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King Safety Throughout the Game

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Of all the concerns you’ll have during a chess game, none is more important than the safety of your king (as well as your opponent’s). Of course, should your king safety become compromised, you’ll risk having to make positional or material concessions in order to avoid checkmate – if you can avoid it at all.

However, exactly what king safety means will change throughout the course of the game. Here’s a very quick look at what you should watch for in each phase of the game.

Opening: In this phase of the game, your goal is to find a safe place to hide your king from immediate attack. For beginners, this generally means preparing castling as early as possible to get your king to a safe corner of the board. More experienced players will want to think about which way to castle (or even if the center is the safest place for their king) before jumping into a castled position. For beginners, though, castling early is rarely a major error.

Middlegame: In the middlegame, the amount of attention you give to your king’s safety will depend on the ferocity with which your opponent is attacking. However, as a general rule for beginners, it’s best to leave the pawns in front of your castled king untouched, and to leave at least one piece (typically a knight) standing guard over the castled position. More advanced players will have a better sense of which it’s safe to start using pieces around the king to improve their position (or even to move the king into the battle), but again, beginners are almost always best off playing it safe.

Endgame: In the endgame, you probably know that your king is a valuable attacking piece that needs to take part in the action. However, you can’t forget that your king is still vulnerable to attack (which you must respond to, potentially disrupting your plans) or even checkmate! Be careful to ensure that your king isn’t walking into an area of the board where escape is impossible; even a threatened checkmate that you can manage to stave off could cost you the game if it forces your king or other pieces away from other tasks.

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