I am not a native English speaker and I'm learning to play online chess. I often find a sentence with this pattern.

White is down a rook for a pawn.

What does it mean? Could you elaborate on this sentence and make it much more understandable for me?


2 Answers 2


It means that white is down a rook, and up a pawn compared to black. So black has one more rook than white, and white has one more pawn than black

  • 6
    As that statement is only about material, black could actually have the advantage anyway due to position. Mar 23, 2021 at 22:52
  • 8
    @Deduplicator Both OP and this answer weren't talking about advantage, it is indeed only about material.
    – Mast
    Mar 24, 2021 at 10:47
  • 2
    @Deduplicator thanks for that note. As someone just starting out learning chess, that wasn't obvious to me. Makes sense, just had to reflect.
    – BruceWayne
    Mar 24, 2021 at 17:21

Another aspect of the phrase you provided is how English uses "up" and "down". A player is considered "up" if they have an advantage. Likewise, being "down" mean a player has the worse position or piece count.

Because rooks are generally more valuable than pawns, whichever player still has the rook is in a better position and would be considered "up a rook for a pawn".

Combining these two ideas, "white is down a rook for a pawn" means that white has the worse end of the trade involving a rook and pawn. This means that white has lost a rook and only captured a pawn as compensation.

  • Is in a better position? All else being equal, sure. The position on the board might counter the material advantage, or even make it irrelevant. Mar 23, 2021 at 22:55
  • 6
    @Deduplicator "generally more valuable than pawns". Feel free to make an edit if you think my answer isn't precise enough or needs improvement.
    – ryanyuyu
    Mar 24, 2021 at 12:40
  • @ryanyuyu Since you posted the answer so recently, we should leave it up to you to make edits. And yes, I think this answer could use an edit. The first paragraph only speaks generically about advantages and disadvantages. The second player uses the phrase “better position”. I suspect a native English speaker unfamiliar with chess could find this confusing, never mind a non-native speaker. Mar 24, 2021 at 15:04
  • 2
    @BrianDrake I don't think my answer needs clarification. Make/suggest the edit so I can see, and I'll keep it if it's good.
    – ryanyuyu
    Mar 24, 2021 at 21:28
  • @Deduplicator: "position" here refers to what the speaker is focusing on, which is not necessarily the positioning of the pieces (though I concede the ambiguity in a chess context, this question and answer is more related to general English). If you have to pay twice as much rent than me, even though we live in similar housing, then rent-wise you're in a worse position than me, regardless of you having a higher income than me or not.
    – Flater
    Mar 25, 2021 at 13:48

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