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The Rooks: Their strengths and weaknesses

rook strength and weakness

The rook is the second most powerful piece. Since they move on straight lines they need open ranks and files to be effective. Pushing or exchanging pawns to create open lines is usually the main way of getting the rooks into action.

The Rook’s strengths

Rooks are at their best when they can control open ranks and files. They are not only strong on open lines but they also give valuable support to the other pieces, in particular to the bishops and knights. In the endgame stage of the game rooks are also very useful in helping pawns to advance.

Examples of their strengths

Example 1

In this example material is equal but white dominates the position since his rooks control the open files. White will play Rdd7 and get two rooks onto white’s 7th rank – and threaten Rxg7+

rook strength 1

Two rooks on the 7th rank are very powerful.

White will win a few black pawns and then start to advance his own passed-pawns. Note how black’s rooks are restricted by their own pawns and forced into defensive roles.

Example 2

The next position shows that rooks can support the other pieces on open files and ranks. Here white can play Nd7! On d7 the knight will be very strong and help white to win the b6-pawn.

rook strength 2

The Rd1 will support the knight on d7.

Example 3

Rooks are very effective in supporting the advance of your pawns, not only in the endgame but also in the middle-game stage of the game:

rook strength 3

This example illustrated an attack on the opponent’s king. The main lesson however is that you should notice how the white rooks supported the advance of the white pawns and how they became stronger as the pawns advanced and the lines for attack opened.

Example 4

Rooks are at their best in open positions – which means in the endgame stage of the game they become even more powerful.

rook strength 4

The last example illustrates a typical strength of the rook in the endgame – the ability to cut-off the enemy king. White could follow-up by playing c6, Kc5, c7, Kb6 and the black king will not be able to assist the lone black rook.

Summary of their strengths

  1. Rooks can dominate open ranks and files if they can control those files unopposed.
  2. Rooks play an important role in supporting the movement of your other pieces.
  3. Rooks are very effective in supporting the advance of your pawns.
  4. In the endgame rooks are effective in cutting-off the opponent’s king from the action.

The Rook’s weaknesses

Due to their high value, rooks are particularly vulnerable to threats from bishops. knights and pawns. This is because a rook is worth more than those piece and when one of them attacks a rook, the rook will usually be forced to move to a safe square.

As with bishops, rooks can get stuck behind locked pawn-structures in which case they can lose a lot of their potential value.

Examples of their weaknesses

Example 1

In the position below the white rook on e7 appears to be well-developed. However, black simply plays Bf6 and the white rook will have to go back to where he came from:

rook weakness 1

Rooks are particularly vulnerable to attacks from bishops, knights and pawns.

Due to their relatively high value, rooks are often targets to the minor pieces which makes it harder for them to approach enemy territory. You will usually place your rooks on open files but keep them back until the way forward is clear – else they will just be forced to go back as in this case – or worse – they might even get trapped.

Example 2

Since a rook can move only vertically or horizontally, he can become trapped by his own pawns. This can happen when the rook forced into a defensive position:

rook weakness 2
Ra7 is a weak piece – locked in by his own pawns, trying to defend b7.

The black rook is completely hopeless in the above position. Black would even have preferred it if the rook where a lower-valued knight, since then at least he would be able to do something.

Summary of their weaknesses

  1. Rooks are vulnerable to threats from the opponent’s minor pieces (pawns, knights and bishops).
  2. A rook’s mobility can be affected by the pawns. Rooks need open lines to be effective and if there aren’t any open lines, their usefulness are limited.

Next Lesson – The Queen: Her strengths and weaknesses

Previous Lesson – The Bishops: Their strengths and weaknesses

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