Castling

Castling, one of the best moves to use regularly, achieves many important objectives: it protects your king, keeping him behind a protective line of pawns; strengthens your rooks; and frees up your other pieces to take an offensive, rather than defensive, position. It is something that you should actively work towards every game. So, what is castling? Castling involves moving your king and rook, at the same time. It is the only move in chess where you may move two pieces at once. Basically you are switching the order of the king and the rook.

Let’s look at this position:

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Obviously, this position is impossible in a real game, but it makes it easy to see how castling works. If you would like to castle “kingside,” (kingside is the side of the board that the king sits on) move your king two spaces (to g8 for black and g1 for white), and then move the rook over the king to sit next to it.

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1

“Queenside” castling is similar, just done to the other side. The king still moves two spaces toward the rook, but this time the rook moves three spaces over the king to land next to him (to d8 for black and d1 for white).

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If you find it confusing to remember how many spaces to move when castling kingside or queenside, remember that the king always moves two spaces toward the rook, and then the rook sits next to the king. Some players even base their entire opening strategy on preventing their opponent from castling.

Now for some rules about when you can and can’t castle. First, there may be no pieces in between the king and the rook that you are using to castle. Second, you may not castle with any rook that you have moved already in the game, and you can’t castle at all if you have already moved your king. Also, you may not castle if you are in check, or if you end up in check after castling. In addition, your king may not be in check in either of the two squares it moves through. So on the previous board, white can’t castle if the king would be in check on e1, d1, or c1.

A side note: if you are looking to prevent your opponent from castling, a good idea is to put him in check, and force him to move his king, making it illegal for him to castle.

Which side to castle on? It all depends on the situation, as well as your own individual playing style. Kingside castling is more common because there are only two pieces in between the rook and the king, and the king is a little “safer,” without an extra space in the pawn wall. Queenside castling is considered a more aggressive move because the rook is placed more towards the center. Of course, the side you castle on may be determined by where your opponent’s pieces are aimed, where he castles, and if you have moved a rook already. There is no “better” side to castle because there are so many different ways to play the game of chess. What is good in one game may be a mistake in another, so it is best to know how to use both. In some future posts, I will discuss benefits of using both.

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