Castling is one of chess’s most powerful special moves. In a single move you can transform your position and move your king from being exposed in the center while opening up your rook to defend or even to attack your opponent immediately. But which way should you castle? Is it true that there is an innate advantage to castling to the king’s side? Let’s take a look.
What is best: King side or Queen side castling? When we start to learn chess, we’re encouraged to castle on the king side because it offers a higher level of protection for the king. However, it’s important to realize that there can be real advantages to playing to the queen’s side, specifically you gain the benefit of opening up your queen side rook in a more aggressive position.
So, let’s take a look at how you can decide what works best in your game.
What Is Castling?
Castling is a special move in chess. It can only take place once per game, per player, and it is the only move in which two pieces of the same color are moved at the same time. A king is moved two spaces towards either rook and then the rook that the king moves towards is brought around the king to the space adjacent to it.
There are four basic rules for castling to be a legal move:
- The king must not have moved in any previous turn, the rook must also not have moved in any previous turn
- There must be no pieces (of either color) between the king and the chosen rook
- The king may not begin in check though they may have been checked previously as long as this did not break rule 1
- The king may not move through check (e.g. the empty squares must not be threatened) and may not end the castling move in check
Castling is a very powerful move. The king will, in most cases, end up tucked away, near a corner with a row of pawns in front of him to act as additional defense. If that wasn’t a good enough reason to do it there’s also the added bonus of the rook now being free to move out more easily and do some real damage (the rook is the 2nd most powerful piece on the board after the queen).
You may, as the title of this article suggests, castle either to the king side or the queen side of the board. Beginners are often advised to castle toward the king side as this offers a stronger defense of the king but there are good reasons to castle to either side of the board.
Good Reasons To Castle To The King Side In Chess
OK, so let’s see why your chess teacher might have told you that it’s a good idea to castle onto the king’s side of the board.
- The first good reason to castle to the king side is that it’s easier and faster to achieve, if you want to get your rook out quickly, then you have to only move two pieces to make it so. Better still, it’s easy to get them on to “natural squares” (that is these pieces will end up on squares that are advantageous to the player – think Nf3 or Bb5, Bc4 or Be2)
- In general terms, most players won’t move the kingside pawns in the opening and that means that the king tends to be better protected when it ends up on this side of the board than it might be on the queen side. There is a real danger of weakening the a file if you castle to the queen’s side.
- Once you have castled the pawn move to c3 (or c6 if you’re holding the black pieces) means that you can then follow with a d4 (or d5 for black) push. This keeps your diagonals strong, whereas if you have castled to the queen’s side and then push your pawn onto c3 the diagonal which runs from B1 to H7 is much weaker.
- When the king isn’t on the queen’s side, you’re free to move your a and b pawns up to create space around the queen’s side without putting the king at risk of attack from the opponent’s pieces. If you intend, for example, to move pawn to a4 for the Ruy Lopez, it’s best with no king around.
Good Reasons To Castle To The Queens Side
There are also some strong reasons to elect to castle to your queen’s side of the board and your chess tutor’s rule is more of a rule of thumb than a hard and fast instruction.
- If you hold the white pieces, then you can take advantage of queen’s side castling without losing much in the way of time because you have the first move. That means you can castle to the queen’s side without as much as difficulty as the opposite player. This is something you see a lot in matches – white castling to the queen’s side with black going in the opposite direction to the king’s side.
- Your rook ends up on d1 (or if you hold black, d8) and that means it’s in position to go on the offensive and this can be a very powerful advantage. This can be super useful if you’ve already pushed your queen up this file and can now pair it with the rook.
However, you should keep in mind that there are disadvantages to this approach:
- You may find that you have to protect your king with a bishop to shore up the weak pawn position, Kb1 (or for black Kb8) is another time-consuming move without much in the way of returns.
- If you moved the d pawn in your opening, then your king is probably going to be on a weak diagonal and particularly susceptible to attack.
So, Which Is Better Queen Side Castling Or King Side Castling?
As we said at the beginning, “better” is probably too strong a term and certainly, it depends on the game that you are playing as to which might work best based on your board position.
However, we can offer some fairly generic rules regarding considerations for castling to one side or the other:
- You castle to the opposite side of the board from your opponent when you want to run an attacking game. This is so that you can use the pawns on the files opposite the opponent’s king are then freed up to be used in your attack as they don’t need to hang around to defend your king.
- You castle to the same side of the board as your opponent when you want a safe game. When you’re both defending the same side of the board – you’ll each try to fill the space and while you will have plenty of chances to counter-attack, your king is likely to be securely holed up at the back of the field for most of the game.
- If you’re not certain of which way to castle, then you might want to opt for castling to the king’s side. This is because while you may occasionally make a disastrous mistake when castling to the queen’s side (a famous example of this is Boden’s mate) but it is unlikely to be a disaster for you game to head to the king’s side.
Which castling is better: On the king side or the queen side? It very much depends on the game that you are playing. There are real advantages to a strong defensive strategy that places the king deep into the king’s side of the board and certainly beginners may feel that this suits their own style of play as they try to manage a more aggressive strategy out elsewhere on the board.
The queen’s side, however, is not without its strengths and the ability to shift the rook directly to the D-rank should not be underestimated, that’s a lot of firepower that you can direct on the center of the board and if your opponent hasn’t really considered that you might castle queen’s side, that can come as a real surprise to them which gives you a real advantage.