Why Aren’t the Rooks in Chess Developed in The Opening?

If you go browsing online on topics about chess, no doubt that you would mostly find things about the opening.

The opening knowledge on the internet is vast, there is more information about the opening than the middlegame and endgame.

Interestingly, if you look at these openings, you usually don’t find the rook being developed.

Most of the time, the pieces that are developed would be the knights and the bishops, the rooks don’t really get out of their confined space.

They are mostly only used to perform castling, besides from that, people don’t usually let them out. Some of you might wonder about this, which is why I have created this article.

I will discuss the reasons why there are no (good) openings that develop the rooks first. It has something to do with the role of the rooks and when they become useful.

With all of that in mind, let’s get started. 

Why is the rook underdeveloped in most chess openings?

In most openings, the rooks are underdeveloped.

This is for four reasons: one, the rook is very valuable. Valuable places should not be left out in the opening, this is because you cannot afford losing them so early in the game.

The knight for example is the most developed piece in the opening, this is because it is the least valuable piece.

Even if you trade the knight early you should still be fine, the same cannot be said for the rook.

The other valuable pieces are the king and the queen, which is why they are also not as developed early.

Mostly, the king just castles to keep it safe. There are openings that make use of the queen, but it cannot be compared with the rook. The queen is more mobile, it can travel in many squares which decreases the likelihood of it being trapped.

Second reason is that the rook is not really that great in the opening. In the opening there are many pawns/pieces that get in the way.

The rook needs an open space in order for it to be useful, something that is unlikely to happen in the opening.

The position is usually cramped, the rook cannot take on much activity. The rooks shine in the endgame, a phase where there is a lot of open space and they can move around the board.

Third reason is that they are pretty hard to develop correctly. They reside at the edge of the board and they cannot jump over pieces.

You have to move the side pawns which is not as efficient since you will likely use it for castling.

They also cannot fianchetto like the bishops, their options for development are so limited.

The fourth (and last) reason is that they are used for castling. Once you have moved a rook, you can no longer use it for castling.

Your king will be stuck in the center. Also, the rook would be developed anyway once you castle (since the rooks will connect), it would just be in the middlegame and not the opening.

These are four reasons why the rooks are generally not developed in the opening. 

Are there good chess openings where the rook is developed first?

No, there are no good chess openings where the rooks are developed early. If your plan is to develop the rook first than any other piece, your plan is automatically bad.

The most that you can do is to castle as soon as possible, only then you could have developed the rook.

But if you take this approach then the opening has likely ended and it would already be the middlegame. Depending on the definition of “opening” you might actually achieve this.

Some opening preparations nowadays can reach 20 moves, you can definitely develop a rook via castling after 20 moves.

This would be enough time to develop the rooks, however, this does not typically fit the definition of an opening. This is mainly because of the four reasons I have stated above.

Developing the rook without castling is just unnatural, it also wastes a lot of time.

It breaks the fundamental principles of the opening, which is why if you develop the rook without castling, that opening will be automatically bad. 

Is there a way to activate the rook in the opening without having a bad position?

Yes, there is a way to activate the rooks without having a bad position. When it comes to developing the rook, it really depends on what you mean by “opening”.

If your definition of opening is much more broad, the initial set of moves that last in about 15+ moves, then there is a way to develop the rook in the opening.

All you have to do is castle, this is pretty much the only “accepted” way to develop a rook without having a bad position.

There are rare instances where a strong chess player develops the rook in the opening while having a good position at the same time, this is an exception. They are so good that they can make a funky opening like this work.

Alexei Shirov is known for doing this, he does this so he can start an attack early against the enemy king.

But let’s be honest, such a strong grandmaster can make any openings work, most people cannot do this.

In the high level, even things that are considered bad can be considered unique in the right hands.

Magnus Carlsen also there’s a lot of funky openings and even some queen sacrifices, things that are so all the sound that they can only be performed by a strong chess player.

If you are not developing your rook by castling, most often than not, you will end up with a bad chess position.

Of course there will be “rook openings” that lead to a decent position, if you are a strong chess player that is. 

It is the same reason why the king is kept safe in the corner.

The reason why the king is kept in the corner is because it is so valuable. You cannot afford to expose the king to any attack in the opening.

This is the same with the rook. Unlike the queen that is unlikely to be trapped/harassed, the rook is much more likely to be taken advantage of since it will have limited spaces.

Most of the time the rook is better at the backline just waiting for the middle game/endgame, the phases where the rook truly shines.

Think about it, since the rook is the strongest in the middlegame/endgame, why would you develop it in the opening when it is not as strong?

Not only that you would risk the rook being captured, but you are also neglecting the other pieces that are strong in the opening (knights and bishops).

The king is stuck in the corner after castling since it is so valuable, but also because it is strong in the endgame.

Why pull it out in the opening when it is just an easy target?

Why not wait until the endgame and then only activate the king when truly shines?

This is the same with a rook, after looking at the king, we can see why the rook is not developed so much in the opening. 

If the rook shouldn’t be developed in the opening, then why is the queen developed in the opening?

The queen is certainly developed in some chess openings. There is one glaring difference between the rook and the king though.

The queen can definitely move into more squares (specifically diagonally) than the rook, this is huge.

It means that the queen can get away with being developed in the opening even though it can still be attacked by the enemy pieces.

Since it has more mobility it can be developed in practically any square, and can escape many types of attacks.

The rook does not have this luxury. If you develop the rook too early, there probably wouldn’t be as much space to work with.

The rook will be severely limited in the amount of squares that it can go, it can only move horizontally and vertically after all. Not only this, developing the queen in the opening is also not recommended.

One of the main principles of openings is literally to not develop your queen too early in the game. Though there are some popular openings that develop the queen early (like the scandinavian defense), these openings are considered subpar.

Most openings that are treated as top level do not develop their queen early, it’s just too valuable.

It is the same with a rook, you don’t develop it too early since it is vulnerable to being captured and it might get trapped. 

When is the right time to develop the rooks?

The right time to develop the rooks is between the opening-middlegame or middlegame-endgame.

The reason why I give two instances is because the position will dictate when is the right time to develop the rooks.

There are some positions just after the opening where you have to connect the rooks and control some open lines.

However there are also instances where the rooks remain quiet in the corner while the other pieces do all the work. Both are fine approaches, the position will really dictate when is the right time to become active.

If the rooks can take advantage of an open line then they should be developed, if the game is going well even without the rooks then they may not be a priority.

One thing is for sure though, you probably won’t want to develop the rooks in the opening.

Not only are they weak in the opening, developing them takes so much effort that it is probably not worth it.

The best bet is to just castle and connect the rocks as soon as possible. This is the way to develop the rooks. As for the time when they is best developed, just make sure that it is not in the opening. 

Conclusion

There are four reasons why the rook is not developed in the opening. (1) The rook is too valuable, you probably shouldn’t let it out in the opening since you don’t want the risk of it being captured.

(2) The rooks are not that good in the opening, it is better to wait until the middlegame or the endgame where they start to become useful.

(3) The rooks are hard to develop. Either you sacrifice the privilege of castling which is important for the safety of the king, or you move the side pawns which ruins your pawn structure on the side.

Long-term, ruining the pawn structure on the side will be detrimental.

Lastly, (4) The rooks are used for castling, you probably don’t want to move the rooks since you will castle eventually. These are the reasons why the rocks aren’t developed in the opening.

I hope you have learned something about the role of rooks in chess (in general).

That is all for this article, thank you for reading. 

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