How Does The Rook Move In Chess?

Are you still learning how the rook moves in chess? This overview will provide you with a visual guide to every possible move this ‘tower’ piece can make, including the infamous castle move.

The rook can move any number of unoccupied squares in a straight line, both vertically and horizontally. A rook may not move past pieces of the same color, except for the king during castling. The rook captures by occupying the square on which an enemy piece sits.

Rook movement is relatively easy to understand, because they do not have a lot of special rules to remember. The only time a rook behaves differently than normal is when it switches sides with a king to castle. The basic movements are very straightforward.


A Rook Moves Horizontally And Vertically

The basic movement of the rook is very simple. Rooks have the ability to move up, down, left, or right in a straight line. Rooks can move for as many unoccupied squares as possible, given that the piece does not move past (or “jump over”) other pieces.

To visualize, the rook can move on the squares that are shown in the diagram below:


How Rook Moves Chess
The rook moves up, down, left, or right in a straight line


As said, the player decides how many squares the rook moves. It cannot move past pieces of the same color, except for one special occasion. The special chess move called castling is the one time a rook is allowed to ‘jump over’ another chess piece.


Castling: A Special Rule For Rooks

There is one special chess rule that players should be aware of when moving the rook. Perhaps you’ve heard of castling, a move where the king and rook are both moved in a single turn.

The castle move is meant to protect the king and develop the rook on the board at the start of a chess game. It involves a king moving two squares at once (horizontally), and a rook jumping over the king and landing on his other side.

To a beginner, castling can be very confusing. Don’t panic!

The best way to understand castling is to see it happen a few times. The visual diagram below shows the first part of the most common castle move, where the king moves two squares towards the rook:


King's Side Castling Move
The first part of castling: the king moves two horizontal steps


First, the king moves from its beginning square towards the rook. It and always takes two horizontal steps while castling. The squares between the king and rook should be unoccupied.

After walking two squares with the king, the rook then moves horizontally towards the king. Here’s where the unique part happens: the rook then jumps over the king and is placed right next to him on the other side. The second part of the castle move shown in the diagram below:


Rook Move Castle Shortside
The second part of castling: the rook jumps over the king


Players should be aware of the fact that castling is only allowed under specific conditions. There are four preconditions for castling that should be taken into account:

  1. The king and rook have not moved yet;
  2. The king cannot be in check by an opponent’s piece;
  3. No squares a king moves through can be under attack;
  4. Squares in between the king and rook should be unoccupied squares.


How A Rook Moves When Attacking

Attacking an opponent’s piece with a rook works similarly to other chess pieces. When a rook attacks, it moves onto the square of the opponent’s piece and takes it. The rook is then placed onto the square where the taken piece used to be.

Keeping in mind how a rook is able to move (horizontal or vertical in a straight line), a rook attack can look similar to the diagram below:


Rook Attacking Movement
The rook attacks and moves onto the square it attacks


Rooks can also attack pieces of the opposing color if they are being defended (i.e. protected by another piece). This is usually called ‘trading’, as you are likely to lose the rook after attacking a defended piece from the opponent. For making a favorable trade, remember the value of the chess pieces:

  • King: infinite points
  • Queen: 9 points
  • Rook: 5 points
  • Knight: 3 points
  • Bishop: 3 points
  • Pawn: 1 point


Since the rook is a relatively valuable chess piece, it makes sense to only trade a rook for an opponent’s queen or rook. In very rare situational circumstances, it could also be favorable to take a knight, bishop, or pawn (for example, to be able to force a checkmate later).

Strategically favorable trading with a rook could look something like this:


Trading With Rook
Example of a favorable rook trade (attacking a defended queen)


Rook Movement FAQ

Beginners have a lot of very specific questions about rooks. To understand how a rook is allowed to be used in chess, no question is too strange. Here are some of the more common questions people ask about moving those two beautiful towers around the board.


Can A Rook Move Diagonally?

The rules of chess do not allow the rook to move diagonally. The rook was specifically designed to only move horizontally or vertically. Rooks may move as many unoccupied squares as a chess board allows, but never in a diagonal line.

If you wonder which pieces do move diagonally, here are four chess pieces that can move diagonally.


Can A Rook Move Backwards?

The rules of chess allow a rook to move backwards in a straight vertical line. To move a rook down vertically, the squares the rook wishes to move through should be unoccupied. Rooks may not move backwards diagonally. They may not move around corners in one turn.

Remember that it is not allowed for rooks to move over or around other pieces. The only exception is the castle move.


How Many Directions Can A Rook Move?

The rules of chess explain that the rook can move in four directions: up, down, left, or right. Rooks are allowed to move in a straight horizontal or vertical line, for any number of unoccupied squares.

Remember, the rook is not capable of moving diagonally, nor is it allowed to go ‘around a corner’.


Can A Rook Move Twice?

The rules of chess do not allow a rook to move twice in a single turn. However, a rook may move again when a new turn starts. Castling is the only chess rule that allows a rook to move as the second chess piece in a single turn (after the king).

In every other regular turn during a chess game, the rook cannot move twice. Keep this in mind when playing the game.

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