Figure[Black to move]

Strategic Implications.

Rooks do not need to be in the center of the board to be effective. In principle, at least, they have the potential to attack the same number of squares—a full rank, and a full file—no matter where they sit on the board. They generally do need to be moved out of the corners to gain power, however, and moving a rook toward the middle of the board has the particular advantage of making it easier to launch double attacks with the rook against pieces on the same file (i.e., pieces aligned vertically). It stands to reason: double attacks require rooks to get between two enemy pieces; the farther the rook is advanced into the center, the greater the opportunities for enemy pieces to end up on both sides of it. Likewise, rooks on the four middle files are more likely to be able to get between enemy pieces lying on the same rank (i.e., aligned horizontally). Glance at where the rooks that inflicted the double attacks in this chapter generally were positioned at the start of the sequence; ideally, that is where you want your rooks to be: centralized.

Whether they do their work out on the board or from posts on the back rank, what rooks most generally require are open files ahead of them. They don’t do much good sitting behind their own pawns unless the pawn is on its way to promotion on the opponent’s back rank. Make it a priority to get your rooks onto open files (or half-open files—files where none of your own pawns sit, even if your opponent still has a pawn in place.) Move your rooks there or move pawns out of their way by making captures with them.

Indeed, there is a whole opening—the King's Gambit—premised partly on this idea. White offers to sacrifice his f-pawn on the second move, as shown to the left. What does this pawn push on the second move have to do with rooks? Everything: once his f-pawn is gone, White will have a half-open file onto which he can bring his rook just by castling on the kingside a few moves later. That rook suddenly can easily become a terror, bearing down on f7—typically a weak point in Black's position. Of course there are many other consequences of the King's Gambit; it's a complicated opening. The point for now is just to see how gaining an open avenue for a rook can be a part of the planning from the first steps of the game.

In a sense all this is just another application of some principles given at the end of the chapter on the bishop fork. Here, as there, pawn moves are significant in part because of the lines they open and close. From an offensive standpoint, a pawn capture that creates an open line for a rook may be very valuable for just that reason; from a defensive standpoint, think carefully about any capturing sequences that will have the effect of opening files for your opponent’s rooks. And once a file does open, try to claim it by planting a rook at its base.

The positions in this chapter also underscore another point we have seen elsewhere: the importance of creating open lines to the enemy king and of avoiding open lines to your own king. In the rook’s case an “open line” includes the back rank if it can get that far and no defenders are there. Anytime an enemy rook has an open path to your back rank, or a path obstructed only by its own pieces, start worrying. Anytime your own rook is in that position, start experimenting.