The Rook Tutorial

I.    Basic Moving and Capturing.

The Rook is one of the two linear pieces, and one of the three major pieces (King, Queen, & Rook) . Rooks may move (and move and capture) only vertically forward and backward in files, and only horizontally left and right in ranks. A Rook may move along the length of the file or rank through the squares that are empty.

If a square is occupied in the file or rank by a piece or pawn of the player with the Rook, with all other squares empty between them, then the Rook may only move at a maximum to the empty square immediately adjacent to the square upon which the other piece or pawn is located. The Rook also can move to any other empty square between the adjacent one and the square upon which the Rook is originally located.

If a square is occupied in the file or rank by an opposing piece (other than the opposing King) or an opposing pawn with all other squares empty between them, then the Rook may move and capture the opposing piece or pawn on the square upon which it is located, or move to any of the empty squares between that square and the square upon which the Rook is located. If the square is occupied by the opposing King with all other squares empty between them, then the King is in check (being attacked) by the Rook.

Like the Queen and Bishop, by itself a Rook has no special attributes to its moving capabilities.

Rooks also can only defend each other when vertically connected (empty squares between them) in the same file, or horizontally connected in the same rank.

The diagram below shows the possible squares to which a Black Rook located at h8, and a White Rook located at e4, may move to without any other pieces or pawns on the board. The diagram also shows the squares upon which the two Rooks would interact (half-colored circles) if a Rook moved to one of those squares. The diagram shows that for a given position on the board, no matter which square a Rook is upon it always has a maximum of thirteen squares to which it may move, or move and capture upon.


II.    Basic Principles and Concepts.The Rook has more potential ability to seize and control space when located near the center of the board. A Rook more centrally located also has the greater potential mobility (flexibility for moving) because it may have access to squares across all the files as well as to all four sides of the board, unlike a Rook which is located in either of the players’ home (or back) ranks or in either of the two wings – a or h files.

Rooks left at their home squares (a1 and h1 for White, and a8 and h8 for Black):

  • may become trapped;
  • entombed;
  • subject to being attacked and captured especially by opposing Bishops that have been fianchettoed (reviewed in The Bishop section) along the long diagonals (a1 to h8, and a8 to h1); and
  • present opportunities for players to pin pawns. For Black – pinning White’s pawns at b2 and b7 against White’s Rooks on their home squares; for White – pinning Black’s pawns at b7 and g7 against Black’s Rooks on their home squares.

A Rook that seizes control of an opposing player’s seventh rank (2nd rank for White by Black, and 7th for Black by White) has created an intense formidable blockade of an opposing King located in the opposing player’s back rank (1st rank for White and 8th rank for Black). A Rook that gains control of the opposing player’s seventh rank may be referred to as a HOG or a PIG, because of the ability for the player to begin gobbling up opposing pieces and/or pawns while keeping the opposing King at bay. Some refer to gaining control of the seventh rank as setting up a sty (as in a pig’s sty).

Rook Forks and Rook Fork Checks are like other forks. The Rook may do a single or a multiple fork. In a Rook fork (or fork check) situation a player’s Rook is attacking two opposing pieces, or an opposing piece and opposing pawn, or more than two opposing pieces and/or opposing pawns at the same time. One of the pieces can be the opposing King thereby checking the opposing King as part of the fork.


III.    Combinations and Batteries.

Rook lineups in combination in files, especially open files, create a powerful Rook-Rook Battery. Another potent Rook-Rook Battery is one in the opposing player’s second rank with the opposing King trapped on its back rank. The Rooks in Rook-Rook Batteries provide excellent defense for each other, and usually open great opportunities to infiltrate the opposing player’s space.

Rook-Rook Batteries are more commonly called Doubled Rooks when lined up vertically in the same file. Doubled Rooks can be combined with a Rook Fork to create great attacking possibilities. The diagram below shows a combination of Doubled Rooks and a Rook Fork.

Another special combination – the very powerful Alekhine’s Gun…the Rook-Rook-Queen lined in a file with the Queen behind the two Rooks pointed at an opposing player’s back rank…was covered in The Queen tutorial.


IV.    Additional Principles & Concepts.

Rooks are a prime piece to provide control for open files. One purpose of castling early with the King is to get the Rook used in the castling moved toward the center files of the chessboard to provide for protection and defense of central pawns, provide mobility for it to gain control of an open file, and usually to connect it up with the player’s other Rook for creating possible Rook-Rook batteries. Open files often become the center of focus with the players positioning dueling Rooks in the open file to equally contest control of the open file. Such situations may result in Rook trades and the open file becomes a trading file, because neither one will move a Rook and give up control of the open file.

A Rook is especially useful in guarding and protecting a passed pawn or isolated pawn so as to enable it to do pawn promotion (advance to a square on the opposing player’s back rank and be changed into a Queen, Rook, Bishop, or Knight). To protect a passed pawn or isolated pawn, the Rook belongs behind the pawn and not in front of it. A Rook in front of a passed or isolated pawn blockades the pawn from vertically advancing to gain pawn promotion. Therefore, if a passed pawn or isolated pawn is to gain pawn promotion through a vertical advance with a Rook in front of it, the Rook would need to be moved out of the file and away from protecting and defending the pawn – making it perhaps vulnerable and subject to capture by the opposing player.

Pawn promotion may occur either through vertically advancing the pawn to the back rank of the opposing player, or through a pawn capture on the opposing player’s back rank. One technique to accomplish pawn promotion with compensation is to effectuate an entrapment of the opposing player’s Rook on the square in the opposing player’s bac) rank in the same file in which the pawn has advanced to the opposing player’s second rank, by a player’s Rook which is also checking the opposing King. This forces the opposing player into a Rook trade and opens an ensuing pawn capture with pawn promotion (most often to a Queen, and this is called Queening). The technique is shown in the next set of diagrams below with Black to move. Black moves Rc1+, forcing White to capture Black’s Rook at c1 with White’s Rook at b1, after which Black simply does pawn capture of White’s Rook at c1 effectuating the Rook trade and with pawn promotion gets a Queen (Queening), putting Black’s King back into check (bxc1=Q+).


V.    Checking & Checkmating with Rooks.

Checking with a Rook involves simply the Rook and opposing King being in the same file or rank with empty squares between them, or sitting on adjacent squares in the same file or rank. In the later situation, unless another of the player’s pieces or pawns protects the Rook, the opposing King of course may simply capture it. If a Rook is checking an opposing King from any square other than an adjacent square, the King must either move or block the check if possible with another of the opposing player’s pieces or pawns because the King may only move one square and thus is not able to capture the checking Rook. Moving the opposing King forces it out of the file or rank, and perhaps both if the King’s movement is blocked and restricted by other pieces and/or pawns.

Simple checkmates often involve using a Rook and a King to checkmate a lonely King. Also, two Rooks by themselves (without the aid of their King) can checkmate an opposing lonely King. This involves checkmating the opposing King on either of the back ranks or either of the two wings (a file or h file), by peacefully walking the opposing King to doom through consecutive checking on the opposing King. The walking of the King in checks by the Rooks simply forces the King into an ever decreasing number of ranks or files, one move at a time, leading him peacefully to the slaughter. However, because the Rooks cannot defend themselves diagonally, the primary positional structure for checkmating a King with two Rooks is to split the Rooks far apart, best with the two Rooks on opposite sides of the board with the King trapped in the center.

If going for a checkmate on one of the back ranks, one Rook is moved to the a file wing of the board and the other to the h file wing of the board in adjacent ranks, and then just progressively walk the opposing King in checks down the board to either of the two back ranks where the King will be checkmated. The player needs to keep his or her King out of play and safely ensconced on a square in a rank behind the ranks upon which the Rooks are located so as not to create a blockade on one of the Rooks.

  • Sometimes the opposing King might be close to one of the Rooks, and move ever closer toward it. Unless the player with the Rooks makes a blunder and allows that Rook to be captured, this attempt by the opposing King to squirm and connive to save himself will go for naught. First, if the Rook is lost by a blunder, all is not lost. A Rook and a King can checkmate a lone King although it is much more difficult and takes a lot longer.
  • Second, the player can easily avoid the attempt by the opposing King. This involves allowing the opposing King to move to a diagonal square next to one of the two Rooks to threaten capturing it, and then the player just simply moves that Rook on his or her next move across the files in the same rank to the opposite wing of the board but not into the same file as the player’s other Rook. The King will then be all alone on the opposite wing of the board and easily be lead to checkmate by progressively moving the Rooks in their separate files down or up the ranks on the board as appropriate to checkmate the opposing King on one of the back ranks.

The combined consecutive checking of the opposing King by the Rooks also may be done by walking the opposing King across the files to either of the two wings (a file or h file) where it will be checkmated using a similar technique, but involves positioning the Rooks on different ranks and then moving across the files in a continuous pattern of checking. If the King gets next to one of the Rooks, again it is easy to avoid a lost Rook. The player simply moves it in its current file to the far side of the board away from the opposing King and in a rank different than the other Rook, and like in the previous manner the player proceeds with continuing to check and walk the King to doom on the appropriate wing file.

In a situation when a Rook and a King are against a lonely opposing King, walking the opposing King through continuous checks into ever decreasing ranks or files naturally will not work. However, this is a situation when the player brings into play the power of his or her King to prevent the opposing King from moving to the squares around the square upon which the player’s King is located. The first objective is to use the Rook to restrict the number of files (for a checkmate on one of the wings) or ranks (for a checkmate on one of the back ranks) in which the opposing King may move. The player then brings his King into play in the area of battle, using the King to further restrict the opposing King’s movement. Then the player combines successive moves by the player’s King and Rook working together to continually force the opposing King into an ever decreasing area in which the opposing King may move, and forcing it toward one of the sides or a corner of the board where the opposing King cannot escape checkmate. There are two important aspects that need to be watched for in doing this type of checkmate:

  • prevent lining up the King and Rook in such a way as to give the opposing King an out back toward the center of the board; and
  • ensure the opposing King always has a square to move to until the final checkmate move to prevent a stalemate.

Due to the Kings being able to only move one square at a time, it may take many moves to accomplish a Rook-King checkmate on an opposing King.

Look at the following three diagrammed boards. Work out moves to checkmate the opposing lonely King in each situation as follows: Diagram R-4 (checkmate on the a file wing without using White’s King to assist); Diagram R-5 (checkmate on White’s home (back) rank without using White’s King to assist); and Diagram R-6 (checkmate wherever desired). There are several ways to accomplish each checkmate, so to make it more challenging figure out checkmate for each in the least amount of moves.

Checkmating with the Queen and Rook against a lonely King is fairly easy and an example was shown in the simple checkmate in The Objective of the Game of Chess tutorial; but, a Bishop and Rook with a King against a lone opposing King, or a Knight and Rook with a King against a lone opposing King, are somewhat more complex and tricky. These checkmates are covered elsewhere in other tutorials. As the complexities of the board increases – more and more pieces and/or pawns on the board – the ability to checkmate becomes more difficult and problematical. Detailed examination of simple and complex checkmates is left for the Checking and Checkmating tutorial.