Out of all the special moves in chess (including en passant, and promotion), castling has to be the most unique and elegant of all. If you are just getting started out in chess, then this move can come at a surprise to you. Therefore, it’s important that you grasp the concept of castling if you wish to become a better chess player.
One question I get a lot from beginners about castling is “Can you castle on both sides?” In this article, I will explain whether this is possible, how to go about castling and when are the best times to do so. Stick around to find out.
Can you castle on both sides?
Can you castle on both sides? Yes, you can choose to either castle kingside or queenside depending on the situation. Most players castle kingside because it is much safer, as the king is better protected behind the f, g, and h pawns. On the other hand, queenside castling causes you to waste a move because you have to step your king over to the b square in order to get off the diagonal and to protect the a-pawn in the corner.
Nevertheless, queenside castling can be very effective once it is used in the right way. Here are some scenarios where it is advantageous to castle queenside:
1. Attack on the kingside
Most players castle queenside in order to launch an attack against the opposing king. These types of positions are common in openings like the Sicilian Dragon Vs The Yugoslav Attack.
White castles long in preparation to launch his g and h pawns up the board. White will try to open the h-file, trade off a set of bishops, “sack-sack” and checkmate the black king!
White castles long to attack on the kingside
2. Activate the a1 Rook
Almost all grandmasters know the importance of activity in chess. This is the amount of squares or control your pieces have over the chessboard. Once your pieces are actively placed on their optimum squares, the possibilty of carrying out a winning plan and succeeding increases tremendously compared to if your pieces were passively placed.
At the start of the position, your a1 rook is passively placed in the corner of the board. The best way to activate the rook while keeping your king safe is to castle queenside in one go.
Our previous diagram shows how white was able to activate the a1 rook to d1 by castling queenside.
Castling queenside activates the a1 rook for white, or the a8 rook for black. Chess players not only castle queenside to get their rook from out the corner, but to get them moving on open files as well (such as the d and e file). Without open files, your rooks would be useless.
3. Endgame Strategy
We talked about the disadvantage of castling queenside, but when it comes to the endgame, queenside castling is by far more effective than kingside castling.
Castling kingside in the endgame brings the king away from the action as the king is farther away from the center of the board. This is a bad thing to do because your king needs to get to the center of the board as quickly as possible in order to help support your pawns and to gain opposition, so that the enemy king doesn’t access key squares in the position.
When you castle queenside, you preserve the activity of the king to an extent while at the same time connecting your rooks. The King’s route to the center of the board is much easier and faster to get to. All the better if you have a pawn majority on the queenside. The king is already there to defend and help the pawns up the board to promote. The position below illustrates this idea:
White should castle on the queenside to preserve the activity of his king.
What Is Kingside And Queenside?
To clarify things, the kingside is the half of the chessboard that contains the file on which the kings sit at the start of a chess match. In other words, it is the section of the board where the kings reside.
Similarly, the Queenside is the half of the chessboard that contains the file on which the queens sit at the beginning of the chess game.
If you are playing as white, then the kingside is the right half of the chessboard, whereas the queenside is the left half. But if you are playing as Black, the board switches and the kingside becomes the left half of the board, whereas the queenside now becomes the right half of the chessboard. It all depends on what color you are playing with.
The image below shows the kingside and queenside of a chessboard:
How To Castle Kingside?
Castling kingside is actually quite simple even if you are completely new to chess.
To castle kingside, move the king 2 squares to the right if you are white, or 2 squares to the left if you are black. After which the rook jumps over and lands next to the king on the f1 square for white, or the f8 square for black.
The diagrams below show the before and final position after castling on the kingside.
How To Castle Queenside?
Castling queenside is sort of similar to castling kingside. To castle queenside, move the king 2 squares to the left if you are white or 2 squares to the right if you are black. After which the rook jumps over and lands next to the king on the d1 square for white, or the d8 square for black. The position of the king and rook should like this:
Before queenside castling
After queenside castling
Conditions That Must Be Met For Castling
Now, before you can go ahead and castle, there are certain conditions that must be met in order to safely and legally castle. This applies to both sides of the chess board.
- You cannot castle if the king or the rook you wish to castle with has previously moved.
- There must be no pieces between the king and the rook you want to castle with.
- You cannot castle out of check. Either you block the check with one of your pieces, capture the piece delivering the check, or sidestep the king away from the check.
- The path to which the king castles should not be controlled by enemy pieces. This path is the c1 and d1 squares for white, or the c8 and d8 squares for black
Making any Illegal move such as castling your king on an endangered square can result in the loss of a game. So make sure to understand the rules of castling so that it doesn’t happen in your games. To learn more about conditions for castling, see article: When to castle in chess?
Advantages of Castling Kingside
Kingside castling has its advantages just like queenside castling. In fact, kingside castling is more common of the two types of castling. It is much safer and effective to castle on the kingside than long castle.
Here are the advantages of castling kingside:
1. You Safeguard The King In One Move
When you castle kingside, the king lands on the g1 square for white, or the g8 square for black. In this position, the king is usually protected by his three front pawns namely, f, g and h pawns.
As long as you don’t push your pawns forward and weaken the squares around the king, then you shouldn’t worry about the long term safety of your king that much. Unlike queenside castling, the king protects the outside h pawn, so you don’t have to waste a move to try and protect your outside flank pawn.
2. You can safely play in the center of the board
Playing in the center of the board is by far the most important principle of the chess opening and middlegame. However, it would be foolish to play and open up the center while your king is still uncastled.
Therefore, it’s best to castle kingside to lock away the king safely and then proceed to play actively in the center of the board. This way, you don’t have to be constantly checking for your opponent’s threats once the king is safely castled on the kingside.
3. Attack Or Gain Space On The Queenside
Now that your king is safely castled on the kingside, launching a pawn storm on the queenside is way more effective. Moving your queen pawns up the board will allow you to gain more space.
Many grandmaster understand the importance of gaining space not just on the side of the board, but in the center as well. Gaining space will limit your opponent’s activity by taking away crucial squares for his pieces.
While his activity decreases, the activity of your pieces increases because you gain more access to squares for your pieces.
Castling is a special move in chess that if used timely and correctly can give you a tremendous advantage over your opponent. It is true that you can castle both sides, but the choice of castling kingside or queenside is up to you.
This decision will all depend on the nature of your position and the type of player you are. If you are an attacking type of player and you wish to attack your opponent’s king on the kingside, then it’s best to castle on the queenside.
If you are a classical type of player and you put king safety over everything else, then kingside castling is the way to go.