Every chess beginner knows the importance of castling. If you leave your King in the centre, it remains in danger. By castling you move it to the side of the board, away from danger and, usually, surrounded by defenders. The castled position is undoubtedly the best place for the King in the opening and middlegame.
This section deals with some ways to beat the castled King, taken from my own games. Though the games are from three different openings and very different positions, they all follow the same recipe for success. I’ll explain it briefly here and go in depth during the games.
First, have more attackers than defenders. Either chase away or exchange defenders, leaving you freely to ransack the King.
Second, use a sacrifice to open lines for the attack. The pawns shield the King, so once they are gone the attack rolls along like clockwork. Usually the defender won’t just let you take the pawns for free, so a sacrifice is nearly always in order.
Third, be ready to use your Rooks. A Rook adds so much more weight to an attack, and it’s a crime to leave such a powerful piece at home, staring at nothing instead of mating the King.
Fourth, win. Seriously, that’s it. If you have more attackers than defenders, look to sacrifice something and then use your Rooks to win the King. Sounds easy, right? Maybe in a perfect world, that is. Let’s see some examples.
[Note: this is part two of a coming four-part series on chess attack. Part One is about attacking the uncastled King, Part Three is about my pet attacking openings, and Part Four discusses my personal development as an attacking player.]
Example 1 Smithy – Beckett, 2003
This was played near the height of my all-out attacking style. It features all four elements in perfect clarity. As an aside, this is how I won most of games pre-2006 or so, whereas now it’s a rarity. I didn’t know much about positional chess back then, but I knew how to flush out a naked King.
1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 b6!? 3.c4 Bb7 4.Nc3 d5 5.e3 dxc4?! 6.Bxc4 e6 7.0-0 Bd6
Black is slightly behind in development. Indeed, he’s using a somewhat unorthodox opening. Over the next few moves, notice how I next bring my Rook into the game and then start aggressive overtures at the enemy King.
8.Re1 0-0 9.e4 Bb4 10.Qd3 c5 11.e5 Nd5
Black is still behind in development, and even worse, he is no defenders on the Kingside. Almost all of my pieces can jump there within two moves. I’m already smelling blood, and I jump in.
12.Ng5 g6 13.Nxh7!
I had the advantage of attackers over defenders, and now I sacrifice to open lines. This is an easy sacrifice to make, because it’s not easy to see how any of Black’s pieces can help defend.
13… Kxh7 14.Qh3+ Kg8 15.Re4!
This is the final piece of the puzzle, adding the Rook. The threat is simply to transfer over to the h-file and mate on the lines freshly opened by the Knight sacrifice. There’s not much Black can do to stop it.
15… f5 16.Rh4 Kf7 17.Rh7+ Ke8 18.Qh6!?
… I’m not going to lie, I simply missed Rxb7. That said, my position remains so powerful that continuing the attack makes perfect sense. Black cannot defend, and he resigns in two moves anyway.
18… Ne7 19.Nb5 Nbc6 20.Nd6+ 1-0
My attack flowed like clockwork. I was aided by Black’s somewhat strange opening choice, but I still had a lot of work to do. I needed to chase the King’s defenders away and then pounce, unafraid to sacrifice a piece to open lines. Once I did that, though, the rest was easy (to the point where the computer thinks my final three moves were all inaccuracies and yet I won anyway!)
Example 2: Smithy – Diggitus, 2005
This game shows a more complex example: I tried my hardest to start an attack, but it wasn’t working … until my opponent overlooked my sacrifice and then the walls came crashing down.
1.c4 c6 2.e4 d5 3.exd5 cxd5 4.cxd5 Nf6 5.Nc3 Nxd5 6.d4 Nc6 7.Bc4 Nxc3 8.bxc3 e6 9.Nf3 Bd6 10.0-0 0-0
So far, a pretty typical position for the Anti-Caro Kann. I have more space but a slightly worse pawn structure. Black hopes to use my c-pawn as a weakness on the half-open file. I, of course, hope to use his King as a punching bag.
11.Re1 Ne7 12.Bg5?! Qc7 13.Qd3 h6 14.Bd2 Bd7
In all honestly, Black has outplayed me here: he is ready to Rc8, hitting my Bishop and pressuring the pawn, as is his plan. He is also ready to play Nd5, again hitting the pawn, and maybe Bc6. My pieces don’t have the same harmony. Sensing this, I begin to lunge at the Kingside.
15.Ne5 Rfd8 16.Bb3 Be8!? 17.Qf3 Nc6?! 18.Ng4 Rac8
I have now outplayed my opponent, and Black here misses my threat, though to be fair the computer suggests that 18…Bf8 is the best move, which is a damn hard move to find. I have five potential attackers versus two defenders, so that’s good. Now I just need to ask, do I have a potential sacrifice?
19.Nxh6+! gxh6 20.Qg4+ Kh7 21.Qh4
The position has changed considerably, and we now see that Black’s King safety is the number one priority. My weak c-pawn means nothing if he gets checkmated!
21… Bf8 22.Bc2+ Kg8 23.Bxh6 Bxh6 24.Qxh6 f6 25.Re3!
This brings the Rook into the attack, which more or less seals Black’s fate. His last move, f6, tried to open the seventh rank for defence of his pieces, but it’s not enough.
25… Rd7 26.Rg3+ Rg7 27.Qh7+! 1-0
A wonderful final move, using the pin. Black can’t take my Queen, and in a few moves I’ll pick up the Rook, being ahead in material and still with a vicious attack, so Black naturally resigns. We see how the same general strategy worked, even as Black had a better position out of the opening. He made a few careless moves, and my concentration of forces on the Kingside made all the difference.
Example 3: Smithy – Pumpkin, 2004
Now for something completely different: I lose a pawn in a strange opening, and my opponent then castles Queenside. If I play normal moves I simply lose. I bank everything on a mating attack, made difficult by my lack of space … and against all odds it succeeds!
1.e4 a6!? 2.d4 b5 3.Be4 Bb7 4.Nd2 e6 5.Ngf3 c5 6.c3 Nf6 7.Bd3 Be7 8.0-0 Nc6
Considering Black played 1…a6 as his first move, things are pretty normal. I have the perfect classical position: strong centre, Bishops and Knights developed to the centre, castled King. Black has a normal Sicilian position, save he hasn’t exchanged for my d-pawn.
Nonetheless, I was evidently so distracted by his first move that I played the next few moves poorly, landing in a worse position.
9.Rc1?! Qc7?! 10.Bg5?! (I never noticed that I could just win the c-pawn with dxc5…) d6 11.d5 exd5 12.exd5 Nxd5 13.Bxe7 Nxe7 14.Re1 0-0-0
So the bad news, I lost a pawn. Good news, he had a backwards pawn on the d-file, and the pawns around his King are advanced, slightly weakening his position. Not knowing what else to do, as I’d simply lose if I played ‘normal moves,’ I try to pry open his King position.
15.a4 c4 16.axb5 axb5 17.Bf1!?
17.Bc2 is the more natural move, but I figured my only chance was to sacrifice a piece on c4, clearing his pawns and using the open lines to attack his King. This is perhaps a pessimistic view of the position. Bc2 would support b3, opening the position without needing to sacrifice a piece … which makes sense, but doesn’t have the same dynamic or beauty as the game continuation!
17… h6 18.b3 d5 19.bxc4 dxc4 20.Qc2 g5?!
Fortunately for me, my opponent doesn’t understand this position much better than I do. He tries for a pawn assault against me, a plan that takes a lot of time. This allows me to get my pieces ready for my eventual sacrifice on c4.
Again, this is my only plan: sacrifice a piece. And I was rated 1800 at the time. Sometimes higher-rated players aren’t any more sophisticated than that.
21.Ra1 f5 22.Reb1 g4 23.Ne1!? Qd7
Poor Black. His last move hits my Knight, which looks trapped. Little does he know that I’ve been planning on sacrificing it for the last dozen moves!
24.Nxc4! bxc4 25.Bxc4
The position has now completely changed. White is charging in with everything, and while Black has virtually all his pieces nearby, they aren’t in the best places to defend. In addition, I have two Rooks on two completely open files staring directly at Black’s King.
If Black defends accurately, the computer suggests he can hold the position. If he doesn’t, he loses in two moves.
25… Ne5? 26.Rxb7! Kxb7 27.Qb3+ 1-0
Black resigns, as his naked King is about to get pummelled. This game featured a lot of inaccuracies and mistakes from my part, but I kept my focus on the same things: bring attackers to the King, sacrifice to open lines, use Rooks to mate him. It worked. It’s crude, but it worked. When you’re down material, sometimes you have no other choice than to go nuclear.
And as all these games show, it’s much easier to be the attacker than the defender.
These games are not without blemishes, but that’s what makes this strategy so real and so useful for the improving intermediate player. Bottomline, it works. You still need to calculate, but if you can get the right position and know what to look for, those calculations become easier and easier and better and better for you.
One more time, the general strategy for attacking the castled King:
- Get more attackers than defenders.
- Sacrifice something to open lines
- Use your Rooks on those freshly open lines.
In particular, that last step is important.