Hello everybody, and welcome to a second article of the “Understanding Chess with Grandmaster Illia Nyzhnyk” series. I would like to pick up where the previous article left off – how to hide your king properly and avoid getting checkmated.

Please consider the following position:

The only way to save the white king is to block the attack using the white light-squared bishop. However, that type of defense is far from being perfect, as the bishop becomes “pinned” by the black rook. The bishop is now too committed to the king’s protection, and black can take advantage of that and punish the bishop’s poor positioning:

This leads us to a simple point – minor pieces (knights and bishops) are not that effective when used to block direct attacks against the king. This is one of the main reasons why one of the most typical ways to “hide” the king is to castle in either direction. The king becomes “shielded” by the pawns of that side. Essentially, the pawns free the minor pieces from the potential trouble of mispositioning while defending the king:

As we can see from the position above, both sides are using their pawns as a shield for their kings. This type of defense is known to be the most effective way to keep the king safe. In this example both sides had to castle their kings to the right side to obtain this “pawn shield”, but there exist multiple exceptions for when castling is actually a waste of time because the king is already shielded on its original position, or castling and hiding the king will be more harmful in a long run. Consider the following example:

Both sides do not really want to castle here. If white castles his king, the pawn located on the h4 square will lose the rook’s support. At the same time, if black castles in any direction, his king will be in a greater danger despite having a better pawn/piece shield:

← the h4 pawn losing the rook’s support and becoming a potential “hook” that black can use in the future during his attack

← Black king castling short side gives white a great opportunity to launch a decisive attack using his pieces which are perfectly placed for this purpose

As we can see from these examples, hiding the king by castling is not always a good idea. A player should consider their opponent’s potential ideas, and base their king’s defenses accordingly.

Thank you for reading this article!

In future articles, I will go over the usual techniques one can use to launch a successful attack against their opponent’s king.

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