6 Ways to Attack the King: How to Play Attacking Chess

Chess Guides / By Andrew Hercules

In chess, the best form of defense is an attack. As a chess player, you must learn how to play attacking chess, since the attack is an integral part of the chess game. When you play the game of chess you should always have an attacking plan and strategy in place. At every turn, you should always be able to give valid reasons for the moves that you make.

Developing your pieces correctly is just the first phase in controlling the center of the board, which in turn puts you in a superior position to launch some fearsome attacks on your opponent. To better learn how to attack in chess, I’ve put together a compilation of the 6 ways to attack the enemy king. These include:

  • Attacking the uncastled King
  • Attacking the King that has loss the right to castle
  • The Greek Gift Sacrifice
  • Files in the attack against the castled King
  • Diagonals in the attack against the castled King
  • Ranks in the attack against the castled King 

With that said, let’s investigate each of these attacks against the enemy King. 

1. Attacking The Uncastled King

Chess King

 The initial position of a king before it castles contains two main weaknesses:

  1. One is that it is exposed if the e-file is opened up.
  2. The second is that the square f7 in Black’s position is vulnerable, since it is covered by the King alone.

It is therefore natural that the vast majority of attacks on an uncastled king exploit one of these weaknesses. Let’s have a look on how to attack the uncastled king using these two weaknesses.

Weakness#1: The Attack along the e-file

The first and most fundamental condition for an attack along the e-file is that the opponent’s king should be on that file and that for some reason, it is impossible or difficult for it to move away. If all the adjacent squares are occupied by the king’s own pieces or controlled by the opponent’s, its escape is absolutely impossible.

However, if the player is simply being prevented from castling, but other squares are not covered, the movement of the king is only relatively restricted. In other words, it can move at the cost of losing the right to castle. Castling can also be thwarted indirectly; for instance, if the king has to guard one of his pieces that are protecting it (e.g on e7 in Black’s case).

The second condition for an attack of this kind depends on the attacker’s own circumstances. First of all, the e-file should be open, or it should, at any rate, be in the attacker’s power to open it. The attacker should also either have a piece that can control a file on the file or be able to quickly post one on it(usually with a Rook or a Queen).

Besides this, he usually needs to strengthen his pressure along the e-file, for instance by doubling Rooks or by attacking one of his opponent’s pieces which is on the file protecting the King.

From these necessary conditions, it transpires that in an attack along the e-file there tends to be a chain of defense, and the attack is carried out against the central unit of the chain, that is, the piece protecting the King. If this piece is on the square directly in front of the King (e7 or e2), the attacker may be able to mate by capturing it with his Queen or Rook. In other terms by making the square into the ‘focal point’.

An attack on the e-file tends to occur most frequently at an early stage of the game. The following game is an example of how rapidly this kind of attack may develop after an opening mistake.

From mobile, open the pgn from the bottom right corner 

Meesen- H.Muller, Correspondence Game, 1928/9 – English Opening

Weakness #2: The Attack on the f7 square

 Black’s weakest square on the board before castling is f7 (f2 for white). Even in the opening stages, threats of a sacrificial assault on f7 (or f2) are common. They are usually connected with an attack on the king or even with the idea of mate, in which case the square becomes the focal point/target of a mating attack.

Later on, after castling kingside, the rook protects this vulnerable square and its weakness is greatly diminished, while after castling queenside the weakness of the square has no connection with a mating attack. The most straightforward examples of assault on the f7 square are to be seen at the beginning of certain open games, especially in the Petroff Defense and the Philidor Defense.

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6 3.Bc4 Ne7?

Let us allow Black to make this bad move so as to reach a typical crisis over the square f7 as quickly as possible.

Naturally, various attacks can be made on the uncastled king other than that along the e-file and f7. These are only two of the commonest and most typical methods.

Related Post: 10 Brutal Chess Tactics For Beginners

2. Attacking the King that has lost the right to castle

This situation arises when the King is either no longer able to castle or has been driven by the opponent away from the castling area. First of all, it must be emphasized that the actual fact that a king has lost the right to castle does not necessarily always justify undertaking an attack aimed at mate.

For an attack of this kind to be feasible, the loss of castling rights must at the same time involve the exposure of the King and an increased vulnerability to attack. In the majority of cases, the attack is in fact in order, and we shall only consider such positive cases and not the rest.

It only remains to be added that the loss of the right to castle can also entail a further weakness besides the danger which faces the King; that is, communication between the Rooks is made more difficult. In fact, an attack may logically direct itself against this lack of cooperation between the Rooks e.g in a struggle for control of an open file.

There are three phases to the drama of the King that has lost the right to castle:

  1. Spoiling the King’s castling chances, or drawing it away from the castling position.
  2. The pursuit of the King across the board by checking
  3. The final mating attack in the middle of the board or on the edge.

The following game is an illustration of just such a drama in three acts:

3. The Greek Gift Sacrifice (Bishop Sacrifice)

The Greek gift, also known as the Bishop’s sacrifice is a chess sacrifice that is often lethal and decisive. It refers to the tale of Troy, in which the Greek army left a giant wooden horse outside the gates of the city of Troy. Thinking it was a gift from the gods, the Trojans took the horse into their city and the Greeks then launched their surprise attack.

Here are the steps to successfully launch the Greek Gift Sacrifice

  1. Remove the defender:

The f6 Knight is protecting the h7 square and is the main defender of the Kingside; therefore white should get rid of him. Unless he wants to be captured by the e5 pawn, the Knight is forced to move Nd5

2. Sacrifice the Bishop

White goes for the attack and sacrifices his valuable Bishop for the Pawn on h7 (Bxh7+). Once the black King accepts the gift, then the race to checkmate him is on.

3. Maintain the Attack

White is down a whole Bishop, so he has to move quickly and attack before the black King realizes his plan.

4. The King Retreats

White moves his Knight to g5 and the black King hurriedly retreats behind his pawns where he thinks he will be safe (Kg8).

5. The Queen Arrives

 The Queen has come to join the fun (Qh5). In just a few moves, the position has changed dramatically. White is now threatening Qh7 checkmate and Black must struggle to survive.

6. Black gets desperate

 In an attempt to stay in the game, Black has chopped off the white g5 Knight (Bxg5). White now has a choice of three different recaptures. Qxg5, hxg5, or Bxg5.

7. Bring in the Backup

 White recaptures with the h-pawn (hxg5). The h1 Rook is now backing up the Queen’s h7 and h8 attacks. Black’s only hope of survival is to move his f7 Pawn to f5 to create an escape square for his King.

8. Checkmate

To block off the black King’s last chance of escape, White advances his g-Pawn to g6, Black is now powerless to prevent the checkmate.

The Greek gift is the oldest and most explored of all the sacrifices involved in the attack on the castled King and also because it provides particularly good illustrations of the role of h7 and f7 as mating and secondary focal points.

Necessary conditions for the classic Greek Gift Sacrifice

  1. White must firstly have a Queen, a Bishop and a Knight.
  2. The light square Bishop must be able to reach h7 in order to force the tempo of the attack, though it is not essential that it should put Black in check or take a pawn in so doing.
  3. The Knight should be within easy and safe reach of the g5 square, and the queen within reach of h5, thought in some cases it is enough for it to be able to get to some other square on the h-file.

As far as Black’s position is concerned, there should be two pawns standing intact at f7 and g7. g7 may on rare occasions be occupied by a Bishop instead of a pawn. The h-pawn should be on h7, but it may be that there is no h-pawn at all. The position of Black’s queen on d8 and a rook on f8 points to, but does not absolutely guarantee the correctness of the sacrifice.

What is more important is that Black’s Knight should not be able to reach f6 and that neither his queen nor bishop should be able to occupy the h7-b1 diagonal unharmed. These are the basic conditions that need to be taken into account when executing the Greek Gift or Bishop sacrifice.

Files in the attack on the castled King

Of all the long-range action, the most important in attacking the castled King is the vertical one on the open file. It is important because it is easier to clear a file than a rank and it is useful because being placed on an open file is the best way for a Rook to be employed.

There are four ways of establishing a rook or a queen on an open file or half-open file:

  1. The file is already open from one end to the other or to an opposing piece and all that is needed is for the rook to be brought on it.
  2. The rook is posted in front of one of its own pawns (e.g the king’s rook is manoeuvred via e1 and e3 to h3 in front of the pawn on h2.
  3. The pawn in front of the rook advances and is sacrificed to open up the file.
  4. The pawn in front of the rook leaves the file by making a capture.

The further operations of the rooks on the file are similar to those which take place when control is assumed of any line (constructing outpost, clearing, capturing pieces, squares, focal points, etc.) As an example of the part played by the files in an attack on the castled king, let us examine a famous game of Rubinstein’s.

In this game and its notes, we can see the various degrees of significance that open files can have. Firstly, there was white’s open g-file which was shown to be ineffective without support from another quarter; nevertheless, the notes pointed out its value as soon as White’s pawn was advanced to e5. Then followed Black’s maneuvers to open up the b and c files.

Once the c-file had been opened by means of sacrifice, the formidable power of the rooks on the file eventually brought the attacker victory.

5. Diagonals in the attack against the castled King

 Just as the rook is the piece suited for play on the open files and ranks, so the bishop is the master of the diagonals. At all stages of the game, and especially in an attack on the castled king, marshaling bishops on the diagonals demand great skill.

A player’s skill, in fact, is often demonstrated by his play on the diagonals, and the impression is then given that the slender bishop is subtler than the stout rook.

Nevertheless, let’s look at the relationship between the lines commanded by the rook and the bishop’s diagonal. In the first place, it should be stressed that the fundamental difference between does not lie in the number of importance of the squares on the files or diagonals, nor in the weight of operations on them.

The differences arise only from the different values of the rook and bishop and also from the part played by pawn moves in opening up or blocking a line.

It is harder to sacrifice the more valuable rook than the bishop, and the order of value is even more relevant when it comes to pinning. Exchanging a bishop for a pinned rook wins the exchange, while bishop for a knight is tit-for-tat, but a rook can only gain from pinning a piece when it takes the queen.

The other difference is still more explicit. It is comparatively easy to open up or close a diagonal by the normal advance of one’s pawn, but achieving the same object on a file means that a pawn has to make a capture, and this naturally depends on the disposition of one’s opponent’s pieces.

Hence, there may be considerable difficulty in opening up a file. If, on the other hand, it has to be closed, an outpost, as a rule, has to e established. On the diagonals, however, outposts are the exception, since the ‘open-shut’ game is easily carried out by the pawns. It is in this, ultimately, that the whole ‘subtlety and farsightedness of the diagonal lies.

Let’s open an example with a case of pinning on a diagonal. This position comes from the game Tolush-Renter, Estonian Championship 1945. It is white to move.

6. Ranks in the attack against the castled King

There are two main ranks used in the attack against the castled King:

  • Back rank
  • 7th rank (2ndrank for white)

Seventh Rank

The seventh rank lies deep into enemy territory. If you could get your pair of rooks onto the seventh rank, the problem could strike for the opposing side.

The seventh Rank is where your opponent’s pawns lie which can be gobbled up if you get a rook onto that rank. More importantly, two rooks on the seventh rank often wreak havoc against the enemy king, allowing for checkmating opportunities.

In this position, the two rooks are able to move up and down the board swiftly and chop off all the pawns. More importantly, they are able to deliver checkmate in 2 moves due to the placement of the white king.

Seventh rank checkmate

1…Rxg2+ 2.Kh1 Rxh2+ 3.Kg1 Rdg2#

Back Rank

For beginner and intermediate level, a great many checkmates are delivered on the back rank of the board where the King stands. When you castle, it’s good to keep your King safe behind a wall of pawns. Here, however, the Pawns have become a death trap for the white King. It is checkmate and the King cannot escape. He has no pieces defending the back rank.

The best way to avoid back rank checkmate threats is to give your King an escape square via g3 or h2.

Final Verdict – How To Play Attacking Chess

Attacking the enemy King is one of the most exciting parts of chess, but it is also one of the hardest to play accurately. Every chess player has had the experience of seeing a promising attack crumble into dust. However, with the help of these examples, you can now see the art of attacking the king in chess. Use these attacking techniques in your games correctly and you are bound to win a lot more of your games.

Andrew Hercules

Hercules Chess, launched in 2020, is a website that teaches you about chess. We started as a chess blog and became a chess training platform in early 2022.

Related Posts:

Can You Castle Out Of Check?

Can You Castle Out Of Check?

By Andrew Hercules

Castling is a special move in chess that involves the king and the rook. It involves exchanging the places of the king and one of the rooks. Castling is only possible if neither the king nor the rook has previously moved. Castling is a great move as it allows for the protection and safeguard of […]

Can A King Move 2.5 Steps?

Can A King Move 2.5 Steps?

By Andrew Hercules

When you are starting out chess for the first time, it’s important to understand clearly how the pieces move over the board. The most significant piece in chess is by far the king since the loss of the king signifies the end of the game. However, the fact that the king is the most important […]

Can A Queen Move Like A Knight?

Can A Queen Move Like A Knight?

By Andrew Hercules

Most beginner players fear knights as they are known to be very tricky pieces. They can jump over other pieces like a real horse would and create deadly forks between two or more pieces. They can sometimes be referred to as the horse, squid, octopus, jumpers or neons. Whatever you may call them, knights are […]

So what are you waiting for?

Sign Up Now