The king move

The king move

GM jhellsten

One way to gain flexibility in our tactical play, is by moving the king in advance. In this way, not only do we avoid checks, but we also await the opponent´s next step, on which we could base our following actions. Interestingly, this kind of prophylactic king move often pops up in engine analysis too. I touched upon this subject in Mastering Chess Strategy, and here are a few further examples.

White to move. 1.Qf7 looks tempting, but Black has 1...Qf4+, harrassing our king. As for 1.Qe8+ Kg7 2.Nxh5+, after 2...Kh7 again it is not easy to progress with White, whose knight is pinned on h5.

How can we avoid these issues? You probably guessed it already - by a king move. After 1.Kh3 Black runs out of sensible moves. 2.Qf7 is a letal threat, and neither 1...Qg6 2.Qf8+ nor 1...Qg7 2.Qe8+ works for him.

What a simple, yet powerful solution! Let´s see a similar case with more pieces on the board.

White to move. Material is even, but Black´s king is exposed. However, the straightforward 1.Bh7 fails to 1...Bc5+ and 2...Qxh7, while after 1.Qh6+ Ng7 White´s attack loses some of its strength, now that there is no pin on the 8th rank anymore. Finally, after 1.Bf5 Bc5+ 2.Kh1 Qg7! Black successfully parries the threat of 3.Bxe6.

From what we have seen, ...Bc5+ is a key resource in Black´s defence. Thus, 1.Kh1 suggests itself. Now 1...Bc5? is impossible due to 2.Qxf6+, while 1...Bd8 runs into 2.Bf5!, one point being that 2...Qg7 fails outright to 3.Qxg7+ Kxg7 4.Bxe6 Bxe6 5.Rxd8. In this line, the flexibility gained by 1.Kh1! is clearly appreciated - only after 1...Bd8 White goes for 2.Bf5, when the ...Qc7-g7 idea no longer works for Black.

A fantastic effort by a very young Judit Polgar! Interestingly, the engine´s second choice (on my equipment, at least) after 1.Kh1 is... 1.Kf1 ! You can see that it "likes" this kind of prophylactic play.

Here is a more complex case.

White to move. In this sharp position with unbalanced material, the passed d-pawn is a key factor. Our first candidate move should be 1.d6. What can Black do? The double threat 1...Qe2 looks critical. After 2.Rd4 Qxe6 3.d7 White seems to be on top, but the diabolic 3...Qe1+! turns the tables, e.g. 4.Bf1 Nc6 or 4.Kh2 Nc6 when 5.Bxc6 fails to 5...Qxf2+ and 6...Qxd4, winning a rook while keeping track of the d-pawn.

Admittedly, the variation above is not that easy to visualize! However, if we manage it, then 1.Kh2 comes very natural. Now 1...Qe2, as well as 1...Qc2, can be met by 2.Rd4!, preparing 3.d6. As for 1...Qxf2, nothing speaks against 2.d6 here. In conclusion, after 1.Kh2! White keeps good chances for a win in practice.

Here is a last example.

White to move. Both sides have exposed kings, but White enjoys an extra pawn, and the black knight on a4 is vulnerable, so there should be "something". A first impulse is 1.Rc7, however by 1...Qh5! with the threat of 2...Qe2(+), Black gets counterplay. Also on 1.Qb7 Black has 1...Qh5 with the same idea. What then, if we react to this idea in advance?

We have 1.Kg1, but then there is 1...Qh5 anyway, enabling a check on d1 whenever the white rook leaves the 1st rank. Thus 1.Kh3 looks much better. Now Black can´t play 1...Qh5 anymore due to 2.Rc8! with mate on g8. Note that the Rc1-c8 resource is not available at move 1, it appears only at move 2. This, among other things, is what gives 1.Kh3! its flexibility.

As you can see, Kaidanov duly played 1.Kh3, and was rewarded for it. Indeed a complex example, but the main thing is to understand the benefits of playing moves like 1.Kh3! in the first place.

I hope you have enjoyed this article. Here are some related exercises.