9 Dec 2016

How to use your rook effectively?

The most commonly misunderstood piece in chess is the rook. Many players have real problems with their rooks and don’t know how to play with them.

Today, IM Vangjel Buli has prepared a new text lesson for you. He will teach you with an illustrative example – a game he played in the Accelerated Dragon variation of the Sicilian Defense. There is one famous Russian rule about rooks – find all the reasons why you should place one rook on an open file and then move the other rook!

Let’s imagine that we have two rooks, one on f1 and the other on a1. Let’s imagine that we have only one open file, the e-file. We should think hard and find reasons for deciding which rook we should move to e1.

If we decide to place the f1-rook there, then we should bring the other rook, the a1-rook, to e1! This is a very well-known rule and it is useful in practice. What I’m trying to say is that some rook moves are mysterious. But after this lesson, you will understand clearly how to play with rooks.

The rooks should go to open files. I hope this is very clear to you. πŸ™‚ What can we do if there is no open file in the position? How should we place our rooks in this situation?

V. Buli – H. Xhakoni [B35]
chess puzzle
White to play

White has finished the opening tasks and developed all of his pieces. How should he play now? This is the critical moment for White because he has a lot of options. Should White play f4, or Nd5, or capture on c6, or develop the queen with Qd2, or play something else?

The position is about equal and has good potential for both sides. Please think for 3-5 minutes from White’s point of view and try to find the best move for White.

11.Re1! We should place the rooks on open files, when we have open files. As the game proceeds, it is possible to exchange some pawns or to exchange some pieces. If we exchange some pawns, then one file can open. Similarly, we can exchange some pieces and then we can have an open file that way.

Usually in the Accelerated Dragon variation, White castles on the queenside and, after that, prepares the attack on Black’s kingside. In this particular variation, Black forces White to castle short. White cannot attack Black’s monarch, so he needs to play in the center. The most typical move for White is to play the knight to d5. If Black exchanges this central knight, then White will recapture with the e-pawn and we will have a semi-open file there.

This is the key to the position! White wants to put pressure on the semi-open e-file and, more specifically, on the backward pawn on e7.

Before placing the knight on d5, White is preparing this plan with the mysterious move Re1. This move is connected with all actions in the center. White is planning ahead and trying to coordinate all of his pieces in order to open a file for his rooks.

Suggestion: you may like to see the video lesson “Magical Chess Rooks” by GM Levan Aroshidze.

11…Rac8 12.Qe2!? White intends to bring the rook to d1; for that reason, 12.De2 is a simple evacuation 12…Nxd4 13.Bxd4 Bc6 14.Rad1 b5
chess puzzle
White to play

Black cannot capture the e4-pawn because the pawn on d6 is falling. You can see that clearly in the following variation:

14…e5? 15.Be3 Bxe4 (15…Nxe4?? 16.Nxe4 Bxe4 17.Bd2+- Black loses the bishop) 16.Rxd6 Bc6 17.Red1. White takes control of the d-file and has more active pieces
15.Nd5 Bxd5

The idea for Black is to take on d5 with the bishop and then to exchange the bishop on g7 with that of his opponent on d4, in order to enter into the ending with a good knight vs bad bishop on b3.

chess puzzle
Black to play

Now we can clearly see what the aim of the mysterious rook move was. White has strong pressure on e7, the bishop pair and a more promising position.

16…Rfe8 17.c3 Nd7 18.Bxg7 Kxg7 19.Rd4!
chess puzzle
Black to play

If we compare the White and Black rooks, then we can see that White’s heavy pieces are much more active. Black pieces, including queen and rooks, are not standing well, have no active role, and possibly need to defend the e7-pawn in particular.

Suggestion: learn how to use an open file in chess now.
By contrast, White’s heavy pieces are very active, control a lot of space and are now ready to jump into the attack. Black’s king is not well protected. Black manages to exchange the dark-squared bishops in order to achieve a good knight vs bad bishop on b3, but now he will pay the price. The dark squares and the fianchetto formation are really weak.

White uses his positional advantage to transfer his heavy pieces to the kingside and start attacking there. His plan is to play the queen to d2 and the rook to h4.

19…Nf6 20.Qd2 Rc7 21.Rh4! h5 22.g4!
chess puzzle
Black to play

We place the rooks on open files or try to open files for them. With his last move, White is trying to open files against the king. White would like to exchange some pawns and open files for the rook on h4.

22…Rh8 23.g5 Nh7 24.Qd4+! f6 25.gxf6+ Nxf6 26.Rhe4!
chess puzzle
Black to play

Tactics serve a good strategy. Black’s knight is pinned, so White uses this fact to transfer the rook to the semi-open e-file and press the weak e7-pawn.

26…Kf7 27.Re6 Qb6 28.Qf4 Qb8 29.Bc2 Rg8 30.Qg5 Rg7 31.R1e3 1-0

White uses the rook lift technique. Another common way to develop the rooks is to transfer them in front of pawns. We can do that by moving the rook from the first to the third rank. We can see now that the rook is very active and ready to go to f3, in order to pin the knight, or it can go to g3 and put pressure on the g6-pawn. Black resigns.


1. You can put your rooks on open files.
2. You should put your rook behind a pawn only if this file will be opened in the near future.
3. You can use the rook lift technique to transfer your rook to in front of your pawn.

Author information – IM Vangjel Buli
Vangjel Buli
Vangjel Buli is an Albanian International Master. He started playing chess at eight years of age with the “Partizani Club” in Tirana, the capital city of Albania. He has been a junior champion, and with the Partizani team won a lot of team medals at junior championship level.

He went to Italy in 1994 because of political troubles in Albania and has studied hard, achieving Master, FIDE Master, and then IM titles. His FIDE ELO rating is 2406.

He has stopped playing professional chess in tournaments but is an instructive teacher in many chess clubs in Florence. He has helped a lot of players to become Masters or Fide Masters, so I’m sure his coaching can help you to improve your game.

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