How to Castle and Why
Rules for Castling
Castling involves your king and one of your two rooks switching sides with one another. However, the action is only doable if your king and the rook you wish to use have not moved yet, meaning that if you move one of your rooks, you can still use your second one to castle.
The spaces between your king and your rook must also be clear of pieces for them to castle. For example, you won’t be able to castle if your knight or the opponent’s knight is sitting between your king and your rook.
Similarly, you won’t be able to castle if your king has to move through or into a space where it’ll be in check. Another example to illustrate this is if you’re playing as white and want to castle to your left side, but a black piece is attacking the spaces your king has to go through.
Your king will end on C1 after it has castled, but it cannot castle if the D1 or C1 spaces are under attack. On the other hand, your rooks do not suffer from this problem since they cannot get put in check, so they are free to move through spaces under attack by enemy pieces.
Another essential rule to keep in mind is that you cannot castle out of check. When your king is in check, it can only move one square at a time like normal even if it and the rook you wish to castle with have not moved.
Why Should You Castle?
When it comes to why you should castle, many positive aspects give players a lot of incentive to use the move regularly.
Without question, defense is the primary benefit of castling.
While checkmating the opponent’s king is the number one goal in a chess match, protecting your king is equally essential and castling is among the best ways to achieve this.
Due to the king starting in the center of the board, it often falls into danger quickly once a fair number of pieces get removed from the board. Because attacks can come from the front, left, or right sides, it becomes challenging to keep your king protected if it’s exposed and you have limited pieces left.
You’ll likely find your opponent’s attacks to be especially difficult to deal with if you are trying to be aggressive at the same time. Worrying about keeping your king on the move to stay out of check while attempting to use your other pieces to put the opponent’s king in check is not a recipe for success.
You’re essentially wasting some moves moving your king when you should be using all those moves to attack.
Castling is an excellent way to avoid falling into this situation, as it tucks your king away in a safe pocket surrounded by pawns, a rook, and perhaps a bishop or a knight. Doing a castle earlier rather than later is also never a bad idea because the sooner your king is protected, the sooner you can focus on the opponent’s king.
Utility in Openings and Getting Your Rook Active Quickly
Many chess players like to work castles into their openings in some way, shape, or form. However, when players do not incorporate castling into an opening, they often castle right after an opening is complete to give their king protection as quickly as possible.
Besides the protection aspect, castling is also great because it brings one of your rooks out of its corner and makes it easy for the piece to get involved in the early game. You always want to have as many of your pieces at play as possible, and castling’s offensive utility is just as viable as its defensive utility.
The only real downside to castling early on is that it makes your king an even more stationary target than it already is. Once trapped behind pawns, your king will not be going anywhere anytime soon, and your opponent will know exactly where to concentrate their attacks.
Though giving up all your king’s mobility is not as bad as it may sound. The added protection is often entirely worth the sacrifice, as while your opponent will know where to concentrate their attack, you will also know where to focus your defense. And if there’s one thing that holds true in chess, it is that attacking a castled king is far more tedious than defending one.
Saving Your Castle for Later
Defense and openings aside, the one time it may benefit you to not castle in the early game is if you plan to use it as a last resort to get your king out of danger.
However, this is only advisable if you have a solid early game that leads to a lot of control going into the mid-game. The more control you have over the board, the more protection your king will be under, so there will be less reason for you to castle for protection purposes.
Castling is still a good idea despite this potential scenario because, as previously mentioned, it is an excellent way to get your rooks active as quickly as possible. Also, more protection for your king rarely hurts, even if it may be excessive.
Now that you understand the rules and some of the methodology surrounding castling, you can start to play around with its high level of utility in your chess matches.
Just be sure to remember that whether you castle early or late, the move is flexible to the point where it can benefit you regardless of the situation. So, always make the most of it to give yourself the most significant advantage possible in a game.