Among the six types of pieces in chess, the king is the most important one, as it is the only piece that cannot be captured or removed from the board. In this blog post, we will explore why the king is so crucial, how it can be protected and activated, and some interesting facts and history about this unique piece.
How the King Moves
The king can move one square horizontally, vertically, or diagonally, unless the square is already occupied by a friendly piece or the move would place the king in check. If the square is occupied by an undefended enemy piece, the king may capture it, removing it from play. The king can also make a special move, in conjunction with a rook of the same color, called castling. When castling, the king moves two squares horizontally toward one of its rooks, and that rook is placed on the square over which the king crossed. Castling is permissible under certain conditions, which we will discuss later.
Here is an example of how the king moves:
a b c d e f g h 8 ♜ ♞ ♝ ♛ ♚ ♝ ♞ ♜ 8 7 ♟ ♟ ♟ ♟ ♟ ♟ ♟ ♟ 7 6 . . . . . . . . 6 5 . . . . . . . . 5 4 . . . ♔ . . . . 4 3 . . . . . . . . 3 2 ♙ ♙ ♙ ♙ ♙ ♙ ♙ ♙ 2 1 ♖ ♘ ♗ ♕ ♗ ♘ ♖ ♖ 1 a b c d e f g h The white king on d4 can move to any of the squares marked with X: a b c d e f g h 8 X X X X X X X X 8 7 X X X X X X X X 7 6 X X X X X X X X 6 5 X O O O O O O O 5 4 O O O O O O O O 4 3 X O O O O O O O 3 2 O O O O O O O O 2 1 O O O O O O O O 1 a b c d e f g h The black king on e8 can move to any of the squares marked with Y: a b c d e f g h 8 Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y 8 7 Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y 7 6 Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y 6 5 Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y 5 4 Y O O O O O O O 4 3 Y O O O O O O O 3 2 Y O O O O O O O 2 1 Y O O O O O O O 1 a b c d e f g h
How to Protect and Activate the King
The king is the most important piece in chess, as it is the only piece that cannot be captured or removed from the board. However, this also means that the king is vulnerable to attacks and threats from the enemy pieces. Therefore, it is essential to protect and activate the king in different phases of the game. Here are some tips on how to do that:
- In the opening and middlegame, keep your king safe and secure. The opening and middlegame are usually characterized by rapid development of pieces, tension in the center, and potential attacks on both sides of the board. In these phases, it is advisable to keep your king away from danger and shield it with pawns and other pieces. One common way to do that is to castle your king to one of the flanks (kingside or queenside), where it is usually safer than in the center. Castling also has the benefit of activating one of your rooks and connecting them together.
- In the endgame, activate your king and use it as an offensive piece. The endgame is usually characterized by reduced material, simplified positions, and pawn races. In these phases, it is advisable to activate your king and use it as an offensive piece, as it can help you promote your pawns, capture enemy pawns or pieces, or support your other pieces. However, you should also be careful not to expose your king to checks or forks from the enemy pieces.
Some Interesting Facts and History About the King
The king is the oldest and most fundamental piece in chess, as it represents the main objective of the game: to checkmate the enemy king. The king has its origins in the ancient Indian game of chaturanga, which was derived from a military simulation of four divisions: infantry, cavalry, elephants, and chariots. The king represented the general or the ruler of the army.
The king has different names and symbols in different languages and cultures. For example, in French, it is called le roi (the king), in German, it is called der König (the king), in Russian, it is called король (korol), which comes from the word for Charles (as in Charlemagne), and in Arabic, it is called الملك (al-malik), which means the king.
The king is also a symbol of wisdom and dignity in chess. Many famous chess players have demonstrated their mastery of the king in their games, such as Wilhelm Steinitz, Emanuel Lasker, Jose Raul Capablanca, Anatoly Karpov, and Vladimir Kramnik. Some of the most important and instructive endgames in chess history involve the use of the king, such as opposition, zugzwang, triangulation, and pawn breakthroughs.
Here is an example of a brilliant king maneuver by Anatoly Karpov against Garry Kasparov in their World Championship match in 1985:
a b c d e f g h 8 . . . . . . . . 8 7 ♚ ♟ . ♟ ♟ . ♟ ♟ 7 6 . . ♟ . . ♞ . . 6 5 ♙ ♙ ♙ ♙ ♙ . . . 5 4 . . . . ♘ ♗ . . 4 3 ♔ ♗ . ♖ . ♖ . . 3 2 . . . . ♙ ♙ ♙ ♙ 2 1 . . . . . . . . 1 a b c d e f g h White to play and win Karpov played Kc3!! sacrificing his bishop for a decisive pawn advance: a b c d e f g h 8 .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 8 7♚♟..♟♟..♟♟ 7 6 ..♟.. ..♞.. .. 6 5♙♙♙♙♙.. .. .. 5 4 .. .. .. ..♘♗.. .. 4 3♔O..♖..♖.. .. 3 2 .. .. .. ..♙♙♙♙ 2 1 .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 1 a b c d e f g h Black has no good defense. If he takes the bishop with either pawn or knight, then white plays d6 followed by e6 with a passed pawn that cannot be stopped. If he moves his king to b7 or c7, then white plays Kb4 followed by Ka5 with a decisive invasion. If he moves his knight to c6 or e6, then white plays d5 followed by d6 with a passed pawn that cannot be stopped. Kasparov resigned after Kc3.
The king is the most important piece in chess, as it is the only piece that cannot be captured or removed from the board. However, the king also needs protection and activation in different phases of the game. The king has a rich history and culture behind it, and has been used to create some of the most amazing moves and games in chess. The king is truly a unique piece that deserves respect and admiration.
(1) King (chess) – Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_%28chess%29.
(2) Chess King – Value and Movements – Chess.com. https://www.chess.com/terms/chess-king.
(3) Chess Pieces: Every Important Thing You Need To Know. https://chessdelights.com/chess-pieces/.
(4) king (chess) – Chess.com. https://www.chess.com/blog/tabi2005/king-chess
Benjamin Miller is the founder and editor of The Extra Game. He plays chess, scrabble and Monopoly at a masters level. He is a board game enthusiast, publisher, designer, and reviewer with over 10 years of experience in the industry. He loves to share his passion, knowledge, and recommendations for board games with the world.