Chess: Learn the Trick To Checkmate The Castled King

Chess: Learn the Trick To Checkmate The Castled King

Castling is a magic move in Chess where 2 pieces, the King and the Rook, move at the same time

Soumya SwaminathanUpdated: Sunday, May 12, 2024, 12:36 PM IST
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Castling is a magic move in Chess where 2 pieces, the King and the Rook, move at the same time. The Rook gets developed towards the centre and the King finds a safe haven behind its own pawns on one side of the board. The pawns form a protective wall around the King, thus creating a ‘Castle’; any checkmating attack will need to break through this wall. Challenging, but taking a cue from the Cricketing Great Kapil Dev, What else we here for? Let us prepare for the battle ahead!

Diagram 1: King in the castle

Diagram 1: King in the castle |

This Diagram depicts a magnified view of the King castled short, from Black’s end. As with all examples in Chess, the same concepts will apply for White’s short-castled King too.

The pawns on f7,g7 and h7 act as a protective wall. Even though the King is safer behind this fortress, the vulnerable squares around the King can still become targets for attack and lead to Checkmate or a gain of material. We see that four squares around the King are protected only by the King: g7, h7, f8 and h8. The h8 square is difficult to reach for the White pieces as the h7 pawn is on the way. Only if Black’s ‘h’ pawn gets exchanged, or moves from the ‘h’ file, or is captured, can White’s forces exploit the h8 square. The f8 square is also protected only by the King, but reaching it is comparatively more plausible for White as this square can be attacked from the side as well as diagonally. The ‘f7’ square is doubly protected by the f8 Rook and the King. The weakest points around such a King are the ‘g7’ and ‘h7’ squares, as they are protected only once, by the King himself, and can be easily reached by White’s forces if we co- ordinate our pieces well. Black’s task will then be to prevent the optimum co-ordination of our pieces and to guard these squares with his other pieces.

Let us look at some typical Checkmating patterns that exploit these sweet spots:

Checkmate on h7 (or h2): This checkmate occurs when the opposing King has been castled short i.e. on the Kingside, and the checkmate is delivered by a piece on the h7 square, typically a Queen, with the support of any of the other pieces, but usually a Knight, or a Bishop, or a Rook, or a Pawn.

Diagram 2 : Attack the Black King

Diagram 2 : Attack the Black King |

In this diagram position, it is White’s turn to play. The White Knight on g5 attacks the f7 as well as h7 squares around the Black King. 2 out of the 3 vulnerable squares! In fact, White has 2 pieces attacking the f7 square, as the Bishop on b3 also attacks it. Here White can play 1.Qh5! From h5, the White Queen attacks both f7 as well as the h7 square. Double Attack! A tactical motif we have studied earlier. For 1.Qh5 if Black pushes the ‘g’ pawn one square forward with 1…g6, he attacks the White Queen and also blocks the Queen’s attack on f7. But this move doesn’t defend the h7 square. White replies 2. Qh7! The Queen on h7 gives a Check, and it is protected by the Knight on g5 so the Black King cannot capture it. Nor can he move away as all the squares around the King are occupied by Black’s own pieces and pawns. It is a Checkmate!

Diagram 3: Checkmate on h7!

Diagram 3: Checkmate on h7! |

Checkmate on g7 (or g2): The Lotus Checkmate! Does the name ring a bell? Yes, we already looked at this motif in an earlier article. This Checkmate is seen in the middle game as well, where the Queen delivers the Checkmate on g7. Though at times another piece can also deliver the Checkmate, the idea is to exploit the vulnerable g7 (or g2) square.

Checkmate on h8 (or h1):

Diagram 4: Checkmate threat on both the Kings!

Diagram 4: Checkmate threat on both the Kings! |

In this diagram, if it is white’s turn to play, White can give a Check on h7 as well as on h8. The White Queen will be supported by the White Rook on h3 on all the squares the ‘h’ file. 1.Qh7 will not suffice as the Black King can move to f8 and further escape via e7, thanks to the f8 Rook having shifted to e8 earlier in the game! But 1. Qh8! is powerful. This is because even though after 1.Qh8 the White Queen does not control f8 at that moment, her path to f8 is blocked by the presence of the Black King on g8. Once the Black King moves to f8, the White Queen will also control f8. So the Black King moving to f8 would be against the rules of chess. 1.Qh8 is Checkmate!

If it’s Black turn to play in the Diagram position, he can deliver 1…Qg2! creating a Lotus Checkmate. The Black Queen would be protected by the Bishop on b7.

Answers for question in previous article : The ‘c’ file is the only ‘Open file’ in the position, since there are no pawns of either side present along the file. The ‘a’ file is a ‘Semi-open’ file for White, since none of white’s pawns are present on it, but Black has a pawn on a6. The ‘b’ file is a Semi-open file for Black.

(Soumya Swaminathan is an International Master and Woman Grandmaster in Chess. She has been World Junior Champion and  Commonwealth Gold Medalist)

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