How to Attack the King in Chess

Successful attacks in chess are ones that lead to material gain or checkmate. You cannot win a chess game without attacking either your opponent’s pieces or their king.

Expose and Attack the King in Chess

Attacking opportunities in chess can easily pass unnoticed if you are not looking for opportunities to attack. In order to recognize the chance to attack, you need to understand the fundamental principles of attacking chess.

You will have lots of fun if you attack the king in chess. Of course, your opponent will do his best to make it more difficult for you to checkmate the king, which is what we want.

We remember the thrill of a hard-fought victory longer than the games we win through a blunder by our opponent. Putting in a bit of time to deepen our understanding of attacks in chess will make finding a winning plan in our games easier.

As you will soon learn, open lines are essential to launching a winning attack in chess. Take a look at Garry Kasparov‘s amazing queen sacrifice on move twelve against none other than Vladimir Kramnik, taken from GM Bryan Smith’s 80/20 Tactics Multiplier course.

Attacking the Uncastled King in Chess

One of the first attacks we learn in chess often focuses on the weakness of the f7/f2 squares. These squares are weak because only the king defends them.

However, when attacking the uncastled king, there is a second avenue we need to open – the e-file. Unless you have open lines toward your opponent’s king, you will find it very difficult to develop a successful attack in chess.

Kasparov Quote

Since we intend to attack the king on the e-file, one of the conditions needed is your opponent’s king must somehow be stuck on the e-file or, at the very least, on the central files. 

There are three possible reasons for the king being unable to leave the e-file:

  1. The king must stay in the e-file to defend a piece. For example, this could be a pinned piece on e7 or d7.
  2. You have control of the squares on either side of the king. In this instance, you might have a bishop on the a2-g8 diagonal, preventing the king from castling.
  3. Your opponent’s pieces prevent it from moving by occupying the squares around the king. They might have spent the opening moves developing the queenside first.

Taking advantage of an uncastled king is only possible if you have a queen or rook ready to attack on the open file.

In order to attack an uncastled king, you need to be looking for this opportunity early in the game, so don’t play your chess openings on auto-pilot.

Create Open Lines by Sacrificing a Piece

Opening lines against the king in the center usually requires a piece sacrifice. This thematic attacking sacrifice often occurs in the Sicilian Defense chess opening because Black will often develop on the queenside first.

it is often necessary to sacrifice a piece
Sacrifice on d5 Sicilian Defense

In this position, White opened lines against the black king with 10.Nd5! Although Black’s king managed to escape from the e-file, White could open up the c-file and trap the king on d8.

Here is another example of the black king getting trapped on d8. In both these examples, there is a rook or a queen on the e-file ready to deliver a check.

Sicilian Defense a knight Sacrifice on d5
Sicilian Defense Knight Sacrifice on d5

Attacking the Castled King in Chess

Since castling often occurs, knowing how to attack the castled king is essential in chess. 

When deciding which side to castle on, you are making a commitment since that usually places your king on one side of the board for several moves. Thus, it is something you must consider carefully.

Moving the king to one side of the board by castling is often necessary to safeguard the king. The benefits of providing a haven for the king and activating your rooks often make it an essential move.

Emanuel Lasker Quote

However, sometimes it is a good idea to hold off on castling for a while. You might want to see which side your opponent castles on first.

Also, there are times when it might be harmful to castle because your opponent can launch a strong attack. When your opponent is ready to attack, it is often called “castling into it.”

Castling too early
Castling too early

In this position, White threatens Nd5 when an exchange on f6 will destroy the pawn structure. Castling short now would be a poor decision by Black and would lose the game.

A much better move would be 6…h6, as was played by Bartosz Socko against Andrei Sokolov.

Sokolov, Andrei (2623) – Socko, Bartosz (2610), 2016.08.03, ½ – ½

Two Good Reasons For Delaying Castling

Firstly, delaying castling can give you more opportunities to attack with a pawn storm since you are not moving the pawns in front of your castled king.

Secondly, you might want to wait and castle on the same side as your opponent. Same-side castling makes it riskier for him to launch a pawn storm against your position.

When delaying castling, it is good to keep the option to castle to one side of the board open – this provides your king with a safety net.

You might decide your opponent cannot attack your king right away and begin your attack before castling. 

There is no sense in giving your opponent an extra tempo for his attack by needing two moves to castle.

As you learned earlier, sometimes your king can get exposed in the center very quickly.

The Two Weak Squares to Focus On

When your opponent castles kingside, the two weakest squares in front of the king are g7 and h7 (or g2 and h2). Ideally, you’d like to play Qxg7 since this prevents …Kf8, which might be possible if you play Qxh7.

Although playing Qxg7 and delivering checkmate is nice, sometimes you can take advantage of the g7/g2 square with other pieces. Opening the g-file by capturing on f6 and forcing your opponent to play fxg6 is often enough to launch a devastating attack.

Remember, a critical attacking motif is the rook swing when you bring a rook across on the third or fourth ranks.

As with attacking the king in the center, opening lines against the castled king is crucial for launching a successful attack in chess.

Unsurprisingly, it is usually easier to open the h-file or g-file than the f-file because after castling short, a rook defends the f-pawn, so it is upon the g-pawn and h-pawn we need to focus our attack in chess. 

Paul Morphy made excellent use of his bishops and rooks to win his game against Louis Paulsen in 1857. Morphy opened the g-file with a queen sacrifice on f3.

Interestingly, Paulsen resigned because mate on h2 was unavoidable.

Louis Paulsen – Paul Morphy, 1857.11.03, 0-1, 1st American Chess Congress Round 4.6, New York, NY USA

Seventy-six years later, Jose Raul Capablanca attacked the g7-square to defeat Herman Steiner. Capablanca only needed to sacrifice a rook to launch a mating attack that saw the black king checkmated on c5.

Jose Raul Capablanca – Herman Steiner, 1933.04.11, 1-0, Living Chess Exhibition, Los Angeles, CA USA

The Greek Gift: A Must-Know Attack in Chess

One of the most well-known attacks against h7 is the “Greek Gift,” where White sacrifices a bishop for the pawn on h7 to expose the king. Knowing how this sacrifice unfolds in chess will allow you to combine the attacking motif even if the pawn has moved from h7.

Black met g5 with …hxg5 in the following position.

Greek Gift
Greek Gift thematic attacking motif

White wins with Bh7+ Kxh7 Qh5+ Kg8 hxg5 f5 g6 when checkmate on h7 or h8 is unavoidable.

In Conclusion

Open lines are one common thread running through all successful attacks against the king in chess. This makes perfect sense because if you cannot reach the king, you will never be able to deliver checkmate.

Along with knowing how to open lines, it is vital to understand the weak points to focus on when your opponent has castled. In many instances, your opponents will not help you by creating weaknesses in their position.

Even without their help, if you know the weak squares in front of the castled king are g7 and h7, you will learn to position your pieces where they can attack these squares in your chess games.

There is nobody better than GM Bryan Smith to teach you the art of launching stunning attacks with the aid of positional sacrifices. 

Take your game up a notch and learn how two of the greatest attacking players – Garry Kasparov and Alexander Alekhine – used them to win games.

Thanks to his many years of coaching experience, GM Bryan Smith knows exactly what you need to know and how to explain the underlying principles clearly.

Deepen your chess knowledge and add several deadly sacrifices to your arsenal. Grab your copy of 80/20 Tactics Multiplier: Positional Sacrifices now, and you will get instant access with 50% Off!

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