that you shouldn’t move your Queen early in the game forward? Yes, I did! However, there is a big difference between bringing your Queen out onto the board to attack your opponent’s King and moving it one square forward to clear a path for the Rooks. As you will soon see, you have to move your Queen at least one square forward (from it’s starting square) if you wish to connect your Rooks. Let’s dig into this idea in greater depth.
As I mentioned at the start of this article, Beginners tend to leave their Rooks stuck in the corners on their starting squares, unconnected. You need to connect your Rooks during the opening. Doing this helps with your middle-game. What do I mean by “connected Rooks?” Rooks are one of two major pieces, the other being the Queen. Major pieces are more powerful than minor pieces. They can simultaneously control a larger number of squares than their minor piece counterparts. A Rook placed anywhere on an empty chessboard can control fourteen squares simultaneously. Interestingly, the Rook is the only piece that controls the same number of squares on an empty chessboard no matter where it is placed (test this statement out with a Rook and an empty chessboard). However, the Rooks start the game trapped on corner squares, either a1, h1, a8 or h8. Beginners initially learning the opening principles, will often neglect their Rooks, thinking they’re an endgame piece to be left in place until later on. Then there’s the other extreme regarding beginners and their Rooks.
Some beginners try to get their Rooks into the game quickly by moving the pawn in front of one Rook two squares forward and then dragging the Rook out along that file. Like bringing the Queen out early, this maneuver usually ends with either the Rook being captured by one of the opposition’s minor pieces (usually the Bishop) or a loss of tempo or time as the Rook flees from enemy pawns and minor pieces (moving the Rook multiple times, which is a no-no). Does this mean we should just leave our Rooks well enough alone? No! While we don’t want to move our Rooks out on the board during the opening, we should give them access to the squares that make up their starting rank, the first rank for White and the eighth rank for Black. This allows the Rooks to help protect the pawns and minor pieces that are aimed toward the center squares (d4, d5, e4 or e5). How do we do that? By getting our minor pieces off their starting squares and into the game. Of course, to do that, you’ll need to move a pawn or two. This is why it is so important to follow the opening principles when making moves at the start of the game. It’s also important to follow the idea of bringing your least valuable material into the game first, working your way up the relative value scale (minor pieces followed by major pieces – only positioning the major pieces close to home). Thus, pawns enter the game, followed by the minor pieces, followed by connecting your Rooks so they can play a supportive role.
When your Rooks are connected, there are no pieces between them. In other words, they are the only pieces on the rank they occupy, which is their starting rank. Many beginners ask me how I expect them to easily move four minor pieces as well as the King and Queen to create connected Rooks, It’s not as hard as your think. Your minor pieces are eventually going to be moved to centralized squares so that takes care of the minor piece issue. Your Queen can simply move a rank forward, so that takes care of that. What about the King? There’s a bonus to castling that I didn’t mention last week. Not only do you move your King to safety when castling, you also get one of the Rooks (depending on which side of the board you castle on) off of it’s corner starting square. Take a look at the example below
After 1. e4…e5, 2. Nf3…Nc6, 3. Bc4…Nf6, 4. Nc3…Bb4, White castles on move five with 5. 0-0. White has followed the opening principles but more importantly, activated the h8 Rook, which is now on f1. Black plays 5…d6, giving the c8 Bishop an escape route from it’s starting square, giving it some mobility. White’s fifth move, 5. 0-0 not only safely tucks the King away behind a wall of pawns but also gets the h8 Rook out of the corner. Play continues with 6. d3…0-0, 7. Bg5…Bd7 abs finally 8. Qd2. White has successfully cleared the first rank to connect his Rooks. Notice that the Queen only moved one square forward, from the first to second rank. This is a safe Queen move during the opening and is not considered to be a case of bringing the Queen out early. What’s so good about connected Rooks?
As I mentioned earlier, the two Rooks can work together to protect their pawns and pieces that have moved or are going to move. The connected Rooks become bodyguards. However, their role as bodyguards generally will not come into play until later in the game. The idea here is to have them ready to go when they are needed. Sure, you probably won’t need them connected during the opening, but you will need them connected when you start marching pawns across the board later in the game. It’s better to be prepared earlier than later because if you wait until later it might just be too late.
Connecting your Rooks generally signals the end of your opening. However, that doesn’t mean you’ve finished your development. You always want to think about development, more specifically how you can further your development. Always try to improve your pawn and piece activity before attacking. More active material (pawns and pieces) means greater attacking opportunities. It’s also important to note that your position might suddenly change to one in which you end up with a weak position. Having those connected and mobile Rooks will give you greater defense options. Next week, we’re going to look at some tricks and traps players use in the opening. I’m showing them to you not so much for you to use but to be aware of so you can avoid them. After that, we’ll study our first complete opening. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week!