Tag Archives: rooks in chess

Middle game tactics: Dilemma over the choice of rooks to move

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One of the important set of pieces with unique advantages of moving forward and backward only on verticals and horizontals and not otherwise is the rooks. The importance of the rooks can be assessed by the fact that the value of two rooks is more than the value of the Queen. No other combination of the major and minor pieces gives a value more than the value of the queen in the game of chess. The rooks are basically stationed at the flanks at the start of the game. As part of the opening strategy, it is imperative that the players try to bring these two rooks into play by preferring to castle and prepare the rooks for further development.

At the start of a typical middle game stage, one could invariably find both the rooks occupying the back ranks while all other minor pieces leave that first rank and take interesting positions in the other ranks. Most of the time even the Queen moves out of the back rank, but the rooks will be stationed there before preparing for the development.

It is imperative that which of the two rooks should be moved as part of the development or defence should be correctly assessed, based on the evaluation of the position of the board, and a wise decision is taken. The choice of the wrong rook for movement will not only complicate the position, it might give away the advantage to the opponent to pounce on the weakness.

To emphasize this important fact, let us look at a part of the game played in German Bundesliga by two grandmasters, where a wrong decision by white has forced him to part with the control over the board and ultimately after great defending and futile attacking, had to settle for a draw.

This is the position of the game after 15 moves, and it is the turn of the White to make a move.


(White to move)

A cursory look at the position indicates that both the players have developed their pieces fairly well, and are in the midst of an intriguing middle game. It is obvious that White would want to move his rook to the e1 square to share the advantage of the open e file. Here comes the dilemma as to which of the two rooks – rook at c1 or the rook at f1 – that should be moved to the e1 square – is the problem.

The merits of moving the rook at f1 to e1 include – having two rooks at each side – queenside and the kingside – and exercising control over the “c” file and the “e” file. On the contrary, moving the rook at c1 to e1 means the rook at f1 is blocked.

White decided to go ahead with the second option of moving the rook at c1 to e1.

The moves are as follows:

16. Rce1 Qd6
17. Re3 …. White anticipated that an exchange of Rooks as:

1. ….. Rxe3

2. fxe3 ….. would strengthen his position with the Rook at f1

17. …. Bg7 Black did not accept the invitation for exchange

The game continued further and after another 30 moves or more, both the players agreed for a draw.

This is a nice example, which emphasizes that every move, especially the wrong ones such as this one by white, should be judged on its merits.

Middle game tactics: How to handle the rooks at the back rank?

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In the game of chess, the middle game succeeds the opening stage where the pieces are developed from their initial positions in such a way that they are reasonably placed to plan and launch an attack on the opponent’s King. There is no clear-cut rule stipulating that from the 14th move the middle game commences, or from the 25th move the middle game starts or the opening game ends. However, it can be fairly said that the middle game is all set to begin when the players cease to indulge in mere development of pieces but initiate plans or tactics to launch a series of moves aimed at attacking the opponent’s pieces and/or providing additional safeguards to the squares or pieces in his control.

In most of the opening games, it is but natural that the players resort to the wonderful idea of castling such that the king is moved to a safer place and the two rooks are freed for further development. In such a case, one of the rooks will be in a1 or a8 as the case may be and the other one will be either in e1/e8 or d1/d8 as the case may, but mostly in the back ranks only. A dilemma might arise in such conditions as to which of the two rooks should be moved instead of the other. Again, there is no clear-cut rule such that the rook in the “a” file should be moved and brought to the central ranks than occupying the flank and not the other rook. It depends mainly on the position of the game at that point and a better decision taking into consideration the merits of the move should be made, as otherwise, a moving a wrong rook to an inappropriate square might invite problems and eventually might result in loss of advantage over the opponent. This dilemma of the wrong rook factor has been faced by many grandmasters as well.

One of the fascinating games highlighting the move of a wrong rook and its consequences are discussed in the following example. This is a game played way back in the 1960s in the USA Championship and the position after 13 moves is given hereunder:


(White to move)

A cursory look at the position indicates that both the players have fairly developed their pieces and are in the early stages of the middle game. Black seems to have a slight advantage with his light-squared bishop at a6 and the knight at e5 threatening to occupy the d3 square. Isolated queen pawn is also there in the vital d5 square. Now it is the turn of the white to make a move, and it is but obvious that he has move one of his rooks at the back rank. Which one to move is the dilemma for white.

14. Rfd1 …. This move by White is questionable as the rook at f1 was covering the pawn at f2 and in its absence, if black were to capture the pawn at f2, it would be the King that should come to rescue by capturing the attacking piece or run for cover. Instead he might have considered moving the other rook at a1 to d1 – Rad1.
14. …. Nd3 As expected, Black’s Knight occupies the d3 square.
15. Qc2 …. White plans to evict the Knight at d3.
15. …. Nxf2 Black pounces on White’s wrong Rook move, drags the King out of the back rank.
16. Kxf2 Ng4+
17. Kg1 Nxw3
18. Qd2 Nxg2 Surprise move by Black, wants to attack the King instead of capturing the Rook at d1.
19. Kxg2 d4
20. Nxd4 Bb7+
21. Kf1 ….

The position after white’s 21st move is given hereunder:


(White to move)

21. …..  Qd7


White has resigned the game accepting defeat. The downfall of White at the hands of black Is primarily his wrong choice of rook for providing cover to the d3 square.

This is one of the many interesting aspects one needs to be aware of, especially in the middle game stage, and grab the opportunity when presented by itself.