The Chess Rook – A Straight Shooter

chess pieces the rook blog image

Chess rooks are the only piece to start the game not defended by another chess piece. Even the lowly eight pawns are all protected.

The fact that the chess rook needs no protector is a clue to how powerful this piece is.

The rooks and queen are the major pieces. A single rook and queen can deliver a checkmate with only the support of the king.

Bishops and knights, referred to as minor pieces, need help from another chess piece, along with the king, to deliver a checkmate.

Like the queen, they are worthy of extra protection. Take care of them because, with the right circumstances, they can devastate your opponent’s position.

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

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How the Chess Rook got its Name

In the early days of chess, the rook was called a chariot in Arabic – “rukhkh”.

These chariots were heavily armored and resembled small, mobile buildings. Their appearance and the similarity to the Italian word for the tower – “rocco” gave rise to the name rook.

You find towers in a castle.

Starting Position of the Chess Piece Rook

The rooks, or towers, stand at the edge of the board. They can move swiftly towards the center because of their range and a special move called castling.

This helps them go from being the only undefended pieces at the start of the game to well-defended chess pieces soon after the game starts.

starting position of a chess game
The starting position of a chess game with the white rooks on a1 and h1 and the black rooks on a8 and h8.

How the Chess Rook Moves

Rook
The rook moves in a straight line backward, forward, and sideways.

The rook moves in a straight line forwards, backwards, and sideways.

Rooks can’t jump over pieces, except when castling.

Rooks can cross from one side of the board to another if the rank or file is unobstructed by another piece.

This makes them excellent long-range attackers and defenders.

The Rook and Castling in Chess

During the opening phase of the game, an important maneuver is castling. Castling helps get your king to safety.

This allows the king to move two squares to the left or the right under certain circumstances.

This is the only time the king can move more than one square, and it is also the only time the rook can jump over another piece.

This article clearly explains the special rules surrounding castling.

Winning or Sacrificing the Exchange

When a rook gets captured by a minor piece (a bishop or a knight) this is “winning the exchange”. One side has captured a more valuable chess piece in exchange for a chess piece of lesser value.

Grivas’ Advanced Chess School (the Grivas Method)
Here is a classic exchange sacrifice played by World Chess Champion Mikhail Botvinnik

Take a look at the diagram to the right. World Chess Champion Mikhail Botvinnik has played his rook to a square where the bishop can capture it.

However, capturing the rook with Bxd4 will undouble the black pawns and block the only open file – the d-file. Severely restricting the white rooks.

In the French Defense or the Sicilian Defense, black can voluntarily give up his rook for a minor piece. This is an “exchange sacrifice.”

exchange sacrifice sicilian defense
Exchange Sacrifice Sicilian Defense. Here black can play the exchange sacrifice with …Rxc3. White must recapture with bxc3 because Qxc3 will lose the bishop on h6.

Black plays the exchange sacrifice to open lines against the white king. White will recapture with the b or g-pawn, leaving his king exposed.

Naturally, the exchange sacrifice can also be played by white to open lines against the black king.

The Chess Rook in the Opening

One of the best ways to safeguard the king and bring a rook into play is to castle. When you castle queenside, or castle long, your rook lands on a central file – the d-file.

The king moves to the c1 square, where it defends the b-pawn.

During the opening, it’s important to bring your rooks to the center. From here, they support your minor pieces. When developing your chess pieces, it’s best to develop them towards the center.

Rooks are long-range pieces that means they can offer support to your own pieces and restrict your opponent’s attempts to control the center.

The rooks are usually developed on the c, d, e, and f-files in the opening.

The Chess Rook in the Middlegame

Open and semi-open files are the best files for your rooks. This increases their range of movement and allows them to control more squares.

A semi-open or open file helps you bring your rooks to help your attack with a rook lift maneuver. The most common rook lift makes use of the third rank. You can use the fourth rank for a rook lift too.

The complexity of chess means you need to evaluate a position objectively.

In some circumstances inflicting double-pawns on an opponent is a good plan. This might not be a good idea if it opens a file for your opponent’s rook.

White sometimes allows black to capture his bishop on g3 in the London System chess opening. After hxg3, the rook on h1 exerts pressure on the h7 square.

A similar exchange often takes place on the queenside in the London System involving queens.

If black attacks the undefended pawn on b2, white will sometimes respond with Qb3, inviting black to play Qxb3. After axb3, white can use the a-file for his rook.

Always remember the only rule you can confidently apply in every chess position is “Checkmate ends the game.”

Rooks on the Seventh Rank

Rooks are especially powerful on the seventh rank. They often create mating threats and tie down your opponent’s pieces to defending.

The more time and pieces your opponent must devote to defense mean fewer attacking chances for him. Remember, it is much easier to play with the initiative than to spend long periods defending.

Getting two rooks or a rook and queen on the seventh rank is often worth a material sacrifice. If you sacrifice a piece and tie down three of his pieces you are playing with an extra two pieces.

The Chess Rook in the Endgame

Rook endgames are the most common type of endgames in chess. Despite how simple they appear at first glance, very few players can say they have mastered them.

Here are ten must-know endgames, including rook endgames, presented by GM Ivan Sokolov.

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In many middlegames, it is the rooks that are most likely to avoid being exchanged. This is because of their usefulness to defend the castled king. 

However, once the endgame begins, it’s essential to activate the rooks and the kings. In every endgame, piece activity is crucial, but even more so in rook endgames.

Take a look at the following position and evaluate how the game is likely to end.

endgame black draws
How do you think this game will end? White wins? Black Draws?

Even though white has two extra pawns, black’s knowledge of the endgame enabled him to place his pieces on their ideal squares. Black can draw this game.

endings of one rook and pawns are about the most common sort blog image

This is a good example of why it pays to invest a lot of time studying the endgame. 

Rooks on the Seventh Rank in the Endgame

The following position shows the power of two rooks on the seventh rank. Already two pawns up, and with the chance to capture the b7 pawn, winning is not easy for white.

Black threatens to play …Rdd2, and there will be no escape from perpetual check for white. 

rook endgame 2 rooks
Rook Endgame with 2 Rooks

White can defend the g2-pawn with Kh1 and Rg1, but the rook would be extremely passive on g1. Such a passive rook in the endgame is a bad piece.

Sometimes the smallest difference can mean winning and drawing a rook endgame. In the following diagram, white wins because the pawn is on a6 and not a7.

rook endgame white wins
Rook Endgame – white wins

The game would end in a draw if the pawn were on a7. White can win with the pawn on a6 because his king has an escape square on a7.

This allows white to defend the pawn on a6 with his king and play Rb8 and Rb6. Then he will play Kb7, and black can’t check the white king.

The a-pawn will then advance protected by the king. This forces black to give up his rook for the pawn.

White can deliver checkmate with a king and rook against the lone black king.

Watch this video to learn how to make the most out of your chess rook when it’s on the seventh rank

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In Conclusion

The rook is a very special piece, and it fittingly has a special move associated with it.

Unlike the other major piece, the queen, every chess game begins with two rooks. Because there are two of them, the king can find safety on either side of the board.

Castling is not only about getting the king to safety. By castling on opposite sides, you can set the tone for an exciting attacking game

The knights might enjoy a closed position with lots of pieces, but your rooks thrive in open chess positions.

Fewer pieces on the board mean the power of your rooks increases a lot!

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