Back to Basics: Castling

By National Master Evan Rabin


A few years ago I visited our program at Torah Academy of Bergen County  and witnessed National Expert Joe Lux teach the students castling. While most students knew what castling was and generally how to do it, they did not know all the rules. Despite what alot of beginners claim, castling is not simply when you swap the king and the rook. Castling is a special move in chess, in which the king moves two steps either to the king side or queen side and the rook swings right around after the pieces in between get out of the way. 

Castling only happens with the king and rook. Some students will mistakely think ‘castling queen side’ is with their queen and queenside rook. It is importat to remember that castling only happens with the king and rook and that it can only happen once per side in a game.

These are the special rules:

1) One cannot castle with a king or rook that has moved, even if it is has returned to its starting square.

2) One cannot castle through, into, our out of check.

In this position, can black castle?

Often beginners will respond “yes” as the king is currently safe on g8 and would be on e8. I then will explain how the bishop is controlling f8 and students will respond castling is not possible as the rook would get captured, not realizing, that the move is not bad; it is illegal. Had castling been allowed in the position, it would be a bad move since the rook would be en prise; however, it is not even legal as the king would be walking through check.

Thus, it is important for students to know alll the rules of castling. Not only a student should know how to castle, it is importat for him to know how urgent it is to do so, to make the king safe. In a large majority of master games, both players will castle within the first 5-10 moves to make their kings less vunerable.

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