Special Chess Moves – Rules of Castling

This is the seventh in my series of articles for the absolute chess beginner. In this article, we will cover the whys and wherefores of castling.

But first … let me mention that you should never refer to a Rook as a “castle.” You castle when you move your King and Rook in the same move. “Castle” is a move, not a chess piece.


Castling is a special move of the King and one of his Rooks (it could be either one) in which the King moves two squares toward the corner, and the Rook toward which it moves jumps over the King and lands in the adjacent square. There are several reasons for making this move … besides it being cool.

Is castling for cowards?

Your King needs to be safe! (If you want to win the game, that is.) The first and most important reason to castle is to move your King away from the center of the board. The center is generally where all the action is and you want your King away from the center of activity. If the King is in the corner, the other pieces have a much easier job of defending the King, and it’s much harder for the enemy pieces to attack in the corner than in the center.

Get your Rook out of the corner!

The second reason to castle is because your Rook starts its life in the corner of the board. The Rook can work perfectly well from the corner (it’s the only piece that isn’t hampered by being in the corner), but castling helps your Rooks for two reasons: in the center, there are more likely to be pawn exchanges, and thus open files for your Rooks to travel on. Although the Rook is equally powerful on any square on an empty board, the board is usually not empty! Since center pawns get exchanged more quickly than the other pawns (usually), the Rook should get to the center to protect your center pawns and to benefit from the lines that open up when the center pawns are exchanged. And second, if you get all your pieces except the King off the first rank (where all your “officers” start the game), the King is the only piece preventing the Rooks from protecting one another. If you castle, the King goes toward the corner and the Rooks are suddenly mutually protecting one another.

Make two moves in one!

Castling is the only move that allows you to move two pieces in one move. If your object is to mobilize your forces more quickly than your opponent (and that should be your objective), then the ability to move two pieces in fell swoop has got to be appealing.

Castling Rules

Once during a game, a player may move his King two squares to the right or left and move the Rook on that side (the Rook toward which the King moved) over the King to the square adjacent to the King.

There are five conditions that must be met in order to castle:

  1. The squares between the King and the Rook used for castling must be empty. You can’t castle over your own or enemy pieces!
  2. The King may not castle into or through check. If the King would be in check at the end of the castling move, or if the square that the King passes over is guarded by an enemy piece, then castling is not allowed.
  3. The King may not castle out of check.
  4. The King may not have made a previous move. If the King has moved (even if it subsequently moved back to its home square), castling is not permitted.
  5. If one of the Rooks has moved, castling is prohibited with that Rook. Castling would still be permitted with the other Rook, provided it has not moved and the other conditions are met.

My next article will cover questions about castling that many beginners (and even some advanced players) might misunderstand.

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