The King Escapes! Long Live the King!

queen's gambit netflix

“The Queen’s Gambit” (Netflix) again brings us a very instructional chess encounter.

Beth plays a queen sacrifice and launches a successful attack. Meanwhile, her opponent, Borgov, showed us how not to attack.

Yes, you can learn from other people’s mistakes, but it feels better if you focus on what people are doing right. Improve your chess results by learning how to launch successful attacks!

Don’t let your opponent’s king escape!

Estimated reading time: 9 minutes

The Four Key Elements to a Successful Attack

Before you sacrifice material, make certain you have all four elements needed to succeed in chess. Only sacrifice material when you know:

  • your main target – usually the king,
  • how many pieces will be involved – you must have more attacking pieces, than there are defenders,
  • there are open lines to your target,
  • and which of your opponent’s pieces is the main defender?

Winning a game of chess is hard enough without giving your opponent a material advantage.

In this game, Mamedyarov doesn’t give his opponent the chance to get his king to safety. Even a strong chess player like Svidler, rated at 2768, couldn’t save the game after getting his king caught in the center.

Everybody loves to play attacking chess, but you need to create these opportunities. Unless you have a good position with well-placed pieces, your attack will fail.

In this Netflix episode of “The Queen’s Gambit“, Borgov would have done well to count the number of defenders he was facing.

Open Lines

Without access to the opponent’s king, you won’t be able to launch a successful attack. Piece sacrifices often play an essential part in attacks.

After opening lines to the king, keep bringing more pieces into the attack. There’s no need to have calculated all the way to checkmate.

Keep the pressure on by maintaining the initiative. It’s often possible to seize the initiative or gain a positional advantage by sacrificing a pawn.

Attacking the King in the Center

Do whatever you can to keep your opponent’s king in the center. See if you can force the king to move with a check.

A king that can’t castle and is trapped in the center will often prevent a rook from getting into play. Eliminate any chance he has of reaching safety on the side of the board.

In the following video, GM Mihail Marin explains how to attack the king in the center:

When studying your openings, be sure to learn typical tactics and sacrifices of the opening. For example, if you play the Open Sicilian Defense, be aware of when to sacrifice on e6 or d5.

Even if you have played a sacrifice, the principles of good chess still apply. Continue to play, as usual, don’t rush to regain your sacrificed material.

A lead in development and central control is often enough for you to launch an attack even in the opening.

When you are ahead in development, you have a dynamic advantage and must use it before it’s gone. Don’t be afraid to sacrifice material to prevent your opponent from castling.

Before the king gets castled, you can attack the kingside fianchetto by advancing your h-pawn. That will make your opponent hesitant to castle.

Look to exchange the bishop on g7 and knight on f6. These are the key defenders of the kingside.

If you can’t exchange the knight on f6, look to draw it away with play in the center. Consider moves like Nd5 or d5 to distract the knight.

Always look to see if you can create threats with every move when attacking a king stuck in the center. Bring your rooks to open files to take control of the seventh rank.

When your king is in the center, try to close the position and quickly develop, to enable you to castle.

Opening Lines Against the Castled King

When you have opposite sides castling, the most significant factor is time. Your attack needs to reach the king first. 

In positions like this, you can launch a pawn storm without endangering your king. Support your pawn storm with as many pieces as you can.

Be aware of typical sacrifices like an exchange sacrifice on c3 or sacrificing a minor piece on h7.

The exchange sacrifice may not lead to a checkmate, but it can give you a weakness to play against in the endgame. This sacrifice is even more powerful if you have the bishop pair.

A closed center allows you to play a pawn storm on the sides of the board. Look to play on the side where you have more space.

If you have castled on the same side, it’s best to attack with your pieces leading the way. This way you will avoid presenting your opponent with counter-attacking chances against your exposed king.

Build up the pressure with your pieces until you are about to launch your attack. Sacrifices usually happen during the final stage of the attack.

In many instances, sacrifices form part of the winning combination. When you can’t see a way to breach his defenses, consider all the possible sacrifices.

Here is the great Akiba Rubinstein sacrificing a queen against Georg Rotlewi in 1907.

Ensure You have Enough Pieces

Before you play a sacrifice, make sure you have enough attackers. You need more attackers than there are defenders if you want to launch a powerful attack!

First, look to improve your position, restrict any counter-play your opponent might have, and bring any of your bad pieces to good squares.

Time is a critical element in chess. Don’t launch an attack until you are sure your other pieces can join the attack in time.

Bring them closer to your target before you play a sacrifice. Try to force your opponent to move defenders away by starting action on the other flank.

Forcing moves force wins, so look for them first. However, sometimes a preparatory move might be more dangerous.

An example is if your opponent has advanced his f-pawn, and you can stop him from castling with Bc4.

If you identify and focus on the weak points, it is easier to open lines.

Removing the Key Defender

The knight on f3 is a key defender when white castles kingside. In openings like the English Opening and Catalan Opening the bishop on g2 is also a key defender.

When playing black you can sometimes tempt white to capture your rook on a8 with this key bishop.

In the Sicilian Dragon, it’s not uncommon for black to play …Bh8 and sacrifice the rook on f8. When white has castled on the queenside, the black’s dark-squared bishop is a powerful attacker.

Always consider the relative value of your own and your opponent’s pieces. In a position with an open diagonal and no open files, bishops are often stronger than rooks.

After removing the key defender look to attack the squares that are now weak. A bishop on g2 controls the key squares h3 and f3.

Once it gets exchanged, these squares become potential entrance points for the black pieces. White will find it very difficult to drive any pieces away from these squares.

When playing the French Defense, the exchange sacrifice on f3 is a thematic sacrifice you must always be ready to play. Creating a queen a bishop battery aimed at h2 makes it more powerful.

exchange sac on f3
The exchange sacrifice on f3 is a thematic one every French Defense player must know.

After …Rxf3 gxf3, black can capture the h2-pawn, leaving the white king very exposed.

A Word of Warning about Premature Attacks

There is no sense in attacking if your attack will run out of steam and leave you in a worse position.

Unless you are sure that you have the better position, don’t attack. Always attack from a strong position.

Once again we can learn how not to play chess from “The Queen’s Gambit” (Netflix). Borgov was certainly not attacking from a position of strength.

When in doubt, don’t!

Beth's most feared opponent in "The Queen's Gambit" (Netflix) is Borgov
Beth’s most feared opponent in “The Queen’s Gambit” (Netflix) is Borgov.

The exception to this rule is if you are in a positionally lost position. Complicating the position will make it more challenging for your opponent to find the right attacking plan.

There is also a greater chance of him making mistakes in a complicated position. Mistakes he is less likely to make if you play passively.

Burn your bridges and go for an all-out attack. Throw everything you have at your opponent, no matter how little you have.

Final Thoughts on Attacking in “The Queen’s Gambit” (Netflix)

Before you launch your attack, make sure your king is safe from harm.

In the game, defending can be extremely difficult, even in positions that your chess engine evaluates as equal. That’s why playing with only a small initiative can make things very difficult for your opponent.

Always consider your opponent’s best move in your calculations. Don’t attack if you are hoping he won’t find the best defense.

Learning how to improve your attacking play is a lot of fun.

Sacrificing material is scary at first, but the more you play them, the better you will get. There are few feelings as good as a successful queen sacrifice in chess.

Beth must have enjoyed playing the many sacrifices she made throughout the “Queen’s Gambit” (Netflix).

Act Now and Get 50% Off! Mihail Marin’s Attacking Academy gives you 15 hours of world-class chess coaching on how to attack in chess! Improve your winning chances for Only $39.95!

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