Taking a Rook Hiatus: Why Some Players Think Rook Has No Strategy

Rook Strategy

It has been almost six months since we played our last competitive match of rook.  Wow, since I learned to play 5 years ago, I never thought it would occur.   There are simply so many people that play rook and consistently great fun each time we play.  However, sometimes all it takes is one or two people getting tired of the rook game to cause a real stir in the game’s consistency.

One of our good friends that we play a lot of games with (board games, card games, etc.) has decided that the rook game lacks in strategic playing.  This is a real surprise to me as I have found that there enough strategy involved in the game that I needed to write about it.  And so I did.  I also find myself discussing strategies with other players during and after games, just to get their opinion on different decisions made.

Let’s take a look at the non-strategic game of rook

So what might make the game of rook more about luck than strategy?  Well, there are a number of elements about rook that can really cause a person to simply not find a lot of skill involved in the game.

  • The 5 card kitty – It is definitely true that the rook game’s kitty is an extremely lucky portion of the game.  Every player at the table is gambling on whether or not those 5 cards are going to make or break your hand.  Bidders can sometimes simply bid higher and “hope” that the kitty is strong enough to make their hand worthy of the high bid.
  • Your partners hand matching yours – Even the most “skilled” of rook players cannot stop a team when their opponents hands match perfectly.   One player has the 1 of trump.  The partner has the 14 of trump.  And each of them have 6 trump cards in their hand.  Then the off suit colors match as well.   Yes, there simply are those times when you cannot stop opponents with matching hands.

What makes Rook about Skill?

If these matters above weight heavily on your rook game playing, you may be missing out on some finer points of the game which send it to a level of strategy.

  • Playing with weak hands – Anyone can win when they are dealt monster hands, but being able to correctly predict your bid and make a bid when you do not have a lot of power is what really can separate those that think the game is just luck, and those that see the finer points in the game.  With 200 points, there is a lot of room to make mistakes, but when you are bidding higher and higher for the scale of your hand, it takes making as few mistakes as possible to make sure that you are going to  retrieve every possible point card you can.   Strategy kicks in when you can maximize the amount of points you and your opponent are able to take each round and correctly bid (or allow opponent to win bidding) accordingly.
  • Knowing when to try and set your opponent – Because rook is a game of rounds, you do not need to have exactly the same aggression in each round.  Some rounds you may find that you can take some extra risks in your bidding, while other times you may have a strong hand but try to sink your opponent with the hand to get your team a better chance to win.  When you play an entire game to 500, you have a bit of room to strategies in each game.  Try to mix it up to throw your opponents off and play around with your bidding strategies.
  • Know your opponent – Just like any card game, you don’t really have to see a person’s cards to gain insight into what cards they have in their hand.  If you know what cards they have in their hand, would that change the card you play?  If you know your opponent only is holing the 14 of a color in their hand, you would certainly play the 1 right then if you had it.  There are many cases where you can make educated guesses as to what your opponenet might be holding based on their playing history.   Some people like to play all their power cards right at the beginning.  Others you can expect they may save their power cards to the very end.  You may even catch different player’s strategies on what they leave in the Kitty (point cards, voiding a color, or dropping all low cards).  All of these different tendencies can lead you to some great insight on what your opponents are holding throughout the game.

No the game of rook is not like playing chess.  The game of chess is highly involved and simply has a vast amount strategy due to the possibility of moves involved in every play.  However, we have found that the players that believe that there is no strategy in rook are the same players that look at games by simply a matter of numbers and percentages.  They see that there is a high percentage of cards in both the kitty and teammate and they then say that therefore there is too much luck involved to allow for skill to play a significant role in the game playing.  It is these same players that find themselves over bidding their hands and getting sunk on what should be an easy win.  It is also these same players that miss opportunities to play point cards to your teammate by not being aware of bidding strategies or player styles.

We instead see so much potential for strategic playing.  You can get to know your teammate really well and that will help your overall playing ability.  You can get to know our opponents and make better decisions accordingly. Rook strategies are all around and if you are not thinking strategically when playing, you simply are missing a large portion of the game.

Rook Turned 105 in 2011

Old Rook Cards

Yeah, it’s not the big century mark, but this rook game website was not quite around in 2006, so we thought we would give a happy birthday shout out to rook this year.  105 years ago the greatest card game known to man was born.  The card game rook born to give non-gamblers a way to battle it out on the card table for many years was created 105 years ago.  And to this day, the variations of rook keep pouring in.

Playing Rook 6 to 8 Hours a Day: Too Much?

So, I happened to be speaking to a friend of mine about playing rook.  We were talking simply about things like who they play with and where they play, you know, small talk in the rook game world.   No strategy talk or anything.   Then, I asked them about how often they play.   I was amazed to find out that this person said they play about 6 to 8 hours every day!

Now seriously, I love rook, but to play it 6 – 8 hours every day?  That is like a full time job!  There have got to be other games out there, or other things to do out there that have got to make your enjoy your day a little bit other than just playing rook all day.

Yes, you guessed it, this was an older gentleman.  Granted, he did not have much else in terms of day-to-day activities to keep him preoccupied, but 6 – 8 hours a day?   Everyday?

My question for you is, how often do you get to play in a day?  OK, I mean how often do you get to play in a week?  Month? How much rook playing is too much?

Two color powerhouse


It’s rare, but every once in a while you get those rook hands that you would be willing to bid so high with. What do you do if you opponent has bid 170 though? Do you bid higher?

Well, looking at the above rook hand, you obviously want to take the bid.  You are going likely be of no help to your partner if they take the bid, or to even stop your opponent if they take the bid.   So it is absolutely essential to win this bid.  This particular hand, you are missing both the 14s in your suits, but you have both 1s and 13s in both the trump suit as well as your off suit.  You even have the 10 covered in green, so you are likely to only loose say 10 points per hand if you lose the 14s in both colors.

You are going to trump any other color that is played, so you really don’t expect to loose points elsewhere.  So really, I would be willing to bid up to 180 in a max 200 round, with the possibility of taking all the points if my partner or the kitty has 1 or both of the 14s missing.

Rook Strategy: Playing Against Different Opponents

It seems as though the rook game keeps growing and growing.  People I would never have expected to play the game I find out randomly play.  Not only do they play, but they play well!  The more and more people I find that play the game, the more I realize, I there are a number of different strategies and methods to go about tackling a win in the game of rook.  For this reason, we have come to the realization that getting away from playing only with your one or two typical opponents can help expand your game into new and great places.

We are like the typical rook playing couple.  We have two friends that we have played against over and over again. Not only do we play together a lot, but we keep a running tally of our total scores.  Last I recall we are somewhere around 83 – 84 wins each team.  While we love this, it is rare when we actually get together with other players or actually make a rook tournament to play with more than 8 players.

The last rook tournament we played was great!  I have expressed how I felt we got unlucky with the cards we were dealt, however, there is for sure a portion of our loss which was attributed to this being the first time we played against some of these opponents.

There were two aspects that I noticed threw our typical play off a bit.

  1. The Bidding: I found that bidding with different players is the hardest to handle the change with in a short period.  Some people start the bidding at their maximum bid, leaving no room or manipulating.  Some stop bidding really early  rather than risking losing.  Others can be very tricky and focus more on setting their opponent rather than taking the bid themselves.  So they may fake the strength of their hands by passing early.
  2. The way trumps are played.  With my close opponents, we are very used to controlling the trumps.  This usually means that we will play trumps until they are all gone.  On the rare occasion trumps may last in an opponents hand until the end.   It creates a very different style of play when trumps are not led hardly at all.  Instead, a significant amount of trumping and overtrumping occurs.  I don’t know if I recommend this strategy all that often, but I will say that it is extremely unpredictable.  Sometimes it works, some times it doesn’t.

All of this being said, it is great to see the different strategies take place.  They have brought to light a couple of different things.  One, I am glad to incorporate a variety of new strategies in my style of play.  Two, it allows you to be able to pick up on a person’s strategy at the table more quickly.   So if you realize a person is trying to set you, play accordingly.  As with anything you are trying to improve on, the more you play, the more experience you gain.  The more experience you gain, this will ultimately lead to a larger wealth of game history.   The trick is making sure you learn from your game history to lead your game play.

Rook Strategy: Poor Trump Distribution

There are times when you make a bid and you know you do not have the strongest of hands, but you are hoping that your partner has some help for you.  Maybe some extra 1s or a bunch of your trump color.  With these possibilities in mind, you set out to win a round that you typically would expect to loose.

The next thing you know, you partner has already shown that they are out of trumps, and not only that, one of your other opponents has already shown they are out as well.  You count down the amount of trumps in your hand and you know the sad truth, one of your opponents has exactly the same amount of trumps as you.

Do not panic, just make sure you are paying extra attention to all the cards being played.   You are going to need to know if your are able to slough that off-trump 9 or keep it and hope that it is actually going to win a trick.

A few things are extremely important to help avoid the inevitable set:

  • Know that if you trump in, you may be giving your opponent the last trick of the game if they are able to get the lead and lead trump to pull all of the trump from your hand.
  • Try your best to keep your opponent that has trump from getting the lead without them having to use trump.
  • Focus on getting the last trick primarily as it not only takes the 20 pts automatically, but it also takes the points in the kitty and the points of the trick (usually there are some nice points in the last trick).
  • If you have a choice between securing the rook or securing the last trick, choose the last trick and let them take the bird.
  • Count, count, count the points that have been taken.  On rare occasions, the partner may not have a lot of points to give.  So even though the opponent has a lot of trump and takes a lot of tricks, they may not have taken a lot of points.
  • You are not going to lose by simply losing a lot of tricks.  You are going to lose if you do not try and minimize the losses.  Conceding well timed losses may be the key to staying on track and not getting set.

Final note: Getting set is not the end of the world.  It happens to the best of us.  If you get set, don’t give up on the round.   Who knows, the very next hand you may be shooting the moon!

Rook Tournament Review: Jan 12, 2011

So we held our first rook tournament of 2011 this past week.  What a great day it was.  We had 8 people playing and there was of course food and treats along side.

After warming up with a game of Settlers of Catan while we waited for everyone to show up, the tournament began.  Quite a simple tournament actually.  Single elimination and each match went to 500.  So team 1 played team 2 while team 3 played team 4 and then winners played winners and losers played losers.

If you have never been able to set up a tournament, may I ask why?  I have to say that playing a rook tournament is the perfect way to have a game night.  As long as you have:

  • At least 8 people to make the tournament worth while
  • At least 1 to 2 hours to complete the entire tournament
  • 2 nice decks of rook cards
  • a group of players that are all of the same skill level

As far as the outcome…well, lets just say it wasn’t my partner’s and my night.  It was one of those nights that every time you stretched your bidding hoping that the kitty was going to at least help a little, the kitty completely messed you over.  And every time your opponents would go all out on a risky bid, their partner would have the exact cards they needed to bail them out.   Not to mention the few rounds where my partner and I couldn’t even get close to taking a trick because our opponents had every single high card in the deck.

Yeah, I am little bitter at the hands we got 🙂

No worries though, I am sure the next go around is going to be better.

Let me know your thoughts if you have ways to spice up a rook tournament someway.  We haven’t ventured out into the team trading realm yet, but I am sure that would be a major switch.

Playing Rook on Your iPhone

If you do a quick search for a rook app on your iPhone, you will find that there is really only one application that comes up. It is a rook application which allows you to keep track of your rook game scores on the phone. Including who’s deal it is, and what the bid was taken for.

Not quite a rook game app. It is helpful, however, some may find it unnecessary to pay the $.99 fee to purchase.

Back to the matter at hand, there is currently no way to play rook on the iPhone! This post serves as a request to all those iPhone programmers out there looking for something to do. Create an iPhone app that you can connect with friends to play in your network. The closest thing right now would be the PC version of the rook application.

Settlers of Catan: Perfect for Rook Players

The rook game staff has recently ventured out into the best selling game in the world right now, Settlers of Catan.  For you rook enthusiasts, it is a blast to have a more traditional board game alternative to play either for mixing things up a bit, or simply to allow for 2 or 3 players to play a game that works extremely well without a 4th player.

About the game

Settlers of Catan has many different version and expansions.  The basic box game is played with 2 to 4 players and is primarily a dice rolling game mixed with some fun strategy.

Movable Parts

Right off the bat, the first thing that you will notice about the game is that is a completely different game every time you play.  This is due to the fact that the board can be created in so many different manners.

Role the dice for fun

Similar to Yatzee, Settlers of Catan has a highly chance driven factor to it in that the roling of the dice plays a major role in who will win the game.  There is a significant amount strategic playing available, but all the strategy will go out the window if you don’t have a little bit of luck.

If you were a fan of the computer game civilization, either the new versions or even the old version from like 1990s, then you are sure to love Settlers of Catan!

Not a Camping game

While Settlers of Catan makes for a great home game, the fact that there are so many interchangeable parts and pieces makes it a poor choice for a camping game.  Rook still takes the cake for being a simple game to pack and play on a camping trip.

You ask, Why is Settlers of Catan getting highlighted in an all Rook website?  Well, the fact is, rook players enjoy playing other games as well.  We have found that for our situation, if we are unable to get at least 4 players to play rook, then our favorite alternative is to play a 2 or 3 player game of Settlers of Catan.  While we will still prefer to play a four player  game of set partner rook, the Settlers game is a great second option!

Play Settlers of Catan Online
Purchase the game!

For even more fun, order the 5 to 6 player expansion set

Rook Strategy: What to do with a Lone 14 in Your Hand

To take your game to the next level, the lonely 14 strategy is very important to being able to win those marginal holdings.

What is meant by lone 14?

A lone 14 is when you only have one card of a certain color and that one card is a 14. So for example, you have 5 black cards, 4 yellow, 3 red cards, and one green card, and your one green card is the 14 of green.

Bidding with a Lone 14

During the bidding stages, it is our suggestion to be slightly more aggressive than normal as your 14 should basically be considered an automatic loss.  Typically, players will lead the 1 of colors first, so your 14 will automatically get taken whether by you or your partner.

If you bid slightly more aggressively and are able to take the bid, you are likely to either add some cards in the color to help support your 14, or you will be able to leave the 14 in the kitty, so it is not susceptible to and easy loss.

Even if you are to get one card (say a 12 of green) in the kitty, it would still be highly recommended to place both of those cards in the kitty to create a void.  The void could ultimately help save again 25 points when your opponents play a 1 and a 10 together and you would have been forced to play your 12.

When you do not take the bid and have a Lone 14

If you do not take the bid and are sitting with a lone 14 in your hand.  There are a number of times when leading the 14 can be an important strategy to setting your opponent or helping your partner make their bid.  Leading the 14 even if the 1 has not been played signifies to your partner that you have no more in that color. There may be an opportunity for you to sneak in a trump if your partner is able to lead back at you in that color.  Especially if you are sitting with the rook in your hand and want to trump that in as soon as possible.

Taking an Extra Trick

If your partner happens to have the 1, it also allows them to let the 14 win when most other times, the 14 would not have taken a trick in that round.

Lone 14s are deceptively important in making or missing close bids.  When you are talking about 10 point swings and a good trick, the way you get by playing the singleton 14 will be of strong importance to making your team a winning team.