“I have come to the personal conclusion that while all artists are not chess players, all chess players are artists.” - Marcel Duchamp
Learning to play chess and then becoming a great player starts with the fundamentals of the game.
To play chess well, you need to know how each piece works on the board and how to effectively utilise them so let’s have a look at the rook, how it moves, and how you can use it.
Ready to go?
Start the clock.
A Quick Introduction to the Rules of the Game
Like any self-respecting chess player, you should know about the game and its origins.
It was born in the 5th century in India, but it has changed a lot in 1,500 years. Some say that chess was invented by the Brahmin Sissa for the king of India at the time, who was bored in his vast palace.
Initially, the game was for four players with each in a corner of a 64-square checkerboard similar to the one we use today. However, the checkerboard was red and black rather than black and white like today.
The game evolved and spread across Asia to Persia and then into Europe, with each civilisation having legends for how the game came to be.
In Ancient Greece, the birth of chess is attributed to the hero Palamedes, a hero who is said to have created the game to keep the troops busy during the Siege of Troy. This version of the game included dice and it certainly kept them entertained.
Chess’ popularity would eventually bring it to Medieval Europe and it was popular in both Italy and Spain in the 11th century during which it would see the biggest changes to the rules. In some respects, the game became more complicated and Westernised.
Each piece became more mobile:
- The vizier became the queen and the elephant became the bishop.
- The rukh, which eventually became “rook” in English, was sometimes referred to as the castle or the tower.
- With the appearance of the rook, the possible moves in the game multiplied.
The rules were codified several times, particularly with the chess treatises.
The Origins of the Rook
As a quick reminder, a chess set includes:
- 2 kings
- 2 queens
- 4 knights
- 4 rooks
- 4 bishops
- 16 pawns
Initially, the rook represented a Persian chariot (rukh), the term that would eventually become a rook. The rook is thought to represent a siege tower but the piece itself is often more similar to a small castle. It can move horizontally or vertically as far as it likes.
This movement gives it a wide reach across the board and allows it to move quickly across the length or width of the board. Each player has two rooks and white’s rooks start on squares a1 and h1 and black’s rooks on a8 and h8.
After the queen, it’s considered the second most valuable piece in the game. The bishop and knight are “lighter” pieces as they’re more powerful than a rook in the middle of the board and far more mobile, which can lead to the rook becoming more powerful as the game progresses and there’s less material on the board.
The rook is ideally placed on open ranks and files where it won’t be blocked by friendly pawns and they’re particularly valuable when they’re forming a battery, which is when they’re on the same rank or file so that they’re defending one another.
Chess grandmasters like to use the strategic strength of the rook during the end game as they can stop their opponents from advancing when in key positions.
Castling involves the king and one of the rooks. When a rook and the king are still on their initial squares, haven’t moved, and have no pieces between them, the king and rook can both move by castling.
You can do this on the rook nearest to the king (kingside castling) or the other rook (queenside castling). This is normally done towards the beginning of a game as it allows you to shield the king in a corner of the board and is particularly useful as it allows you to move both pieces at the same time.
It’s the only move in the game where two pieces move at once and also the only situation in which the king can move two squares and the rook can jump over another piece.
However, you cannot castle if:
- There are other pieces between your king and the rook.
- The rook or king have already moved (even if they have returned to their initial position).
- The king is in check or must move through check to castle.
In addition to protecting the king, castling allows the two rooks to protect one another or develop the rook and bring it into a more active role in the game as this often puts the rook in a position to move more freely around the board.
Castling also allows you to create an imbalance within the game and take advantage of certain openings. This is particularly true in certain variations of the Sicilian Defence, Dragon Variation.
In any case, it’s always a good idea to study and memorise certain strategies so that you’ll always have them in your armoury.
As you play more games, you’ll start remembering certain patterns and how to get the most out of each piece and you’ll see that checkmate is within your reach more often than you think.
Before you can get a FIDE rating, you’ll want to study the game.
Rooks, an Advantage in the Endgame
Endgames with rooks and no pawns are regularly spoken of in guides to chess.
The rook and bishop versus rook may seem complicated, but the very best players master this common pawnless situation. Great players can gain an advantage in complex tactical situations by developing their pieces. With the help of chess coaches and a lot of studying the game, there’s no reason you can’t reach the highest levels of play. All the greats have done the same.
Playing a few matches against opponents more experienced than yourself is a good way to learn new strategies and also work out where your weaknesses lie.
Why not practise against the computer or take chess lessons online?
The Philidor Position
The Philidor Position is one of the most commonly known strategies and an important chess endgame. It’s a rook versus a rook and pawn endgame that you can use to achieve a draw.
Think about extensively studying chess before trying this one.
The Lucena Position
This is another fundamental endgame with a rook and pawn versus a rook.
The position is considered “the mother of all endgames” as it illustrates the pitfalls to avoid as your opponent will try to reach the Philidor position and force a draw.
The Umbrella Method
The Umbrella Method is an endgame technique that involves hiding behind a pawn to avoid check. The pawn acts as an umbrella.
Who would have thought that the lowly pawn could be so useful in avoiding check?
With these strategies and techniques, you can start improving your game.
Just remember that practice makes perfect and make sure you regularly play and remain humble in defeat.
The goal is to learn the fundamentals of the game while also having fun.
How about joining a chess club?
If you'd like to learn more about chess, get in touch with one of the many talented and experienced chess tutors on the Superprof website. Whether you're a novice looking to learn how to play or an experienced player wanting to improve your game, there are tutors all over the country and around the world who can teach you.
There are different types of tutoring available and each comes with its pros and cons so think carefully about the type of tutoring that will work for you, how you like to learn, and your budget.
Face-to-face tutoring is the most cost-effective since it's just you and your tutor and every minute of every session will be spent focusing on you and your learning. However, these types of tutorials are usually the most expensive since the tutor spends time outside of the lessons adapting each session to you.
Online tutorials are usually cheaper than face-to-face tutorials since the tutor doesn't have to travel and can schedule more lessons each week. While online tutorials aren't ideal for hands-on subjects, for more academic subjects and skills, they work great.
Group tutoring is great for those on a budget as you can share the cost of your tutoring with the other students in the class and you'll also have more people to play chess against!
Don't forget that a lot of the tutors on Superprof offer the first lesson for free so consider trying a few before picking the tutor that's right for you.