The Pecking Order of Rooks

By CEO National Master Evan Rabin 

When young novice students play chess, they will often count the number of pieces on the board to determine who is winning; they forget that pieces have different values. The rook is worth 5 points.

However, if an employee does not actively contribute to the company, he will not be worth his salary. To live up to the value of 5 points, a rook needs to be activated.  Most pieces like to be developed to the center, as they have more mobility there.  For instance, a knight in the corner has two squares it can go to, compared to eight in the center.  Contrarily, you can place a rook anywhere on the board and it will control 14 squares:

If that is the case, how should we develop our rooks to optimize their performance? Here is the pecking order of rooks from worst to best:

Bad: Close File

Rooks least enjoy sitting on closed files, where both sides have pawns. For instance, in this position black’s rook on f8 does not have any possible options. At the right time, black will likely play an f5 break so that the file can open up.

OK: Semi- Open File 

The next best thing for a rook is a semi-open file, where only one’s opponent has a pawn. In this position, white will likely develop his rook to d1, where only black has a pawn on d6. One should note, he is also forming a battery with his queen as the two pieces are operating on the same file.

Good: Open File 

The best type of individual rook is one an open file, which has no pawns on it. The white rook on c1 has free range of the whole c-file.

Great: Two Rooks Doubled up on a Open File 

They are one person
They are two alone
They are three together
They are for-or each other

Helplessly Hoping, Crosby, Stills and Nash 

If the rook has a friend on his open file, it is doing even better! In this position, I would certainly take white any day of the week, with his dominating rooks on the c-file, compared to black’s rooks on the closed a nd b files. What makes matters worse for black, white has annoying bishop on h3, which prevents black from playing Rc8 in attempt to trade rooks.

Excellent: Rook on the 7th Rank 

Even better than two rooks working together, is one rook operating on that color’s 7th rank, where most of his opponent’s pawn live, as exhibited by the white rook on e7.

The Best: Pigs on the 7th Rank 

“The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.”

Aristotle 

White’s two rooks on the 7th rank are most certainly worth a lot more than the 10 points, you’d value them, solely based on the point system. “These hungry pigs will eat everything they can get their snouts on.” (Grandmaster Yasser Seirawan, Winning Chess Strategies)

As Bruce Pandolfini often says, “Be excellent!” My coach Grandmaster Leonid Yudasin often suggests “If you don’t know what do in a given position, improve your piece.” At the very least, a rook should try to develop to an open file; however, it most certainly should not stop there. Just a person needs to continuously grow, rooks and every other piece should always work to improve their positions.