Opening Theory, Pt. 3: King Safety

Quite simply, you can lose early if you neglect your king’s safety.

All pieces have a point-value attached to them, but the king is priceless – not because he is slow, lazy or useless, but because he is too powerful to be assigned a value. Losing the king ends the game however highly developed your position may be. Insuring ourselves against defeat is more important than a grand offensive strategy.

“The opportunity to secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands, but the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself.” – Sun Tzu

In 2003, Grandmaster Alexander Ivanov, participating in the Levy Memorial tournament in Denver, faced a lower rated (2272) American player in the first round of the event. The Grandmaster played white, and faced a side-line of the Sicilian defense from his opponent. On move 6, the black player makes a terrible blunder, and resigns the game. Here’s how it goes: 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 e5 4.Bc4 d6 5.d3 Bg4 6.h3 Bh5 7.Nxe5 1–0

King Safety image GM Alexander Ivanov (White) 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 e5 4.Bc4 d6 5.d3 Bg4 6.h3 Bh5 7.Nxe5 1–0 (amended)  7. Nxe5! Game Over 1-0. *(1)

What would’ve happened if instead of resigning the game, black had continued the game and captured white’s queen?  In that case, white could simply play 7. … Bf7+ 8. Ke7 Nd5# Checkmate!

King safety is paramount. 

In every opening, the rule of thumb is this: Have an eye on your king. Keeping your king safe is an investment in your future. The return is a more secure middle game and a magnified ability to out-play your opponent there. This can be compared to taking out health or life insurance – it’s not always needed, but when it is, there is no substitute. It is easy to overlook this important strategy in life, and expose ourselves to catastrophe even in games where we are winning.

The rule can be overlooked on the 64-square world too, even among strong players. In another example, the white player, Grandmaster Deep Sengupta plays a sharp Sicillian Najdorf defense against fellow Indian Grandmaster Sahaj Grover. The game followed a poisoned pawn variation that went wrong just out of the opening phase.  As Black, Grandmaster Grover played his Bishop to b4 eyeing the innocent white knight on c3. This turned out to be a very serious mistake involving the king safety. Can you guest white’s response?

Grandmaster Deep Sengupta vs. Indian Grandmaster Sahaj Grover - black to move with Bb4 (edited)    Black makes a mistake with Bb4??

White simply castled king-side. This surprised Grover, and exposed his king to further attack. The e7-bishop was very critical to the king’s safety. Removing the Bishop for material greed left his king under attack, and he resigned in just two moves. After 19. 0-0 (castling king-side) Black greedily took the c3 knight which was another terrible blunder. The game ended after white played Qxe6 threatening to drag the black king out of his position and into the open.

What is the most valuable asset in your life and business? King security is the most valuable commodity on the chess board. In life and business there are an array of answers to this question, from physical health, to peace of mind, to inherited family real estate. But whatever they are try to follow the chessboard rule of thumb.

Protect your mission-critical assets at the earliest opportunity.


*(1) (edited: I had the original photo set up wrong)

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