Chess Corner - Rooks and Rook Play



We have now studied the pawns, knights, and bishops. We have seen that the pawns together, organized properly, could match the power of these pieces. We have contrasted the knights and bishops and have seen the strength of bishop pairs. We will now look at the rooks, and we’ll see where they should be placed throughout the game to stay active.

Because rooks start in the corners, they are the hardest pieces to develop. In order for both rooks to participate, all of the other pieces have to be developed and the king has to be castled. Even then, it is hard to bring out your rooks into the battlefield. This is why the rooks aren’t usually out until the endgame. So, how do you let your rooks participate in the opening and middlegame?

One of the most powerful places for a rook is in an open file. An open file simply is a file with no pieces on it. See diagram 1 for an illustration. This is from a game played by grandmasters Nigel Short as White and Jan Timman playing Black. White has his rook on d1, controlling all of the squares in the d-file. This includes d4 and d5, two central squares, and even d7 and d8 in his enemy’s camp! White demonstrates later in the game (see diagram 2) the full power of an open file. Both of Short’s rooks are in the d-file, one on d8 safely in the heart of his enemy’s camp. Black cannot take on d8 because after 1… Rxd8 2. Rxd8+ Rxd8 3. Qxd8+ Qe8 4. Qxe8#, Black is mated. White has unleashed the full power of his open file. Nine moves later, White won the game.

Like Short, you can use an open file to transport your rooks and other pieces into the heart of your enemy’s camp. What else can you do with an open file? In believe one of the strongest things you can do with your rooks is to put both of them on the seventh rank. Why the seventh rank and not the eighth? Look at the third diagram above. White’s rooks are both on the seventh rank, targeting Black’s unmoved pawns on a7, b7, f7, g7, and h7. All of these pawns can be gobbled up pretty quickly. A sample line might be: 1. Rxf7 g6 2. Rg7+ Kh8 3. Rxh7+ Kg8 4. Rxb7. White has captured three pawns of Black’s and he still has his rooks dangerously close to Black’s king. White is certainly ahead.

Rooks are the hardest pieces to develop and usually don’t get to be used until the endgame. If you can get a rook out before then, great. If you can’t, try getting it to an open file and later to the seventh or eighth rank. Also be sure to use your rooks in pairs. They are even more powerful together – just like bishops and pawns.

This week’s puzzle is very similar to the last diagram, but in this puzzle, White has the chance to checkmate Black. Can you find White’s checkmate in three?

Answer to the previous puzzle: White’s three-move checkmate begins with 1. Bh6. This is not a check, but it forces Black into the corner with 1… Kh8. White will then check with his bishop with 2. Bg7+. Black is then forced to play 2… Kg8 and is trapped. White can now move his knight to e7 or h6 and Black is finished.

Note: When mating with a knight and bishop, be sure that your opponent’s king is in a corner matching the color of your bishop’s. You may have to drive his king to another corner in order to checkmate him.