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The opening is definitely a weak area in my chess game and I always feel like my rooks sit unused until well into the middle game (?). Is that just how things go, or is there a strategy that allows development of the rooks in the opening?

I'm aware of castling as a way to get a rook towards the middle files (of course). But I always feel like I'm neglecting the rooks when I play.

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There is no easy way to answer this question. Having watched my father typically spend two weeks thinking about a single move in the game of correspondence chess, I have realized just how deep the game of chess is. When chess masters play, unless they make a mistake, very little things count. Just about every piece on the board should be a "Navy Seal" - a gunner, a medic, a pilot, etc. A single piece should be useful for defending some positions as well as being ready to support or attack others. With that, there is no single answer or formula. Yes, rooks move in a straight line shd be togethr –  Leonid May 16 '12 at 21:00
    
Place a rook on the same file as the opponent's queen, even though it is not an immediate threat sometimes, it develops into a nagging threat that they eventually have to address. –  ldog Jun 12 '12 at 5:41
    
Castling is the easiest way to develop a rook in the beginning of the game. –  Tony Ennis Jan 6 '13 at 17:49

5 Answers 5

up vote 12 down vote accepted

That's actually not very surprising. In many openings, the rooks don't participate until fairly deep into the middlegame. You touch on the reason in your question - the rooks have to wait until all the other pieces are out of the way in order to develop.

The specific strategy for rook development will depend on the position, but generally speaking, the rooks belong on the open and half open files in the middlegame. In the endgame, rooks belong behind passed pawns. Also in the late middlegame and endgame, rooks are very useful on the 7th rank (and to some degree the 6th rank as well).

In most openings, the rooks for white will usually come to d1 and e1. Obviously that's a huge generalization, so don't take that as gospel truth. Larry Christiansen has said that "when in doubt [about which rook to move], play the 'a' rook to d1". The other rook (usually coming from the f file after O-O) should either stay on f1 or move to e1.

One last comment - often the best way to make use of the rooks is to double them so that they can invade into the enemy camp. Usually your rooks aren't going to reach the 7th rank in the middlegame because there are too many minor pieces still on the board, but they can still be very useful when doubled and on open files so that they threaten to invade into the opponent's position.

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Rooks should usually be kept back in the opening and early midgame, so they don't become "fodder" for minor pieces like knights and bishops. After some of those pieces are exchanged, then rooks come into their own.

When the time comes, the rooks should be placed on open files (vertical lines where the pawns have been exchanged). These are usually the d and e files, sometimes the c or f files, occasionally the "side" files.

A single rook is a menace to unguarded opposing pieces on the file. "Doubled" rooks (one behind the other) are a menace to opposing pieces on the file unless they are well guarded. The exception is if the opponent can "close" the file using a minor piece guarded by a pawn (exchanging a rook for such a piece and a pawn is seldom a good idea). That's why you want at least some of the minor pieces off the board before you start deploying your rooks.

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You want to get the rooks connected and you want to put them on open files.

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There are some situations where rooks become active in the opening, but they are rare, and often only enabled by blunders of the other side.

One example: White has castled with a knight on f3, black has not castled and the black bishop pins that knight. Now sometimes h3 can be met with ...h5!?, and if white accepts the sacrifice with hxg4 hxg4, the black rook enjoys suddenly an open file, and white is in serious trouble if the black queen can join the attack.

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One way NOT to develop rooks in the opening is via something like

  1. a4 d5
  2. Ra3

or

  1. h4 d5
  2. Rh3

I (a duffer) played a series of twenty or so games against someone who insisted on opening like this. He never won a game against me.

Best advice is to follow the common wisdom that rooks are usually developed last.

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