Castling Early And Piece Coordination

Castling Early And Piece Coordination

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Should You Castle Early?

Question: member scmooney asked, “You stress castling early. In my experience I find that sometimes castling takes the king right into an ambush. In your lecture on attacking a castled king, Black’s castle is being invaded by White and meanwhile White’s king is still sitting in the middle! The one who castled was torn apart by the one who did not. I have read somewhere that the old principle: ‘castle early’ has been updated to: ‘prepare to castle early.’ Like everything else in chess, it seems that whether or not to castle, or when, must be assessed based on the dictates of the particular position. Would you agree? Or is there something more about castling that I need to learn?”

Answer: Most rules in chess are helpful crutches that, in the majority of cases, should be followed. However, during a game you have to look before you follow any rule (chess is cool because at any moment the position might demand that you toss out such things and fend for yourself). Nevertheless, rules are very important for beginners, who need them to create a base of knowledge. Again, it’s VERY important to know such “rules of strategic conduct.” If you don’t know and respect those rules (“always castle,” “passed pawns should be pushed,” “avoid isolated pawns,” “don’t create holes in your position,” “bishops are better than knights in open positions,” “develop your pieces as quickly as possible,” etc.) you’ll be playing blind.

The same thing goes for patterns. The more patterns you know (tactical patterns, structural patterns, etc.), the better you will be. Knowing tons of patterns (from looking over tens of thousands of games) gives you a huge advantage over those that don’t have that information. But, once again, each pattern has to be looked at carefully during play to see if it’s correct in that specific situation.

Mr. scmooney, in the vast majority of cases it’s proper to castle quickly. Yes, you might castle on the kingside and get mated in short order. But you are even more likely to get wiped off the board if your king is sitting in the center. Also, keep in mind that castling also connects the rooks and allows one’s whole army to work in a more fluid manner. 

To finish...Know the rules (and patterns), use them, but ALWAYS assess the position first!

Here’s a game where neither side castled. Black was too busy defending and the 14-year-old Alekhine was too busy attacking. Moreover, after the first seven moves White didn’t want to castle kingside since his h1-rook was enjoying full use of the open h-file.

In our next game (once again played by the young Alekhine) White realizes that he needed to castle since his king would then be out of danger and he could concentrate on the complications that ensued.

Alekhine via Wikipedia. 

Black, though, never got castled and it cost him dearly.

How did Alekhine punish Black’s uncastled king?

This game was a great illustration of what happens when one side castles and the other decides to leave his king in the center.


Question: member SocialistSeal asked, “What are your thoughts on move coordination and knowing when to move certain pieces.”

Answer: Piece coordination means that your pieces work together for a particular goal. Many amateurs make the mistake of developing their forces while ignoring the pawn structure and also ignoring whether or not the pieces are helping each other in some manner. Here’s a very common example (I see it all the time!):

This is already a mistake. Why? Because the c3-knight is a loner, it has nowhere useful to go and it’s not working with its pawns or other pieces in any way, shape, or form. Thus, there is no coordination between this knight and the rest of its army.

Let’s take a closer look: White’s c3-knight can’t move to e4, it doesn’t want to move to a4, and if it leaps to b5 it will be kicked back with ...a6. It is hitting the d5-pawn but after an eventual ...e7-e6 the knight will be bashing its head against granite. Pretty sad! 

Here’s something similar, but this time you’ll see true coordination:

White’s c3-knight is working with its c-pawn to put real pressure against d5. Also, thanks to c2-c4, the c-file might eventually be controlled by a White rook via Rac1. In some lines Qb3 is possible, adding to the overall coordination (queen, knight, and pawn as a team).

Coordination is created in the opening (by making sure your pawns and pieces work for the same goals!) and becomes more and more important as the game progresses. In fact, if you want a successful positional or tactical outcome, coordination is a necessity.

In the following position White has to be winning. Black’s kingside pawn structure is ripped open, and Black’s king is in serious trouble. But those things wouldn’t mean much if White’s pieces weren’t working together in that sector. It takes a coordinated army to get things done. Fortunately for White, his queen, d1-rook, bishop, knight, and c5-pawn are all in the vicinity and are working together (coordination) to kill the enemy king. 

How would you play this position?

A lot can be written about coordination; I hope this little taste will prove helpful.

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