Luft

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Luft, the German word for "air" (sometimes also "space" or "breath"), is used by some chess writers and commentators to denote a space or square left by a pawn move into which a castled king may move, especially such a space made with the intention of avoiding a back rank checkmate. A move leaving such a space is often said to "give the king some luft".

A luft square can be "plugged up" by the opponent by placing the square under attack by a piece such as a bishop, queen, pawn, or possibly knight. Then, the king cannot move into the square, leaving it still vulnerable to a back-rank mate.


Examples[edit]

a b c d e f g h
8
Chessboard480.svg
e8 black rook
h8 black king
f2 white pawn
g2 white pawn
h2 white pawn
h1 white king
8
7 7
6 6
5 5
4 4
3 3
2 2
1 1
a b c d e f g h
White needs to create luft to avoid a back-rank mate. To do this, White can move either the g- or h-pawns.

A simplified example is seen in the diagram. Black is threatening checkmate with 1...Re1# and White must deal with this threat. The correct thing to do is to give the king some luft by moving a pawn on the g- or h-file: 1.g3, 1.g4, 1.h3, and 1.h4 will all avoid immediate checkmate. After each, 1...Re1+ can be simply met with 2.Kg2 or 2.Kh2.

a b c d e f g h
8
Chessboard480.svg
b8 black king
a7 black pawn
c7 black pawn
a6 black circle
b6 black pawn
c6 black circle
h3 white pawn
f2 white pawn
g2 white pawn
g1 white king
8
7 7
6 6
5 5
4 4
3 3
2 2
1 1
a b c d e f g h
White has a strong luft; Black has a weak luft (Evans, 1958). Black dots indicate holes.

It is usually better to move the h-pawn (or the a-pawn if the king is on the queenside) because moving the f-pawn can weaken the king's position and moving the g-pawn creates holes at f3 and h3 (or f6 and h6 for Black on the kingside). In the second diagram, Black has a weak luft because of the holes on a6 and c6; White has a strong luft, without holes (Evans 1958:52–53).

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