Figure[White to move]

Summary; Strategic Implications.

Now consider some strategic implications of our study of queen forks, along with summaries of several repeating ideas:

1. Appreciating the power of checks. An important purpose of many strategic moves—moves spent improving your position, rather than attempting to win material—is to create fertile conditions for tactical strikes on your part and poor conditions for them by your opponent. We have seen that a common form of one tactical idea—the double attack by the queen—involves a check of the enemy king coupled with an attack on a loose piece. The defensive moral for strategic purposes is clear: beware any position that allows your king to be easily checked. It is common for a beginner to imagine that open lines to his king are not a big problem so long as the king easily will be able to escape any threat that emerges, or so long as the opponent only has one piece to threaten it. Not so; the check itself is a menace, no matter how easily it can be escaped, because it requires a time-consuming response. The more ways your king can be checked, the more ways there are for you to lose other pieces to double attacks. This, and not just the fear of checkmate, is one of the reasons why it is important to castle early; it also is one of the reasons why you should not casually disturb the pawns in front of your king, since you then create open lines that make checks and mating threats—each of which may be half of a fork—easier to create.

To turn the point around, one of the general goals of this chapter and the others is to change the way you think about checks. They are immensely useful weapons in the tactician's arsenal not because they annoy your opponent or necessarily lead to mate but because (a) they require responses, thus leaving your opponent no time to address any other threats you have made at the same time, and (b) they require predictable responses, and so allow you to foresee and control the action on the board.

2. Captures. Think of captures in a similar way. Don’t look at a possible capture you can make, see that your opponent can then recapture, and then decide it’s not worth pursuing; rather, imagine the way the board would look after the capture and ask what you then might be able to do: what checks would be possible; what pieces would be loose; what lines would be opened; what further captures could be made, and where they would lead—all the time searching for a double threat.

3. Mating Threats. We have seen many times, too, the power of mating threats. This points up the strategic value of aiming your pieces in the direction of the enemy king. Directing them this way creates not only the possibility of actual checkmate, but also a favorable climate for threats you do not expect to carry out but that allow you to make trouble elsewhere at the same time. You also can see now that exchanges or threats that open lines to the enemy king create promising conditions for tactical moves because they make mate threats easier to build. It doesn't matter that the mate threats are easily met. So long as your opponent has to spend time addressing them, they do their work, which is to buy you a free move to capture something loose elsewhere.

All these points may amount to a new way of thinking about the moves you make: treating captures and attacks on the king as means to achieve other ends, not just as ends in themselves. There are smaller examples of the same point, too. A beginner decides whether to move a piece from square A to square B by asking what the piece will do on square B. The experienced player knows that the move may be more important because it vacates square A and any lines that ran through it, and blocks any lines that run through square B. Those consequences may be good or bad. The important point is to grasp them. Make yourself a student of indirect as well as direct consequences of chess moves.

4. Loose Pieces. We have seen as well the immense importance that loose pieces have for the tactician. One of the strategic implications of this can be analogized to military strategy: it is dangerous to overextend your forces, letting them wander into enemy territory with little or no protection. Those pieces can be taken for free if the enemy can make them the subject of a fork. You therefore should pause before sending a piece into your opponent’s half of the board with no protection, or protection only from another one of your pieces—even if you are putting it on a square not currently under attack. And from a defensive standpoint this suggests the value of denying outpost squares—squares well-protected by enemy pawns—to your opponent. If he wants to advance his pieces, make him put them where they will be loose, or where they only can be guarded by his other pieces, not by his pawns. Then maybe those guards can be exchanged or lured away, leaving the first piece loose. (A pawn that protects a piece is harder to deal with; getting rid of it by exchanging it for a piece often is too great a sacrifice to be worthwhile.)

5. Defending the King. The tactical principles we have studied also shed light on the value of some basic ideas about good play, such as the aforementioned importance of castling early, and of keeping a defensive piece or two near the king. Without any defensive pieces in its vicinity, the king is left to defend its own pawn cover, which means the squares where those pawns sit are weak, which means it is easy to force the king to move by taking one of those pawns and easy for a mating threat to be set up against them. Maybe the mating threat can be thwarted easily once it arises by moving one of the pawns forward, but again that may be too late to prevent another piece from being taken if the mating threat was half of a fork. Likewise, preventing the enemy king from castling by forcing it to move early in the game can be very damaging, because after some exchanges in the center it may then become easy to throw checks at the king while also attacking other pieces.

6. Shedding light on some openings. Still another example of how tactical principles shape strategic decisions: now you can better understand why certain openings and resulting formations are useful defensively. Think back to the many forks we saw that involved mating threats aimed at g7 or h7 (or comparable squares on White’s end of the board). Mating threats against those squares often suggest themselves because those squares are so weak; as just said, after castling they often are protected only by the king, so it is easy to line up a bishop and queen against them in a way that requires a move-consuming response. In the King’s Indian formations (look at the position of Black’s king in the diagram here), mating threats are harder to create. The h7 pawn has another pawn in front of it at g6, insulating it from attack on the diagonal. And the bishop at g7 makes it hard to set up a battery against that square, either; unlike a pawn, the bishop can lash out against an enemy bishop or queen lining up to attack it. Naturally these features are just one advantage of the King’s Indian formations, and depending how a game goes they may not be important. The broad point is just that tactical insights often can help you understand the purposes behind an opening.

7. A style of thought. Finally, the studies in this chapter are meant to help you develop a more active and aggressive attitude at the board. Now that you see the usefulness of open lines and loose pieces, you naturally will be vigilant in searching for them and creating them: making exchanges that will leave unguarded enemy pieces in their wake or create open lines to the king; making pawn moves that open lines for your queen and other pieces and that close off lines for your opponent; coordinating your pieces to build mating threats that you may or may not be able to carry out but that might enable you to win material with a double attack. The chessboard comes alive with these sorts of thoughts once you understand how they can translate into tactical payoffs.