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Features

January 11, 2013

Even strong castles can be stormed

— Chateau Galliard was a medieval castle. It was built between 1196 and 1198 by Richard the Lionheart along the Seine River in northern France. Even though it was well fortified with both land and water as protection, it fell to King Phillip of France in 1204. Phillip’s forces dug tunnels, veiled themselves with a rock bridge, and crawled through an unguarded toilet chute to penetrate the castle and overrun Richard’s forces.

In this week’s position white has castled king-side. White’s liege is well fortified with a knight and strong pawn shield ranging from e3-f2-g2-h3. Black, however, lays siege to white’s castled king-side and finds a way to penetrate white’s position. With this hint in mind, please try to find black’s best way to prepare an unstoppable attack.

Black storms the castle first with an exchange sacrifice. Specifically, black’s rook captures white’s knight on f3.

White takes the rook with its g2 pawn, wrecking white’s pawn shield and removing the defender of white’s e5 pawn. Black’s knight then captures white’s e5 pawn.

With two moves white’s king-side is in ruins. Black’s knight threatens to fork white’s king and queen from f3, and black’s bishops now look like crossbows aimed at white’s king.

If white moves its king to g2, protecting its f3 and h3 pawns, black hurls its bishop on e6 at h3. After the king takes the bishop, black’s queen slides over to f8, targeting f3 while eyeing f5. If white’s f3 pawn advances to f4, black’s queen checks from f5 and mate follows in no more than five moves.

Alternatively, if white brings its d1 rook over to g1 to guard the castle, black’s queen checks from f5. The white king retreats to g2. Black’s knight, not its queen, captures white’s pawn on f3 with the support of its queen. White’s queen is again threatened and numerous mating lines are in the air. Not even Richard the Lionheart could hang on for long.

The lesson this week is that a castled king may appear to be protected by bricks and mortar, but the right moves can reveal that its foundation is made of air. Most fortresses, as Richard learned, have a hidden weakness.

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