Giving your king all chess powers

Here I and sorrows sit;
Here is my throne, –Shakespeare, King John

But a king fighting bravely at the head of his men and with his own sword, what a great scene!

We all know that we need to activate the king in the endgame. But how about the opening and the middlegame? Much less is known about the role of the king during these phases. And attempts usually end sadly (for the initiator) and funny (for all others).

Tyrannical chess, art by Kaveh Adel

Tyrannical Chess, by Kaveh Adel

Yet to play without the king means playing without one potentially useful piece. Mikhail Tal has once suggested that in many positions the value of an active king was about an equivalent to a minor piece. And Wilhelm Steinitz had his philosophy that the king was a fighting piece who could take care of himself in all stages of the game, the principle behind the Steinitz Gambit (1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.f4 exf4 4.d4 Qh4+ 5.Ke2 as in Steinitz-Neumann, in their Dundee match, 1867).

Many people, even very strong players don’t know how to play with the king, they lack imagination, but it is also true that some precise criteria are not available and cannot be, –GM Sveshnikov

GM Edmar Mednis wrote a book entirely dedicated to this topic, discussing strategies that give power to the king, King Power in Chess, Edgar Mednis, McKay Chess Library, New York, 1982.

In the following game GM Milan Vidmar gave full rein to imagination. He simply didn’t feel like tucking his king in some corner in the beginning of the game and stick it there forever. Watch, but do not try to emulate it!

Very irregular opening

Anecdote by GM Milan Vidmar

King balancing on the rope, cartoon by Mikhail Barybin

1.e4 the best first move, said my opponent.

1…e5 2.Ke2 Here he shook his head, Don’t move your king too early, he said instructively.

2…Nf6 3.Kd3 You didn’t get it? asked my opponent crossly. I replied with a stubborn gesture he didn’t like. And when I added that I followed a well laid-out game plan, the stranger played with obvious contempt


Now it was time to take into account the opponent’s possibilities seriously, because the “wandering” king had to evade attacks and find a safe haven. I played

4.Kc4 and pointing to the e4-pawn added that I’d decided to test my gambit.

Position from Vidmar-NN

GM Milan Vidmar-NN

A ripping response followed. My opponent abruptly brushed pieces off the board and with ill-concealed anger said, I don’t play with such an ignoramus!

SOURCE: Chess, Riga, 1962, p.13

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Milan Vidmar (1885-1962) was a Slovene electrical engineer, chess player, chess theorist, philosopher, and writer. He devoted himself to his academic and electrical engineering career, becoming a Dean at Ljubljana University. In the period 1911-1930 Vidmar belonged in the World’s top ten players all the while remaining an amateur and his chess achievements all the more remarkable. He was actually Yugoslavia’s first GM awarded the title in 1950.

© iPlayoo 2012

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