Chess Openings Chess Strategy By Brendan J. Norman Ok! So where were we? In part 2 of “Chess Strategy for Beginners: Openings” we had a look at the importance of battling for control of the board’s central region, and how an unchecked phalanx of pawns in the centre is likely to just “roll across the board like an avalanche of snow going down hill“. Keep reading Chess Strategy Part 3 Something like that anyway… Today we’ll be looking at the very, very, very….did I mention very yet? 🙂 The VERY important issue of king safety in the opening. The reason I exaggerate with the whole “very, very” thing is to emphasise to you that you simply cannot ignore king safety in the opening. We already learnt in this series of posts about Rapid Deployment of Forces and Control of the Centre, and although they are very important, they pale in comparison to the issue of King Safety. As I explain to the kiddies I teach: “The king might be the boss, but he is also a frail old man who walks with a cane, one step at a time, and needs to hide and be protected when there are lots of pieces on the board who can hurt him!” This is why we have the castling rule. The king is quickly evacuated in the early stages of the game to hide in the corner until all the violence subsides. Of course, sometimes they find him in his hiding place (what is known as a “kingside attack”), but that’s a matter we’ll cover later. What we are covering now, is the need to GET to this safehaven in the first place. Firstly, I’ll show you one particularly instructive position. White’s king is safely on g1, while black’s king is on f8, uncastled and blocking his rook on h8 from coming out. In this position above, white has sacrificed a piece in order to get a strong attack and leave the uncastled king on f8 as an eternal target (it will never be able to castle, and black will be constantly shielding against mate threats while trying to finish deloyment). Needless to say, white won quite easily after 14…f6 15. Nxf6!! b6 16. Nh5 Nf7 17. Bf4 Qb7 18. b4 d5 19. Nxg7 Kxg7 20. f6+ Kg6 21. bxc5 bxc5 22. Re7 Qb4 23. Qg3+ Kxf6 24. Qh4+ Kg6 25. Rae1 Rf8 26. Qg3+ Kf6 27. c3 Qxf4 28. Qxf4+1-0 I am assuming you played through the above over a physical board? Good! Let’s move on! We can easily observe that an uncastled king makes a BIG target and strong players will do almost anything to prevent their opponent from castling and getting their king to safety. Here’s another example from one of my recent games. honzaceka(2097) vs BrendanJNorman – Chess.com Blitz, 0-1 Do you think white would return the pawn, if we’d let him tuck his king away somewhere safe? I think so. 🙂 The position above is from a nice game I won online where (as black) I sacrificed a pawn and prevented my opponent from castling. We can see that regardless of what a computer says, white is going to have serious issues shielding his king from the incoming onslaught, while also attempting to get his bishop (f1) and rook (h1) out. He failed and lost very quickly from the given position. Here’s how it continued. This is how players respond when their king is exposed. In a panicky fashion which leaks mistakes. Perhaps a computer could have defended (noobs love to say “Stockfish says I’m winning after *insert artificial looking, impossible-to-find-for-a-human move*“, but as I have said before; “Perhaps a computer could have defended the Nazis in WW2. Perhaps a computer could have defended against Mike Tyson’s hammer-like blows in the late 80s… Who cares? In the end the only thing people care about is who won and who lost.” Once you’ve learnt from the game (important, of course), the rest is mental masturbation and crying over spilt milk. Anyway, enough of that rant. The point I’m making (in a round-about way that only I can) is that in the opening we DO need to get our pieces out as FAST as we can, we DO need to control the centre and we DO need to evacuate our own king. On the other hand, we need to be sharp as a whip and ready to mercilessly punish our opponents when they fail to do the same. Don’t let ONE opportunity pass, or let ONE inaccuracy go unpunished. Unlike what wood-pushers and strokers say, DO be ready to attack right out of the opening if your opponent is playing like a pansy or leaving his king out in the cold (so that the queen can come out and nibble on cheese flavoured pawns, for example). Importantly… ALWAYS be ready to prevent your opponent from castling. Here are a couple ways to accomplish this. 1.Block his path (a king is forbidden to castle through an attacked square.) Getting owned after 21.Bh6! by FM from Azerbaijan. Neckminnit….draw 1/2, 1/2 In the position above I was black and my opponent (an FM from Azerbaijan) has just played 21.Bh6! and because the bishop now attacks the f8 square, my king cannot pass through this square. This means it is not legal for me to castle. The master has trapped my king in the centre. I was very very very (not this shit again) lucky to get a draw in this game. Once the enemy king is stranded in the centre, you simply concentrate all your forces on him and tear open the centre where he’ll be waiting in fear. Have no mercy! The other way to prevent castling is simply to… 2. Force him to move his king (Once a king has moved, the option to castle is gone) If your opponent leaves a line (file or diagonal) open to their king, its a great chance to try to smack him before he runs away to safety, here’s an example from another of my brilliant efforts haha! 😉 BrendanJNorman vs zasdf(2233) As we can see here, this annoying check hits black right where it hurts. He must either move his king or block with the bishop (in which case I swap and he has to move his king to recapture anyway). Having been forced to move his king into such an exposed position, my high rated opponent lost quickly. What did I say above about what to do after you’ve prevented castling? Concentrate ALL your forces on their king Tear open the centre (where their king will be waiting in fear) You can see these actions carried out viciously in the final moments of the game quoted above. It continued… More Examples: Conclusions: So what can we conclude from this post? I’d say I have heavily made the case for getting your king castled as soon as you can and placing very special on your own, as well as your opponent’s king safety. Homework: Study all of the examples from this page (over the physical board) and get ready for the final post in the “Chess Strategy for Beginners: Openings” series. It will be about “Putting it all Together”, meaning mastering the three elements of good opening play we have learnt in this series (Rapid Deployment, Central Control and King Safety) and integrating it into your own play. Internalise it, commit it to muscle memory, and implement it in your own play. Stay tuned for the final post in the OPENINGS series which will come very soon.