You don't have to retreat your King!
When I played in my first minor competition at the British Chess Championships back in 2015 I made a fatal assumption that over the board players would make as many mistakes as online players, they didn’t. That said, I am sure they did make blunders, mistakes and other dubious moves but I lacked the skill to spot some bad moves and exploit them correctly. But as lower rated players we are constantly learning and developing our chess so analysing our lost and drawn games, learning from mistakes and developing our new strategies is the best way for us to get better.
Anyway, one thing I did notice repeatedly happen was a reluctance by amateur players to use the king in an aggressive fashion, especially when caught up in mating trap. The example below is from an amateur over the board game in a regional minor competition where I caught my opponent off guard and he did not see a relatively simple mating trap (it happens!) in the Dutch defence. Unfortunately he made the situation worse by being overly cautious with his monarch and allowed the trap to be shut... permanently.
In the example below, Blacks dark squared bishop has sacrificed itself on h2 and white greedily followed up with Kh2. The black Knight immediately follows up with g4 checking the king. The threat of a Queen follow up to h4 is obvious and retreat would be disastrous for the black monarch.
What should white do here? How can white keep the game alive? Is there a more aggressive move that would ensure black is still in the game, albeit it a bit too exposed for comfort but still in it.
By being bold and bringing the white King to g3 the black Queen is no longer as effective and check mate is avoided. Sure, having your King as exposed as white does here is not great but you live to fight another day.
The same could be said of black in this example, here a poorly timed mating pattern in the London System catches black in all sorts of trouble. The white bishop has struck on h7 and the black King has gobbled up the offending bishop. This sacrificial manoeuvre is often referred to as 'the Greek gift' in reference to the famous historical phrase 'beware of Greeks bearing gifts' at the battle of Troy. The white Knight then followed up with g5 checking the black monarch. It's obvious here if black retreats his King the white Queen will strike and if the black Queen was to take the Knight out of the equation than the bishop would take the Queen and white would be happy with that situation.
But where could black move to in order to get out of checkmate?
The eagle eyed amongst you will spot the obvious problem with this example. Black might have escaped checkmate by moving to g6 but his King is in all sorts of trouble as the h pawn will likely push up to h4 then h5 and look to check the black King and a chase will ensue until there is nowhere to go. However, sometimes in amateur games a surprising move can through your opponent off their game.
In both of these admittedly simple examples if the King had been pushed forward then the checkmate would not have come so swiftly and in the first example the king would be making threats of his own. Moreover, it’s worth nothing that had the king been more aggressive and moved forward then in both these examples the attack may have faltered because, as often happens with amateur chess games, the attack was initiated too early - without adequate pieces in reserve to contribute to the attack and help remove defenders – subsequently the attack falls apart or over stretches itself leading to potential counter play by your opponent.
So, the moral of this story is – it’s not over ‘till the fat lady sings! Could your King avoid immediate checkmate by being more aggressive? Yes it might put you in some difficulty but it’s not game over and in amateur chess we can sometimes snatch a win or draw from the jaws of defeat because a blunder is never far from the board.