This series is for players new to atomic. In this installment we look at common knight tactics you will surely encounter or use without even trying.
If you’ve played atomic a couple times, you’d notice that knights can be very dangerous in the opening. It may seem difficult to deal with them jumping into your half of the board and winning material or the game. In this post, we’ll explore some common knight tactics, and how to defend against them.
You can view the examples in the original study on lichess.
The knights can be very dangerous, especially if they get into the opposing half of the board uncontested. For white, successfully getting a knight to b5 or g5 is usually strong; for black it’s b4 and g4. From there, the knights fork the edge pawns (a/h) and the bishop pawns (c/f), typically threatening a win or a large material gain.
Notice also how in the examples that follow, a knight next to the enemy king cannot be captured, greatly disrupting the defence. This also makes certain mating patterns possible with just a knight and some enemy pieces (see the “epaulette” and “corner fork” patterns below).
One of the simplest threats in atomic, going straight for the enemy king. While easy to defend against, it’s a very forcing threat. The follow up with Nd7 and Nxf8# is sometimes overlooked by beginners who go for Nf7 winning the queen instead. (With black, the same manoeuvre is …Ne4-d2-xf1.)
1. Nf3! makes two obvious threats. Ignoring them is fatal, e.g.
- 1…e6?? 2. Ne5 d5 3. Nxf7#.
- 1…d5?? 2. Ne5! (stronger than Ng5 which only wins material) f6 3. Nd7! (stronger than attacking the queen with Nf7) e5 4. Nxf8#.
- 1…Nc6?? defends e5, but still allows mate after 2. Ng5 f6 3. Nf7! and 4. Nxf7#.
The correct and best defence is 1…f6!; other options that don’t lose immediately are 1…e5 and 1…d6?.
If a knight is allowed into g5, and the d8-h4 diagonal is blocked, white can typically win the queen with Ng5-f7-d6+. This is also why in some opening lines, against Ng5 the correct response is …f5, intending to meet Nf7 or Nxh7 with …Qh4 counterattacking. (Respectively as black: …Ng4, met by f4! keeping the d1-h5 diagonal open.)
The square e6 (e3) is critical in a few opening lines, since a knight there will fork d8 and f8 (d1 & f1), trapping a king on e7 or e8 (e2 or e1). The king is trapped between its own pieces on either side, an “epaulette” pattern.
Ne6 “corner fork”
Again the e6 (e3) square is the key, catching the king amidst its own pieces. The general pattern this time is of a king on f7, its pieces on f8 and g7, and a knight on e6 (on the corner of the king) forking the pieces, winning next move.
Surviving knight attacks
A blunt way for white to play is to simply keep making knight moves, constantly threatening to enter black’s half of the board. This kind of attacking can be turned away with the simple defences below. One of the first hurdles to cross in atomic is to learn to effectively parry this kind of straightforward attacking play.
Once you recognise these knight tactics, not only can you start defending against them and last longer in the opening, you’ll also be able to turn them against your opponents if given the chance. Keep on playing!