Beginner Castling Questions in chess: finally answered

Castling is perhaps one of the weirdest moves in chess, it looks unnatural when two pieces can form a unique movement together.

This is why I reckon that a lot of beginners will have some questions looming in their head about this that they could not find the answer to in google search.

I’ve done some googling myself and haven’t found a good resource for these questions, which is why I will be the one to create it. I have a lot of experience playing the game and can pretty much answer all of this instantly, so I might as well write about it.

These are the questions about castling that I’ve found:

Why is castling in chess called castling?

Castling is called castling since the position that will arise after the switch between the rook and king will make a structure that resembles a castle (the king behind the pawns in front). 

It is like a fortified position that is used to protect the king as with the purpose of castles in real life.

In real life the castle is where the king resides and is protected by their guards, this is where they can make decisions while being safe. This is the exact purpose of castling in chess, which is to protect the king (most important piece) behind the guards that can keep it safe.

Why is castling allowed in chess?

Castling is not a part of the original version that made it to the international standard chess rules, however, it has been developed side-by-side with the introduction of pawn promotion.

Castling in chess is invented to speed up the development of the pieces in the opening since the initial placements make it hard to develop the bishops and the rooks.

If you look at the initial placement of the chess pieces the bishops are caged behind the pawns that have to be moved first in order to be developed, and even worse are the position of the rooks. 

The rooks are isolated in the furthermost corner of the board where it cannot do that much for a long time. Connecting the rooks (developing them) will be quite difficult in the opening/middlegame if castling doesn’t exist, it makes these pieces usable.

It was also invented to speed up the game, when castling doesn’t exist yet good players will usually find a way to tuck their king in the corner in order to keep it safe. They would do this by moving the king multiple times in a row (sometimes both of the players at the same time) in the opening which is quite boring for the spectators.

Castling was invented to speed up this process since if it were to occur anyway, why not make a special rule to make it faster? Plus the players can choose not to castle if they want to (castling is not required) which still puts independence to the player’s decision-making.

How many times can you castle in chess?

A player can only castle once since any right to castling will be lost if a.) the king has already moved, or b) with a rook that has already moved, since castling once requires a movement from both the king and rook, the privilege to castle again is lost.

This doesn’t only apply to castling, if the king or the rook has moved even if it was not by a castle, then the player will also lose the privilege to any castling in the future. Once a castling has been performed a player cannot castle again since there is only one king, the king after all will be required to move if it castles once.

It is unlike when one rook has moved, where the king can still perform a castle with another rook that has not moved yet, there is only one king piece after all unlike the rooks where there are two.

Is queenside castle legal?

A Queenside Castle is one of the two options to castle is chess (the other being Kingside) and is considered a legal move as long as the King and the Queenside Rook has not moved previously.

The queenside castle is also considered as the long castle since the switch between the king and the rook will be slightly different than if performed in kingside. The king in the end would not be close to the corner of the board, therefore, making it slightly less safe than a kingside castle.

It is generally considered to be a good move if the player is going for attacks on the kingside since the kingside pawns after the queenside castle are now ready to be pushed. The queenside castle has existed as far as the kingside castle has existed, they are both created at the same time with the same purpose of speeding up the game.

Can you capture a piece while castling?

A player is unable to capture a piece that would be in the king’s position after the castle since one of the prerequisites of castling is there should be no pieces in between, if there is a piece, a castle cannot be performed.

This applies to both the kingside and the queenside castle where the king cannot perform a capture through castling in either direction. The purpose of the castling rule in the first place is to speed up the game that would have occurred even without the rule, if this is possible it would interfere with the game’s mechanic.

It wouldn’t make sense since the king in itself cannot move over 2 tiles from any of its movement choices, the castling is just a special rule that shouldn’t extend the king’s capture potential.

It is important to note though that the rook can still capture the piece that is getting in the way, though a castling could not be performed at that side for the rest of the game (since the rook has already moved).

Can you castle back in chess?

Some beginners might be wondering if they can revert to their original position after a castling has already been done.

A player that has already castled cannot revert to the original position of the rook and king as a form of reverse-castle, once a castle has been performed by one player a castle cannot be executed again by that player.

This is an unfair rule if it were legal, it could get the king out of very risky attacks that are commonly seen in opposite side castles (Kingside vs. Queenside). Once the king has already castled it technically has already moved from its original position, one requirement for castling is the king should not have moved from its original position.

In fact it is not only the king, the rook technically has also moved if it had participated in a castle. This means that both the king and the rook as per the fundamental rules of castling, should be unable to perform a castle to go back to their original position.

Can you castle after moving pawns?

Moving some pawns in either the kingside or queenside does not strip the player of any castling privileges, a player can castle both long and short even if the pawns have already moved.

If you look at the rules about castling you will notice that it primarily revolves around the king and the rook, those are, after all, the main pieces that are involved in this move. Any other move from the knight, the bishop, the queen, and the pawns does not influence the castling privileges.

Even if a particular side has been wide open (loose pawn structure) the castling can still be performed as long as it meets the other requirements (The king/rook has never moved before, there are no enemy pieces in between, etc.).

Can you castle with your queen in chess?

Castling is a special rule crafted specifically for the rook and the king, the king and the queen cannot perform the same switch as with the castle of a king and a rook.

Some beginners might ask this since the queen has access to the vertical-horizontal movement of the rook, therefore having similar characteristics. However the formulation of the castling rule is made with only the king and the rook in mind, this is to speed up the game of players tucking kings in the corner.

A switch between the queen and the king would still keep the king in the center and it does not speed the development of other pieces in any way. If it were to be made legal it will open up a mechanic for some abuses since the purpose of castling is not accomplished by the switch between the king and the queen.

Should you castle early in chess?

If you watch professional games you may notice that elites usually castle early in the match after a few consecutive moves. This is why some beginners might wonder if you should always castle early in chess?

Generally, it is a good practice to castle as early as possible to keep the king safe and develop the pieces quicker (most of the time) however there is a thing as castling too early when the opponent’s pieces are targeting the kingside or queenside for example.

For the most part, castling early is usually a good decision since it makes the accomplishment of basic opening principles easier (keeping the king safe, developing the pieces, etc.). But of course, as with many principles in chess there are few exceptions:

  • When multiple pieces can easily attack the kingside or queenside.
  • Pawns are already far advanced at the kingside/queenside and are ready to attack.
  • The center is closed where breakthroughs might not happen.
  • The queens are already exchanged.
  • Multiple pieces have been traded early.

During these scenarios it may be better for the king to stay in the center since that is safer than castling, or the piece count is too small where activating the king is much more important. Beginners will definitely have a harder time evaluating the position whether to castle or not, so castling early is recommended since it is correct most of the time.

The feel for the position of whether making the king stay in the center is the right idea will eventually come with experience, until then castling early is recommended.

Once the player has already acquired all the necessary skills to visualize the decision then castling late might not be too bad of an idea, as long as you know what you’re doing.

How common is castling in chess?

Based on a case study ranging from random games of Carlsen and other elite players, Kingside castle has been played 80-81% of the time, Queenside castle has been played 8-9% of the time, those who lost the privilege to castle is at 10%, and those who never castled is at 1%.

Based on this statistic it is clear that castling is much more popular than non-castling, this is a testament to the usefulness of castles in general. For the most part, those who never castled are most likely the ones who have lost the privilege to do it and would have castled if they had the opportunity to do so.

Only a staggering 1% of players in this case study have found to be the ones who never castled, it exists but it is not that much in terms of quantity. In fact only in the elite levels are there individuals that can thrive in professional play by not castling at all, castling is that important.

Lower-ranked professional players usually have a harder time getting a decent position with the king being in the center, it is a large vulnerability for the most part. If you are not professional though it is okay to not castle, since at a non-professional stage a lot of things can work due to psychological reasons, it is not the end of the world if you don’t castle.

I have won a lot of positions myself where I choose to stay in the center because I feel like it is safe, just go with your intuition if you have enough experience.

Can you castle when the rook is under attack?

Castling is allowed if the rook that is involved in the castle is under attack, or the tiles that the rook has to go through with the castle are covered. The same cannot be said with the king since it cannot castle if it is under attack, or the tiles it has to go through are covered.

The king cannot castle when it is under attack, or the space that it has to go through is under attack since it doesn’t have the capability to move multiple spaces in the first place.

The rook on the other hand can move horizontally as far as there aren’t any pieces blocking the way, it can definitely pass through a tile that is under attack without being captured. It’s almost as if the rook has performed a normal move skipping the tile that is supposed to be covered.

The king cannot do the same since it is the most valuable piece and having it cross a capture tile would result in the end of the game. The rook on the other hand is dispensable and can legally move into captured spaces unlike the king.

Can you castle to get out of check?

A player cannot perform a castle to get out of check since the king has to deal with the check first. If it is legal to castle out of check, it would be difficult to attack the king since it always has the option to escape.

Remember the purpose of implementing the castling move in the first place is to only speed up the game, it shouldn’t in any way mess with the game’s mechanics. Putting up a reasonable attack early in the game to pursue the king takes a lot of effort that should not be dismissed, if the king could castle easily it would void the point of early aggressiveness.

This exception is a sort of a balancing condition since the castling move in itself is already a powerful move (two pieces can move at the same time) in hopes of preventing it from being abused.

If a player could simply castle out of check, you could, in theory, leave your King in the center for as long as you wanted until it is in danger. There would be no point in castling your King into safety at the start of the game. As soon as your King gets attacked, you would immediately be able to castle out of it.

Attacks should be rewarded if a combination can be created, there shouldn’t exist any broken escape mechanism that can be pulled off out of nowhere. Draws in chess are becoming a problem, this rule if legal will further incentivize safe play since there will be an unlikely reward when committing to an attack.

Is castling overrated?

Castling is not overrated, professionals who have extensive knowledge in the opening will castle much more often than make their King stay in the center. A lot of theoretical lines involve castling to easily accomplish king’s safety and piece development.

I do think there’s a lot of value in teaching beginners to always castle until they get a gist of their opening repertoire. It is just easier to play when the king is safe in the corner protected by pawns and many other pieces, unlike in the center where lines could be opened for attacks.

But to a degree if you are not a professional, I agree that you can still survive even without castling as a sort of psychological tactic. But as soon as you reach the decent levels (1500-2000) castling is a must since not just everything would work on this level, every detail matters.

There will be cases that it is better not to castle but only on a few occasions, even if a castle would put the player at a significant disadvantage it is usually not that bad (unless the pawn structure on the castle is totally ruined). For the most part, castling will bring more advantages even on instances where there are disadvantages (not always) so it is best practice to implement it (most of the time).

Final thoughts

During my early years of chess castling is one of the rules I was really fascinated with, it is just unique that no other move-rule can even come close. But I also realize that it is not really beginner-friendly, I had some questions that I have to figure out myself later down the road.

These are the list of those questions, the things that I have asked when I was still a beginner which I am answering now. This would make it easier for you to implement castling soon without having the worry of doing an illegal move, but I guess it doesn’t matter since you will naturally learn this anyway.

But just the value of being informed I think is pretty important, just being aware of something can change your game much more than you think, I sure hope so, sleep well and play chess.