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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.

Is the Rook Game similar to the Bridge Card Game?

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I have been asked a number of times if the rook game is similar to the game bridge.  And if they are similar, how so?  Well, the truth is, I grew up playing bridge and didn’t even touch rook cards until later on in life.  But when I was first tought about the rook card game, I immediately stated, oh,  this is very similar to playing bridge.  Here’s why:

Similarities Between Rook and Bridge

  • Set Partners – There are a number of games that involve set partner.  But rook and bridge are both primarily a two person team.
  • Bidding to control trump – As with bridge, there is a lot of power when taking a bid.  You have the power to decide what color to go as trump.  Even though you are not at the advantage of knowing what color your partner was bidding, you do have the option to choose the best color based on what you see in your hand.
  • Value in Voids – As with bridge, there is power in not having any of a certain color.  If this color is not trump, you are quickly at liberty to jump in and trump a powerful point hand causing some real headaches to your opponents.
  • Many of One Suit/Color = Good – As expected, a lot of one color/suit, even if they are low can mean a lot for winning a hand.   By simply having more trump cards than your opponents, you are guarunteeing a significant amount of power in the round.
  • A powerful hand often consists of high cards – Even though there is no need to add up the total amount of high cards for point value reference in rook, merely having a lot of high cards is always good.  Played correctly, you can often be in conrol of a round to either make a bid, or set your opponent.
  • Works well for Tournaments – Due to the team nature of both bridge and rook, making a night for playing out a tournament is a blast.   So call your friends and break out the music, cause these tournaments can last all night.
  • Stopping a team from making their bids – Both rook and bridge encourage teams to be defensive.  So even when they have not taken a bid, they are paying attention to the entire hand to do their best to stop the opponent from doing what they are trying to do.

Differences Between Rook and Bridge

While there are many similarities between rook and bridge, there are some important differences which call for very different strategies.

  • Points, not tricks – Bridge is one of the ultimate in strategic team games.  Every card is important because you never know when you are throwing away a winner. Yes, there are times in rook where each card laid is important, but when there are no point cards on the board, your strategy as the final player to act is not to try and take the trick, rather your strategy is likely to get rid of a worthless card. Remembering that acting last on any trick is a strong advantage in rook can sometimes help to make close bids.
  • The KittyThe kitty is why I sometimes love, and sometimes hate rook.  In bridge, you can see your entire hand.  There is never a possibility that you will improve or ruin your hand by picking up an unknown set of 5 cards and adding them to your hand. This is what makes getting the kitty more of a gamble rather than a skillful understanding of what is going on during the bidding phases.  The kitty makes the game exciting as a hand that players will expect to win can turn into a dud, while a hand that a player expects to lose can turn into a monster.  The only downfall to the kitty is that it takes away from some of the strategic play and can often lead to a significant amount of luck.
  • 52 cards compared to 57 cards – Typcial bridge games are played with a regular deck of cards.  The rook game does vary depending on who you play with.  Some people take out the 2s, 3s, and 4s, making a 45 card deck while the normal rook deck is composed of 57 cards. Do remember this when you are playing the hands because it means there are a lot more trumps to take into account.
  • Bidding with Colors – In bridge, there is some significant knowledge you gain from your partner’s bid.  You can often tell how powerful their hand is but in addtion, you know what suit they are most powerful in.  This is very important to gauge how similar your partner’s hand is to yours.
  • The Bird – Having the bird as an automatic trump and worth added value to a round is ultimately why rook keeps so popular.  The bird is constantly on everyone’s mind.  Has it been played?  Does the person who bid on the round have it in his hand?  Does my partner have it?  Will we be able to set our partner by just this one bird card?  Playing with the extra rook card is a special game.  If you are a bridge player and have not yet given rook a try, you must just for the possibility of setting your opponents on a sneaky rook steal.