The Value Of The Active King

The Value Of The Active King

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The king is a strong piece – use it! A quote, attributed to Reuben Fine, that underlines the importance of King's activity, mainly regarding the endgames. But what about before? And what is this before? Endgames are mostly defined by the number of pieces left on the chessboard and by the King's safety, that allows this further activity. Although these definitions are probably totally correct, they aren't always handy to define if a position belongs either to middlegame or endgame.

"On second thoughts maybe I will be silly and suggest that on the usual point count (Q=9, R=5, B/N=3, and ignoring K and P) an endgame is probably a position in which the total 'piece-count' is less than or equal to thirteen points each; that includes two rooks plus minor piece, queen plus minor piece, or four minor pieces, but not more. Alternatively one could try to define the endgame in terms of piece function. One might say that the endgame is a position in which the king can be used actively - but then, there are some famous games of Petrosian, and for that matter what about Steinitz?" [in Endgame Preparation by Jon Speelman, 1981, introduction].

This 13-point factor can be used more easily I think. And in the following blog, this standard is used to distinguish the middlegames from endgames, choosing rather the former when it's possible. Regarding King's activity, as I see it, K can have two main functions as attacking piece, besides of course capturing right away. 1. supporting other pieces, usually pawns & 2. cutting the path of the opposite K, using opposition of any kind, horizontal, vertical, diagonal even the so-called N-opposition. I can also think of one third, letting space for other pieces, eg. connecting rooks instead of castling. But in a same spirit, I set arbitrarily as a limit for King's activity, his step on his 3rd rank [maybe I've read it somewhere, but can't remember]. For this blog cases of King's activity exclusively for safety are excluded.

So let's see this story...

[all games & positions are in the end of this post for downloading]

index
Chapters Games & positions
At the beginnings. Shatranj & Medieval Chess
  • Abu Naam mansuba
  • 53rd chess problem in Alfonso X
Early modern chess
  • Early openings
  • Domenico di Leonardis vs Oratio Conte, 17th century
Until the 1800s

The revolution of the 19th century in theory

Early games before Steinitz
  • Lewis vs Parkinson, 1816
  • Morphy vs Salmon, 1858
  • Mackenzie vs Mason, 1882
  • Mayet vs und der Lasa, 1839
  • Rosenthal vs Meitner, 1873
  • Anderssen vs de Riviere, 1859
Steinitz
  • Steinitz vs Fleissig, 1873
  • Steinitz vs Zukertort, 1872
After Steinitz
  • Schories vs Shoosmith, 1907
  • Pillsbury vs Pollock, 1895
  • Duras vs Teichmann, 1906
Interwar period. Liberation
  • Villegas vs Illa, 1922
  • Weenink vs Gans, 1923
  • Alekhine vs Capablanca, 1938
After WWII. King's feeling
King in the middle
  • Ivkov vs Smyslov, 1965
  • Suran vs Blatny, 2017
  • Le Quang Liem vs Dubov, 2018
  • Petrosian vs Mecking, 1971
Attacking the King with King or entering the enemy camp
  • Chalkhasuren vs Korning, 1962
  • Fiedgood vs Schorr, 1964
  • Geller vs Hort, 1968
  • Pablaza vs Gruenfeld, 1984
  • Short vs Timman, 1991
  • Kramnik vs Topalov, 2003
  • Gashimov vs Grischuk, 2010
  • Mastrovasilis vs Sepp, 2010
  • Pantsulaia vs Lomsadze, 2017
  • Persson vs Laurusas, 2018
  • Swayams vs Dolana, 2019
Owning the chessboard
  • Psakhis vs Hebden, 1983
  • Navara vs Wojtaszek, 2015

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At the beginnings. Shatranj & Medieval Chess          up

Shatranj & early medieval chess have almost identical rules. Just to remind you quickly that there's no castling, Bishops are 2,2 leapers, Queen moves and takes only 1 square diagonally and pawn is promoting only into Q & has no double step. Murray, p. 227, translating a passage of the so-called Man. MS, copied in 850/1446, gives an early estimation of the pieces' relative values, tried by As-Suli.

"The Shah [K] is reckoned beyond value because of his superior dignity. The highest in value after the Shah is the Rukh [R]. Its value is one dirhem. The Faras' [N] value is 2/3 dirhem. The Firzan's [Q] value is 1/3 dirhem, but some say 3/8 dirhem. The Fil's [B] value is 1/4 dirhem. KP and QP, each 1/4 dirhem; BP and KtP, each 1/6 dirhem rising to 1/5 dirhem; a marginal P 1/8 dirhem because it can only take on one side."

Taking as unit the value of BP or KtP, the values are: Baidaq [P] = 0.63-1.25, Fil [B] = 1.25, Firzan [Q] = 1.66 or 1.88, Faras [N] = 3.33, Rukh [R] = 5 and Shah [K] = ∞. Noticeable that N & R relation is almost the same nowadays.

Then I've looked at shatranj's openings in the MSS. And one could say that they look more like our systems, as maybe Torre attack or KIA, rather than openings. And this as they are presenting more often the position of one side only. One common thing is that in almost all the ta'biyat [shatranj openings] the pawns have advanced 1, 2 or 3 steps but staying connected, with the rest of the pieces behind. But it should be expected as in shatranj there are already four leapers for each side [Bs+Ns] and Queens aren't that strong yet. Concerning King's activity, in most, he stays at his initial square. But in some he has stepped in his 2nd rank, letting the rooks be connected. Here're two examples of the latter.

Mu'aqrab [19 moves] Masha'ikhi [19 moves]

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*In Europe the medieval game appeared in some intermediate forms depending the country that it was played. Spanish one seems to be closer to the Arabic shatranj. In other places a King's leap as first move was in the rules and a possible pawn's double step. These of course would effect the openings, however I couldn't find usable information, as in shatranj, so to give them here. Generally speaking I've found in Murray some short opening lines with main characteristic king's safety rather than activity.

However King's activity & strength seem to be known since these early chess days. The two aforementioned K's main functions, can be tracked already in mansubat and medieval chess problems. Two examples are following: first where K is cutting opposite's King path, second supporting his own pawns. Remember shatranj rules, where are applied.

from H MS 16, the famous Abu Naam pattern

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from Alfonso X's Libro de los juegos, f37v, 53

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Early modern chess          up

The Queen has gone mad and the King, in most places, can castle. Ruy Lopez, in 1561, is giving as principle the King's safety, either by castling or not, letting other pieces to fight, using as a historical example in fact the Xerxes' Immortals [Ruy Lopez's Libro de la Invencion liberal, 1561, f. 54, 13th suggestion-principle].

Pietro Carrera

However an interesting passage can be found in Pietro Carrera's 1617 italian chess treatise. In the end of a chapter under the title Del governo & importanza del Re, he's writing [a little free translation]:

"Nevertheless, be warned, in the first fights, or whenever it is necessary, to ask the King to remove himself from his place, and enter into battle, provided there is no danger of loss, and to be forced to help any of the companions, or to flee from enemy."

Avvertiscasi nondimeno ne' primi combattimenti, o quando che sia, tal' hora richiedersi al Re il rimoversi dal suo luogo, & entrare in zuffa, purche non vi sia periglio di perditione, & essere a cio costretto per soccorrere alcuno de compagni, o per fuggir l' empito de nimici, in Il gioco de gli scacchi by Pietro Carrera, 1617, p. 117

Of course, it must be said that Carrera was a Sicilian, and in Sicily there wasn't a castling rule. I've searched in his suggested openings to find this principle applied. The closest was firstly some black king's hunts in Damiano Defense [1.e4 e5 2. Nf3 f6 3. Nxe5 fxe5 4. Qh5+...]. But also some K activity [of more equal positions] in King's Gambit Accepted openings. Of the latter, similar setups can be found and in other chess treatises of the time, where there is a castling rule. But all these King's moves were a reaction to checking. It was some kind of surprise that the opening, that was more close and where K had also a small supporting part, was found in Ruy Lopez 1561. This & a KGA example by Carrera are following:

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Generally, in the chess treatises of the time, besides the opening lines, new endgame studies and chess problems are added to the old ones that could survive. It was Elias Stein, I think, the first who, later in his Nouvel essai of 1789, gave some middlegame positions. So, as we are still in the endgame zone, I won't add more. Just one given by Salvio [1634] end-game, said that was played by Domenico di Leonardis & Dr. Oratio Conte, good players of the time.

in Apologia by Alessandro Salvio, 1634, p. 67

It's interesting that in our modern chess this is a white's win cause of the pawn promotion, but in old Italian chess is a draw, noted already by Salvio. Here is given as puzzle in this old form. Rest in the pgn. Remember the promotion rules...

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Until the 1800s          up

Besides some alternatives in KGA, I couldn't track some major opening line in the chess literature of the time, where one can find intense King's early moves. However noticeable in comparison are the two following excerpts.

Captain Joseph Bertin in his Noble game of chess, 1735, p. vi, was suggesting: "Do not castle, but when very necessary, because the move is often lost by it." While Phillip Stamma, few years later, in his english edition of 1745, p. 110, was advising the young players: "Castle as soon as you can conveniently. This is sometimes so necessary to be done without delay, that it may be worth while to abandon a Pawn, rather than lose the opportunity." Similar suggestion was made also by Carlo Cozio, Il giuoco, 1763, p. 6. Tempo vs safety!

Concerning the calculation of the relative values of pieces, some suggestions were made by Italian authors, like Ercole del Rio, Ponziani, Lolli. All pieces' values were set in direct relation to the power of the other pieces. Eg Ponziani [p. 17 and after], is giving the following values: P=1, 3<N=B<4, N+B=R+2, Q=2Rs+1. King's out!

However it must be noted that along with the endgame studies and chess problems in the at the time treatises, some theory seems to be developed. We can read first Domenico Canonico Ponziani, since 1769 in Modena, underlining the dangers of an early K exposure, but also the need of his involvement in the endgame [=Ma quanto è pericoloso l' avere il Re esposio fra molti pezzi, altrettanto lo è il dimenticarselo a casa in fine di giuoco, dove la battaglia sia ridotta fra le Pedone, in Il giuoco incomparabile degli scacchi, 1769, p. 40]. Then Elias Stein, in 1789, was writing about the power of King during the endgame, regarding pawn promotion [Nouvel essai, 1789, p. 204]. And in the end van Zuylen van Nyevelt, in his Superiorite, 1792, p. 32, was suggesting that "le roi est une trés forte piece". Noticeable that in this last book, a 30 page analysis of king opposition is tried.

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The revolution of the 19th century in theory          up

In 1799 an anonymous treatise with the title The theory of chess was published. Author was Peter Pratt, a weaker chess player of London, that Murray was calling a crank [BCM 1903, 281 in Winter's CN 5929]. The treatise wasn't the best and some later edition had been criticized by Sarratt for an erroneous opening line. However it's the first that was giving the relative values of the chess pieces in absolute form [p. 55] and more importantly was giving a value for King too, although he was underlining that this latter value was above competition.

from The theory of chess by Peter Pratt, 1799, p. 55. Turning pawn into 1 we have approximately, P=1, N=3.85, K=3.85, B=6, R=6.4, Q=12

The treatise was reprinted and updated many times afterwards with a new title, Studies of chess. And this particular part, of pieces' evaluation, was being worked out over and over again. Since 1810 editions the King's value was omitted. And since 1814 he had reached in a result, that was embraced by later authors, like Staunton, in his Handbook, 1847, p. 34, or Steinitz who, in his Modern Chess Instructor, 1889, p. xxxiii, was writing that in the main is in accordance with our own experience and observations.

from Studies of chess by Peter Pratt, 1814, vol1, p. 188

The thesis that King is invaluable [the old shatranj thesis] was repeated by many of the 19th century writers, like Lewis, Walker, Donaldson, Marache.

However King's evalution as a theme was tempting for some later authors. Just to mention two of the early ones. Tassilo von Heydebrand und der Lasa, since the 1843 edition of the Bilguer's Handbuch des Schachspiels, p. 12 was equating King's value higher than this of a minor piece when the endgame comes.

Few decades later Steinitz [Instructor, p. xxxiv] was commenting-continuing on Lasa's suggestions. "We are inclined to extend this valuation to all parts of the game, and we would add that the action of the King combined with one defended Pawn is about equal to that of a Rook, provided that neither the adverse King nor any other hostile man can co-operate with the latter. We agree in the main with the authorities who recommend that the King should, as a rule, castle early on the King's side, but this refuge of the King is sometimes fraught with danger when one of the Pawns on the King's wing more especially the KKtP or KRP have been previously moved or may soon be compelled to advance."

These reminded me Sarratt, who in 1808 [Treatise, p. ix] was complaining that: "it appears therefore rather extraordinary, that of so many writers on the game of Chess, scarcely any one should have devoted a sufficient portion of his work to teaching the method of playing the king, and conducting pawns to queen." Anyway! It's obvious that besides the numbers, Steinitz's approach was essentially revolutionary!

However some didn't like this King's involvement with numbers. "....according to one set of calculations thus based, the Queen = 10 ; the Rook =5.5; the Bishop = 3.5; and the Knight = 3.5. Some German authorities arrive at a different estimate. They say the Queen = 9 ; the Rook = 4.5 ; the Bishop = 3 ; the Knight = 3 ; and the King (in endings) = 4. This latter valuation seems to be the more practical of the two, its grotesque inclusion of the King notwithstanding." James Mason, Principles of chess, 1894, p.49.

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Early games before Steinitz          up

19th century was a revolution regarding the games too. It's the time when a more massive number of them started to be recorded and thus survived, letting us having some conclusions. Thus we can see in this period the main themes in King's activity appearing, that in the later years will be evolved and improved. And Steinitz I think is a limit line, not so strictly regarding exact time, but more approximately concerning the game approach.

  • Lewis vs Parkinson, 1816. Controlling center by King

First game I've found with an obvious aggressive King's activity, in the limits of the endgame [according to the 13-point standard] is the following, found in CPC 1841, 35, as a game mentioned that it was just played by Lewis. However in the Oxford encyclopedia of chess games, 1981, p. 35, is mentioned as a 1916 game between Lewis and Parkinson and in fact Lewis was playing blindfold. An early center control by King.

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  • Morphy vs Salmon, 1858. King comes to support as an extra piece

Few decades later Morphy won the following game, in his famous 8-board blindfold exhibition within Birmingham 1858, although Bird seems remembering elseway, regarding the results. Brilliant! Pure endgame with King coming to the aid of his pieces in fight with ultimate goal pawn promotion. The theme reminds a little of zugzwang, as the rest of the pieces can't make a progress, needing the hand of this extra piece - King!

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  • Mackenzie vs Mason, 1882. Supporting King as an extra piece

A later game in the limits of the endgame, but of the same theme. Mackenzie's King could support the attack as an extra piece, for pawn promotion, and win. However didn't see the winning combination. A little of irony as Mason few years later was calling the King's evaluation as grotesque.

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  • Mayet vs und der Lasa, 1839. King near center behind/around pawns

A game played within the circle of Berlin Pleiades, found in Lasa's Berliner Schach-Erinnerungen, 1859, p. 79. A theme that seems to exist since shatranj years, King advancing behind his pawns supporting them. In later years similar positions will be more heavy, complicated and on the edge.

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Karl Mayet und der Lasa

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  • Rosenthal vs Meitner, 1873. KGA

A later Kings Gambit Accepted, just to see its possible evolution. Beautiful opening combinations.

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  • Anderssen vs de Riviere, 1859. K in the enemy camp

A game played during Anderssen's visit in Paris for his match against Morphy. A brilliant early king's march in the enemy camp.

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Steinitz
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Steinitz          up

Steinitz extended the value of the King [equal to 4] to all parts of the game. Just two of his games.

  • Steinitz vs Fleissig, 1873. Supporting King

In this game the 1st world champion advances K to support his pawns for promotion. Compared to previous games of this type-theme, this advancement-support seems planned and prepared more moves before.

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  • Steinitz vs Zukertort, 1872. Steinitz gambit

And of course he is known for this contribution on the opening theory. Experimental and abandoned now, however I think that it demonstrates his beliefs on King's value, with an early K activity. A gambit in the at the time recently followed Vienna opening line, tried probably for first time in 1867. Here is I think the most famous of these games.

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After Steinitz          up

It seems that the teachings on King's activity had some effect. A theme that probably was followed by players around 1900 is the one of K in the center supporting pawns and pieces. More of positional aspect and not just to support a possibly promoting pawn. This K can have surely a defensive part or waiting to support at the endgame, being closer to action.

Four played positions
Tarrasch vs Walbrodt, Vienna 1898, 1-0 - 44. Kf4 Bd7 Delmar vs Marco, Cambridge Springs 1904, 0-1 - 33... hxg4 34. Kf2
Bernstein vs Mieses, Coburg 1904, 1-0 - 30. Ke5 Be8 Teichmann vs Marshall, Ostend 1905, 1-0 - 36. Kf4 a5

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  • Schories vs Shoosmith, 1907. King supporting the center

Of the games of this theme, maybe the Tarrasch-Walbrodt is more famous, however I loved this, with a not so accurate opening, but cause of its beautiful final attack!

Ostend 1907 in WSZ 1907, 253. Schories is n. 23 & Shoosmith n. 22

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  • Pillsbury vs Pollock, 1895. The chessboard belongs to one King

The supporting theme is repeated but in this game, white King owns the whole chessboard.

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  • Duras vs Teichmann, 1906. Attacking King

And just a brilliant King's attack, reminding a little the Abu Naam's King trapping King.

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Interwar period. Liberation          up

Maybe it's a little arbitrary what I'm going to write, but according to what I've checked the theme of K in the middle, positionally controlling and supporting pawns, is somehow reduced during this period. These kinda statistics occurred from 3 online databases, and 3 homemade by pgnmentor, olimpbase and national chessbases. Of course games can be found, but seem fewer in percentage points. This can't be a solid conclusion, however if it's true, maybe it's a consequence of hyper-modern school; fewer double stepped pawns in the middle. Don't know. So just two diagrams...

Wolf vs Rubinstein, Teplitz-Schoenau 1922, 0-1 - 42... Kg5 43. Rb1 Havasi vs Nagy, Debrecen 1925, 1-0 - 36. Kxd4 Rd8

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  • Villegas vs Illa, 1922. King supporting pawn promotion

Happy to find this game, played by two great Argentinian players of the time, within the first South American championship 1921/22 in Montevideo. The theme of King supporting pawn to promote, seen by Morphy in 1858, now with heavier chessboard.

Benito Villegas Rolando Illa

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  • Weenink vs Gans, 1923. King in the enemy camp

Like Anderssen vs de Riviere, 1859. But this time with really heavier material on the board. The game was played in Amsterdam NED in 1923 according to the later Limburgsch dagblad of 04.04.1936.

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  • Alekhine vs Capablanca, 1938. King to support and attack directly

Alekhine had played some games where his king shows an early activity. One within AVRO 1938

Alekhine vs Capablanca, AVRO 1938

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After WWII. King's feeling          up

All main themes of an active king before an endgame have been seen till now, I think.

Mark Kaidanov, in an article in Шахматы в СССР 4/1991, presented some games with earlier king activity. The article was under the title "King's feeling" [=ЧУВСТВО КОРОЛЯ], saying that it was a term used by GM Razuvaev to describe the playing style of Lev Psakhis back in 1983. I like the term!

Looking at the game of this last period, I think that cases of king marches for aiding a pawn promotion had been reduced in percentage points but games with direct attacks to the opposite king or generally to the enemy camp are increased. A collection of 17 games is following, chosen with some criteria of variety & mostly uncommented, categorized in three main parts.

King in the middle          up

Just four cases of these last decades.

  • Ivkov vs Smyslov, 1965

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  • Suran vs Blatny, 2017

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  • Le Quang Liem vs Dubov, 2018

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  • Petrosian vs Mecking, 1971

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Attacking the King with King or entering the enemy camp          up

The most fascinating cases. Chosen mainly for the end of the game. Some in puzzle form.

  • Chalkhasuren vs Korning, 1962

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  • Fiedgood vs Schorr, 1964

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  • Geller vs Hort, 1968

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  • Pablaza vs Gruenfeld, 1984

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  • Short vs Timman, 1991

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  • Kramnik vs Topalov, 2003

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  • Gashimov vs Grischuk, 2010

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  • Mastrovasilis vs Sepp, 2010

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  • Pantsulaia vs Lomsadze, 2017

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  • Persson vs Laurusas, 2018

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  • Swayams vs Dolana, 2019

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Owning the chessboard          up

Sometimes it seems too easy for the King to march along the chessboard without in the end face some fatal danger.

  • Psakhis vs Hebden, 1983

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  • Navara vs Wojtaszek, 2015

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I hope you've enjoyed this short history review and game collection....

...for downloading

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....thanx for reading