[fen ""]

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 d6 3. Nc3 e5

I've seen the Ukrainian/Old Indian Defence played in several GM games before 1970, and was wondering what black gained from willingly giving up castling rights in the opening. According to this source, black actually scores better in the variations where white deprives black of castling rights by trading queens, such as by 4. dxe5 dxe5 5. Qxd8+ Kxd8. So where exactly is black's compensation for the loss of castling rights? I've heard that one can get away without castling if queens are off the board; but this is still the opening and the position looks fairly open (even centre control of both sides is more or less the same), so it seems to me that white can purposefully develop its pieces towards the now exposed black king, while black might have to spend several moves to get its king to safety.


3 Answers 3


Weaknesses like doubled/tripled pawn structure, color complex holes, and right to castle only matter in chess to the extent to which the opponent can exploit them. In the Old Indian variation you gave above, yes, Black lost the right to castle, but is White in any real position to exploit it? The answer is no. In fact, Black's king is very safe after he plays c6 because he can then tuck his king into c7 and there isn't any real way for White to even check him. The pawn and c6 prevents Nd5 and Nb5 checks, and Bf4 check isn't gonna work because Black will probably post his bishop to d6 and/or play e5, so his king is clearly not "weak" despite the loss of castling rights.

There is another position in the Sicilian Four knights that goes something like:

[fen ""]
1. e4 c5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. d4 cxd4
4. Nxd4 Nf6
5. Nc3 e6
6. Nxc6 bxc6
7. e5 Nd5
8. Ne4 Qc7
9. f4 Qb6
10. c4 Bb4+
11. Ke2

While Ke2 aesthetically looks ugly because it loses castling rights and also blocks the light-squared bishop from developing, the point is that after Ke2 - f3, the king is extremely safe. If you look at that position yourself, I challenge you to even come up with a plan for Black to check the white king. If you can't, that's okay, because White's king is quite safe on f3.

Here is a counter example. This is from a game I played recently actually where I'm black.

[fen ""]
1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. Bc4 Nf6
4. d3 Be7
5. Nc3 O-O
6. Be3 d6
7. h3 Na5
8. Bb3 Nxb3
9. axb3 d5
10. exd5 Nxd5
11. Nxe5 Nxe3
12. fxe3 Bh4+
13. Kf1

Here, Black has sacrificed a pawn to force White to lose castling rights with the annoying Bh4+. Notice though that there are a number of factors in this position that makes losing castling rights much more serious in this position than in the previous position. First, Black has the bishop pair which alone is good compensation for the pawn. Second, White has all these dark square weaknesses on g3, h2, and f2, and Black has the dark-squared bishop. White also lacks his own dark-square bishop to protect those squares, so it only heightens the problems of losing his dark-squared bishop. Third, White's king position here impedes the development of his h1 rook, so his pieces are more awkwardly placed.

You can argue Black has lost a pawn, but I would argue that the pawn sac has forced White to lose a rook, because it will be very difficult to get his h1 rook into action. All these factors make losing castling rights here really really bad for White because Black has these compensating factors that allow him to take advantage of White's compromised king position and loss of castling rights.

So the takeaway from this is that with any weakness—be it losing castling rights, or pawn structure weaknesses—a weakness is only a weakness if it can be exploited by the opponent. In all mainline openings where one side loses the right to castle, or takes on any other sort of weakness, it is because that side willingly loses the right to castle because his king position can't be exploited and because other aspects of the position trump king safety/castling rights.

  • Btw, I'm new to this site and have no idea how to setup a click through board for the moves I've posted online. If anyone can show me or do it for me that would be great.
    – flicflac
    Jan 10, 2013 at 4:22
  • 2
    I made the edits but they must be approved to show up. If you forget how to make the board, then you can always click edit on a post where the board is located and look to see how they did it. Basically, you just use <pre><code>[fen ""] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 </code></pre> etc. for the move list. fen is a reference to Forsyth-Edwards Notation and will depict how the game board position starts. The moves will continue from there and on starting with the first move listed. The double quotes just means to use a new board.
    – Travis J
    Jan 10, 2013 at 4:31
  • got it, will do it myself in the future, thanks!
    – flicflac
    Jan 10, 2013 at 4:34
  • ah, castling is O-O not 0-0
    – flicflac
    Jan 10, 2013 at 4:38
  • 3
    Excellent answer, welcome to the site =) Jan 10, 2013 at 14:50

After 4. dxe5 dxe5 5. Qxd8+ Kxd8, Black has several advantages he does not normally have:

  1. He has an e pawn against a c pawn, meaning the better center pawn structure.
  2. BOTH of his bishop's diagonals are free and clear.
  3. He can "castle by hand" after c6 by Kc7 (and from there to b8 if desired). On the other hand, he has the option of leaving his king in the center if that is more advantageous (if one or two pairs of pieces are quickly exchanged).The fact that the queens are off the board means that most of the danger to the king is past.
  4. White hasn't developed any king side pieces, so it will be a while before he can castle, at least on the king side.

Given all the above facts, Black is not at a disadvantage.


Giving up castling rights with Queens still on the board can be far more dangerous. Once the Queens are exchanged and the enemy does not have a considerable activity to attack your King, then the pawn structure will have a key role in whether your King will be safe.

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