5 Ways to achieve your king-safety objective in chess

king safety objective in chessIn this lesson we will look at 5 practical things you can do to achieve your king-safety objective.

They are:

  1. Treat the squares near the opponent’s king as a target-area
  2. Look for ways to open and expose the enemy king
  3. Don’t allow an exposed king to escape
  4. Keep making relentless threats against an exposed king
  5. Always keep the safety of your own king in mind

Next we will look at some examples that illustrates each of these 5 points in more detail.

1. Treat the squares near the opponent’s king as a target-area

In the lessons about the center-control objective we learnt that we should aim to attack and control the central squares. Similarly, the squares near the enemy king should also be treated as targets. The king can’t move very fast – this makes him a rather static target and we should direct our forces towards this target once the situation in the center is stable.

Launching an attack on the opponent’s king is only advisable once your own king is relatively safe and when the situation in the center is under control. It is a bad idea to start an attack if you in the process give your opponent a chance to take control of the center. In order to sustain a successful attack against an opponent’s king you will need to bring enough forces to that area of the board. If your opponent has control of the center, you will probably not be able to sustain a successful attack on the enemy king. Don’t forget that the central squares are still the most important squares on the board.

As a “rule-of-thumb” a flank-attack (on one if the sides) can only work while the situation in the center is under control.

Here is an example that illustrates how the squares near the enemy king can be treated as targets:

king safety 9

White removes an important defender of the black king. After gxf6, white will follow up with Qh5! and put overwhelming pressure on the h7-square.

There are usually a number of good ways to continue an attack against the opponent’s king. Once you can attack and expose the opponent’s king – you usually obtain a big advantage.

2. Look for ways to expose the enemy king

There are sometimes surprising ways to expose the opponent’s king. Since an exposed king is so vulnerable, it is possible to even sacrifice material to bring the king into the open.

In this example black found a surprisingly effective way to expose the white king:

Bxf2+! totally exposes the white king since after KXf2, black will follow-up with Qc5+! forcing white to give back material with Nd4.
Bxf2+! totally exposes the white king since after KXf2, black will follow-up with Qc5+! forcing white to give back material with Nd4.

The example proves that you should always consider options that open up the enemy king – even if it involves sacrificing some material. Of course, before you sacrifice material you should first calculate to be sure that you get enough compensation in return for the sacrificed material.

3. Don’t allow an exposed king to escape

In this position white is behind in material but he has compensation in the sense that the black king is exposed and vulnerable.

king safety 11

The move Bh6 does 2 very important things:

  1. It prevents the black king from running to the g7-square
  2. It opens squares for the queen to also join the attack via the g5

Black was “threatening” to run back to safety on the next move by playing Kg7. If white couldn’t stop the black king from returning to a safe square he would probably lose the game due to being behind in material.

When you have exposed your opponent’s king you should give high priority to making sure that the king doesn’t get back to a safe place.

4. Make relentless threats against an exposed king

An exposed king is a target that you should attack relentlessly – never give your opponent an easy way out. Keep making threats against the king and make sure he can’t escape.

Every move you make should force your opponent to defend against a serious threat. If you don’t do this, you risk that your opponent might suddenly start a counter-attack or find a way to get his king back to safety.

This example illustrates how you should mercilessly keep your opponent’s king under pressure when you have the chance to do it:

White does not capture a rook right away. Instead, he uses checks and captures the rooks whilst keeping the black king in check, ie. Qe7+ Kg8 Qxd8+ or Qe7+ Kh6 Qxh4+
White does not capture a rook right away. Instead, he uses checks and captures the rooks whilst keeping the black king in check, ie. Qe7+ Kg8 Qxd8+ or Qe7+ Kh6 Qxh4+

White could have played Qxd8 or Qxh4 straight away on the first move of the example. However, white didn’t want to give black time to organize his defenses and made sure that he first exploited the vulnerable king to the maximum and win as much material as possible in the process.

The purpose of this example was to illustrate how to exploit an exposed king by making threats for as long as possible and obtaining as much advantage as possible from it.

5. Keep the safety of your own king in mind

In this position it is white to move – he is thinking about the move Bf6?! which seems to win instantly since black will not be able the stop the Qg7# threat…

king safety 13
Bf6? A big mistake! Black now plays Qxg3+ (f2 is pinned by Bb6), followed by Qf3+ and Qxf6.

This lesson will help you to remember that you should never be so taken up with your own plans and ideas that you forget your opponent’s options!

Next Lesson – Objectives in Chess: Keep a strong pawn-structure

Previous Lesson – Objectives in Chess: Keep the king safe

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