In chess, players can castle to both the left or right side. Where the king is closer to the rook, castling is generally easier to pull off. There are both benefits and drawbacks compared to the less common alternative, the queen’s side castle move.
The king side castle move, also referred to as the short side castle move, is the most common method of castling in chess. The standard chess notation for king side castling is O-O (or 0-0), indicating the number of squares the rook has to move.
During the early game, players will often find themselves castling to the kingside. It’s the more defensive play, but can be executed a few turns faster in the game. It’s not necessarily better or worse than queen side castling, because the best play depends on a lot of factors, including:
- Board position
- Pawn structure
- Timing of when to castle
- Opponent’s play style
What Is King Side Castling? (Example)
A king side castle move is a more defensive variation of castling that is easier to execute. Because only two chess pieces need to be moved to execute the special move, king side castle moves are faster. While it protects the king better, it doesn’t allow the rook to develop well on the board.
For white, king side means castling to the right side. For black, king side castling is to the left side. This is determined by the initial position of the king on a chessboard.
For white, the king will always start on square e1 (see below), so the king side castling move will start by moving the king two squares to the right as such:
After placing the king on his designated square (two horizontal steps to the right), the rook ‘jumps over’ him to his left side (from square h1 to f1). The rook only takes two steps in this situation as well:
All of this happens in a single turn. It’s the only time a player is allowed to move two pieces in a single turn. Always make sure all four castling rules and conditions are met before doing the special move. After king side castling with white, the right rook should be on square f1 and the king should be on square g1:
Benefits Of King Side Castling
Since it’s the more common and popular choice, one would expect the king side castle move to have a lot of benefits. But as mentioned before, that’s totally dependent on the situation on the board. It also matters if you’re playing against an offensive or defensive opponent.
1. The Defensive Choice
If you’re a player that likes to play on the defensive side, it might pay off to quickly protect the king. There is no faster method than castling to the short side (i.e. kingside).
Very quickly after the opening moves, you’re able to tuck away your most important piece in a corner of the board, behind a rook and a row of pawns. What better way to start off a game than by fortifying your king’s position!
Compare this to queenside castling, which defenses the king a lot less. Pawns only partially fortify the king’s position. The pawn on the far left (square a2) would be quite exposed, actually. These things don’t happen on the king’s side at all. Which makes it a much stronger defensive play.
2. Faster Than Queen Side Castle
A major positive aspect of the kingside move is its speed. A player is able to already pull off the special move on turn four! That’s exactly what happened during the example shown before (see the images at the top of the article).
The move allows you to quickly make sure the king is safely tucked away in a corner. It helps you to focus on more important aspects of the game. For instance, making sure you start developing your queen, bishops, knights, rooks, and pawns. After all, cornering the opponent’s king is what ultimately matters most.
3. Easier To Pull Off
Queen’s side castling forces a player to displace a queen, bishop, and knight. That’s three pieces and three whole turns. Compare this to castling to the king’s side, which allows you to displace fewer pieces.
That’s right: you only have to remove a bishop and a knight. That’s two pieces, and one piece less. That one turn can make a world of difference in a turn-based strategy game like chess.
It makes the move a lot easier to do in the first place. Creating the board conditions to do a castle move can be quite difficult at times. If the opponent puts pressure on your king or rooks, choosing the castle could no longer be a viable option. Staying ahead of that risk is an obvious benefit.
Drawbacks Of King Side Castling
Despite being the popular choice, the easier short-side castle move does have some negative sides. Actually, some of these drawbacks are crucial to the game of chess. After all, making sure all your pieces are activated and developed on the board is a key strategy in the early game.
1. Rook Remains Undeveloped
The most commonly cited drawback of king side castling is the fact that the rook remains undeveloped. With a rook that is less developed, the player is forced to use another turn to place the rook towards the center so it can actually do something.
After all, when the rook is on square f1 and there’s a pawn on square f2, the whole f-line of the board cannot be attacked. The queen’s side does not have this ‘pawn problem’, as it immediately places the rook into a position where it can ‘see the other side of the board’.
The pawn blocking the rook’s path is a major problem for short-side castling. Sure, the king is neatly tucked away in a corner, but not activating that rook right away is a serious disadvantage. Board development is key at the beginning of every chess game.
2. Left Side Pieces Undeveloped
But it’s not just that one rook on the right side (the one you castled with) that’s undeveloped. Pulling off a fast castle leaves literally all the pieces on the left side of the board untouched. That puts you back a few turns, and gives the offensive advantage to the other player.
Developing stronger pieces like the queen early gives the opponent fewer options to develop their own side of the board.
Every turn counts in chess, especially at the beginning. You don’t want to start ‘one step behind’. Having a lot of underdeveloped pieces on one side of the board is almost never a good idea. So perhaps you should wait with castling to either side, even though you can already pull off a king side castle move from turn four.
Developing pieces has priority over fortifying the king, at least it does in the early game.