King (chess)

The king (♔,♚) is the most important piece in the game of chess. If a player's king is threatened with capture, it is said to be in check, and the player must remove the threat of capture on the next move. If this cannot be done, the king is said to be in checkmate, resulting in a loss for that player. Players cannot make any move that places their own king in check. Although the king is the most important piece, it is usually the weakest piece in the game until the game's ending phase.

White king
Black king

Each player begins the game with a king in their color. The white king starts the game on e1; the black king starts on e8. Unlike the other pieces, only one king per player can be on the board at any time, and the kings are never removed from the board during the game.


Placement and movementEdit

White starts with the king on e1, on the first rank to the right of the queen. Black starts with the king on e8, directly across from the white king. The kings always start on a square of opposite color.

A king can move one square in any direction (horizontally, vertically, or diagonally), unless the square is already occupied by a friendly piece, or the move would place the king in check. As a result, opposing kings may never occupy adjacent squares (see opposition) to give check, as that would put the moving king in check as well. However, the king can give discovered check by unblocking a bishop, rook, or queen. The king is also involved in the special move of castling.

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Initial placement of the kings
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Possible movements of an unhindered king
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The king's movement may be hindered by other pieces. Black's king cannot move to squares under attack by the white bishop, knight, queen, or pawn; White's king cannot move to squares under attack by the black queen.

CastlingEdit

In conjunction with a rook, the king may make a special move called castling. When castling, the king moves two squares toward one of its rooks and that rook is placed on the square over which the king crossed. Castling is allowed only when neither the king nor the castling rook previously moved, no squares between them are occupied, the king is not in check, and the king will not move across or end its movement on a square that is under enemy attack. Castling with the h-file rook is known as castling kingside or short castling (denoted O-O in algebraic notation), which castling with the a-file rook is known as castling queenside or long castling (denoted O-O-O).

Status in gamesEdit

Check and checkmateEdit

A king that is under attack is said to be in check, and the player in check must immediately remedy the situation. There are three possible ways to remove the king from check:

  • The king is moved to an adjacent non-threatened square. A king cannot castle to get out of check. A king can capture an adjacent enemy piece if that piece is not protected by another enemy piece.
  • A piece is interposed between the king and the attacking piece to break the line of threat (not possible when the attacking piece is a knight or pawn, or when in double check).
  • The attacking piece is captured (not possible when in double check, unless the king captures).

If none of the three options are available, the player's king has been checkmated and the player loses the game.

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Black's king cannot move to squares under attack by the white bishop, knight, queen, or pawn. Since White is checking Black, and Black can neither move, capture the checking piece, nor block the check, Black is checkmated.

StalemateEdit

A stalemate occurs when a player, on their turn, has no legal moves, and the player's king is not in check.

If this happens, the king is said to have been stalemated and the game ends in a draw. A player who has very little or no chance of winning will often, in order to avoid a loss, try to entice the opponent to inadvertently place the player's king in stalemate.

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White to move: White cannot move legally because of the black queen and king. Since the king may not move into check, White is stalemated.

Role in gameplayEdit

In the opening and middlegame, the king will rarely play an active role in the development of an offensive or defensive position. Instead, a player will normally try to castle and seek safety on the edge of the board behind friendly pawns. In the endgame, however, the king emerges to play an active role as an offensive piece as well as assisting in the promotion of their remaining pawns.

It is not meaningful to assign a value to the king relative to the other pieces, as it cannot be captured or exchanged, and must be protected at all costs. In this sense, its value could be considered infinite. As an assessment of the king's capability as an offensive piece in the endgame, it is often considered to be slightly stronger than a bishop or knight – Emanuel Lasker gave it the value of a knight plus a pawn (i.e. four points on the scale of chess piece relative value) (Lasker 1934:73). It is better at defending nearby pawns than the knight is, and it is better at attacking them than the bishop is (Ward 1996:13).

UnicodeEdit

Unicode defines two codepoints for king:

U+2654 White Chess King (HTML ♔)

U+265A Black Chess King (HTML ♚)

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  • Barden, Leonard (1980), Play better chess with Leonard Barden, Octopus Books Limited, pp. 9, 11, 12, ISBN 0-7064-0967-1
  • Brace, Edward R. (1977), An Illustrated Dictionary of Chess, Hamlyn Publishing Group, p. 151, ISBN 1-55521-394-4
  • Hooper, David; Whyld, Kenneth (1996) [First pub. 1992], "king", The Oxford Companion to Chess (2nd ed.), Oxford University Press, pp. 200–01, ISBN 0-19-280049-3
  • Lasker, Emanuel (1934), Lasker's Chess Primer, Billings (1988 reprint), ISBN 0-7134-6241-8
  • Ward, Chris (1996), Endgame Play, Batsford, ISBN 0-7134-7920-5

External linksEdit