‘Attack’ can mean many different things in chess. Some people immediately imagine sacrifices and unbelievable tactics. Others think of opposite-side castling and pawnstorms, like the Sicilian Dragon. Some people might even think about weak pawns and attacking them to win an endgame.
Those people are weird.
For me, when I think of an attack, I immediately picture the attack against an uncastled King. That is my favourite, bar none. There’s something magical, even romantic, about mating the uncastled King. I mean, we all know we should castle, yet sometimes we don’t, and those are the exact times that I relish the most.
Of course, people aren’t staying in the middle just for fun. Often we get distracted. Maybe we try to win a pawn and forget about our King. Maybe we think the position is closed and we are in no immediate danger. Maybe we just forget. For whatever reason, we don’t castle and then we inevitably pay for it. Here are four of my favourite examples from my own games.
[Note: this is part one of a coming four-part series on chess attack. Part Two is on attacking the castled King, Part Three is about my pet attacking openings, and Part Four discusses my personal development as an attacking player.]
Example 1: Smithy – Nay, 2007
1.b4 e5 2.a3 d5 3.Bb2 d4!?
Black immediately tries to blunt my Bishop. For the record, I don’t play 1.b4 often, but sometimes you need to unleash creativity. I’ve played it ten times according to my records, with a 60% success rate, and this game is by far my favourite.
4.Nf3 f6 5.e3 dxe3 6.fxe3 Bg4 7.Be2 a6?! 8.0-0 Bd6 9.e4!
Black has invested a lot of time in his strategy to limit my Bishop. He is well behind in development, and so far he has only moved his Bishops. After this move, I start to play in the centre, and he attempts to stop me … at the cost of not castling.
9… Ne7 10.c3 c5?! 11.bxc5 Bxc5+ 12.d4 exd4 13.cxd4 Qb6 14.Qd2 Bd6 15.Bc4
Black has, somewhat foolishly, opened the centre after spending so much time trying to close it. After Bc4, he can no longer castle, and that more or less decides the game.
15…Qc7 16.Rc1 Qd7 17.Nc3 Qc7?!
Black continues to waste time. In fairness, he is trying to get my Bishop to move off that annoying diagonal, but this isn’t the right way. I decide now to go all-out.
18.e5! fxe5 19.Ne4!
I sacrifice a pawn and, instead of recapturing, jump forward. As the vomit of arrows above suggests, I have numerous threats, the most immediate being Bf7+ with a discovered attack on the Queen.
19… Qb6 20.Rab1 Bxf3 21.Ba1!? Qd8 22.gxf3 Bxa3
My opponent grabs another pawn, which isn’t as stupid as it seems. I mean, yes, ideally he should be castling and finishing development, but how can he do that? At least now he can try Nd5 to block the diagonal. More to the point, if he grabs enough pawns and I don’t mate him in five moves, he wins the endgame. It’s probably his best bet.
At this point, I don’t care one iota about material and now offer the Rook.
23.Rxb7! Rxc1 24.Qxc1 exd4 25.Qf4
Black is way up in material, but with all his pieces sitting on the back rank and his King facing the firing squad dead ahead, he’s done. He tried 25…Rf8 but had to resign after 26.Nd6+. One of my favourite attacking games. Most of my exchange sacrifices never worked this well!
Here’s the full game with an interactive board.
Example 2: Smithy – Al, 2012
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 h6!? 5.Bf4!? c6 6.Be5!?
Um… suffice to say, this game got weird fast. I should point out that, at the time of this game, Al was rated higher than me, but he always plays weird in the opening. He took it too far in this game, and it inspired me to play strange right back.
6… Qd5 7.Qg4 Rh7?! 8.Bd3 g6 9.Ne2 Nd7 10.Nf4?! Qa5+! 11.c3 Nxe5 12.dxe5 Qxe5
I accidentally sacrificed a pawn. Opps. On the bright side, he has only developed his Queen and Rook (lol), so I have chances for compensation. I have to be fast, though, as otherwise he will castle, hide behind his pawns and then emerge a clear pawn to the good.
13.0-0-0 Ne7 14.Rhe1 Bg7
White is fully developed but Black is almost ready to castle and consolidate. Truly, if he goes Queenside castling, none of my forces are ready to pursue him. I need to act now, in the spirit of Tal…
15.Nxg6!? Nxg6 16.Nd6+ Qxd6 17.Bxg6
A flurry of sacrifices, and it keeps going!
17…Qxd1+! 18.Rxd1 Rh8 19.Qh4?! (Bh5 was better, as the computer suggests Black has a draw with best play now) Bd7 (this is not best play…)
And now 20.Bxf7+ Kxf7 21.Rxd7+ led to a prolonged initiative for me, which I used to pick up pawns and the game in a dozen or so more moves. To see the rest, see the board below. This game is unique, at least among my games, in that the attack and sacrifice did not immediately lead to mate, but simply a large positional advantage that eventually led to a win.
Example 3: Smithy – Somporn, 2004
This is perhaps the perfect example of a person getting distracted by non-essential things instead of castling, and he then pays for it in a very efficient attack, one of my bests.
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 exd5 4.c4
This was my pet variation against the French defence for many years. Objectively it’s not that great and I no longer play it, but I feasted on a few scalps in its heyday.
4… c6 5.Nc3 Bb4 6.Bd3 Qe7+ 7.Ne2 Nf6 8.0-0 Be6?!
My opponent had a chance to castle on his last move, but instead he tries to win a pawn with Be6. He wants me to exchange on d5, giving me the Isolated Queen’s Pawn and him with an otherwise excellent position. That’s a pretty good reason to not exchange on d5, then!
9.Nf4! dxc4 10.Nxe6 fxe6 11.Bxc4 Bxc3? 12.bxc3 b5?
My opponent hopes to push my Bishop back to b3, preventing Qb3. Of course, in such an undeveloped state, he has no business pushing flank pawns. Here, I have 13.Bxe6!, as he can’t recapture because of Re1, pinning the Queen.
13… Na6 14.Re1 Kf8 15.Bb3 Qd6 16.Re6 Qc7 17.Ba3+
Things aren’t looking too good for Black. The combination of dual Bishops and the centralized Rook absolutely incinerate his position.
17… c5 18.dxc5 Nxc5 19.Qf3 Re8
This allows for one of my prettier final combinations. 20.Rxf6+! gxf6 21.Qxf6 Qf7 22.Qxf7#. As far as attacks against uncastled Kings go, this one is about textbook: keep stuck in centre, centre then opens way up, King then gets opened up.
Example 4: Smithy – Sanbarrett, 2004
This final game is perhaps my best attacking game … ever.
1.e4 e5 2.f4 d6!? 3.Nf3 Nc6 4.Bc4 exf4?! 5.d4 Bg4 6.Bxf4 Be7
Yes, I play the King’s Gambit sometimes. It’s fun. You’ll also be amazed at how often people play strange moves against it. Look at this position: my opponent played a series of limiting moves, all because of 2.f4. And it gets stranger.
7.0-0 h6 8.Nc3 g5?! 9.Bg3 Bh5?!
My opponent explained, after the game, that he wanted to start a pawnstorm against my King, as I had ‘castled early.’ This would be a great idea … if he had finished development and castled Queenside first.
Back in the day, I sometimes had a short fuse, where if the switch got flipped, I went all out attacker. I called it my inner Big Cat, my lion, my tiger. This was one of those times.
10.e5!? dxe5 11.d5!? Nd4 12.Bxe5
I’m forking Knight and Rook, which forces Black’s reply.
12… Nxf3+ 13.Rxf3!? Bxf3 14.Qxf3+
Not content with just sacrificing a pawn, I now give up the exchange. In return, I have virtually my entire army barreling down at an uncastled King. That’s pretty decent compensation, I think.
14… Bc5+ 15,Kh1 f6 16.Re1!
I now offer my Bishop as well! He can’t really take it … but he can’t not take it either. He’s simply busted.
16… fxe5 17.Rxe5+ Be7 18.Bb5+ c6 19.dxc6 Nf6? 20.Qxf6 a6 21.c7+ 0-1
I have never (successfully!) sacrificed so many pieces as in this game. Everything just went forward and things were happy. Moral of the story: don’t start pawnstorms against the King’s Gambit when you haven’t castled.
All four games followed the same general script: White developed quickly and castled, Black got caught focused on something else. Whether he tried to win a pawn or start an attack or just make really bizarre opening moves, he got distracted, and that’s what led to quick and emphatic victories.
If you remember to develop and castle, this won’t happen to you. Conversely. if you see your opponent getting distracted early on and avoiding castling, rush on in.