I. Basic Moving and Capturing.
The King is one of the three multilinear pieces. The King is the most powerful piece on the chessboard – this should be obvious because it cannot be captured and removed from the chessboard. The King’s power comes to the forefront especially in endgames, when it may be brought forth to provide both defense and support attacking capabilities in the area of battle on the board. In fact, a sound principle to remember is that the King should be rushed as quickly as possible in an endgame to the area of battle for precisely those reasons. During openings and middle game play, the King should be kept well guarded behind the player’s pieces and pawns. Throughout opening and middlegame play, King Safety is paramount!!!
The King is restricted and may move, or move and capture, only one square at a time, except in the special optional move called the Castle Move or Castling (covered in a separate tutorial).
The King may move, or move and capture, either forward or backward on the same file, either to the right or left horizontally on the same rank, or forward or backward along either of the diagonal lines extending from the square upon which the King is located. The diagram below shows the possible squares to which the Black King and White King may move, or move and capture, assuming the square is one to which the King can move according to the basic principles and rules provided below the diagram.
The King may move only to an open square (not occupied by any other piece or pawn) provided doing so:
- would not result in the King immediately being in check on that square; and
- the square is not adjacent along any line of the square or touching at any diagonal intersecting point the square upon which the opposing King is located.
The King may only move and capture an opposing piece (other than the King) or a pawn upon an occupied square provided doing so meets the above two conditions.
II. Basic Principles and Concepts.
The King has the most potential flexibility when it is on a square located off either the 1st or 8th rank, and off the wings (the a and h files). The King has a maximum possible eight squares to which it may move when not on a square in either the 1st or 8th ranks, and in either the a or h files. The closer the King is to one of the four sides of the board and toward a corner, the more restricted the King becomes. In the above diagram, because the Black King is on the eighth (8th) rank (row), it has a maximum of five (5) squares to which he might move, while White’s King is not on one of the four sides of the board and therefore has eight (8) squares to which he might move. When in a corner square, a King has a maximum of only three (3) squares to which he might move. Of course, if one or more of those squares are occupied by one or his own pieces or pawns, or is occupied by an opposing piece or pawn which is defended and protected against capture by the King, or is controlled by an opposing piece or pawn blocking the King’s flight to one or more of those squares, then the King’s potential mobility becomes even more restricted. These patterns form the basis for the anatomy of mate patterns seen earlier in the Objective of the Game tutorial.
Not surprisingly, for checkmating it is almost always better to force the King to one of the four sides and towards the corner of a board as this generally presents the best chance to checkmate the King in an endgame. In fact, as will seen in the Checking and Checkmating tutorial, this concept is an especially important point to remember in an endgame – both to try to force upon the opposing King and to try to avoid against the player’s King. Possibilities to checkmate a King otherwise than in a corner certainly exist, and with certain combinations of pieces and/or pawns sometimes it is better not to push the opposing King into a corner as this could result in a stalemate. In such situations, often it is better to seek to trap the opposing King along the wings (a or h files) or on a back rank ( ranks 1 or 8), or if have sufficient fighting forces still on the board then more centrally located, in order to effectuate a checkmate.
If a King is in check, the King may:
- move to any open square provided the above rules for moving are followed, or
- move and capture the checking piece if possible, except a Knight because a King may never move and capture an opposing Knight which has the King in check because the King can only move one square at a time, or
- move and capture either an opposing piece or an opposing pawn on another square provided the above rules for moving and capturing are followed.
III. King Forks.
Forks and fork checking are aspects of paying attention to King safety. However, not only may an opposing King, piece and/or pawn (or more than one) be forked by a player’s other pieces and pawns, but a player’s King also may fork opposing pieces (except the King) and/or pawns. A King cannot force a fork upon an opposing Queen as it may on other opposing pieces and pawns because it can never move to a square adjacent to the opposing Queen because it would be in check. However, if the opposing player is inattentive and checks the King with the opposing Queen while the King is attacking another unprotected and undefended opposing piece and/or pawn (or more than one), and the Queen does not by the check move provide protection and defense for the attacked piece(s) and/or pawn(s), then the opposing player could essentially create a King fork against himself or herself! Obviously, such a check move may be a bad move or even a blunder unless:
- the King is hemmed into a mating net; and/or
- the opposing player has a significant material advantage; and/or
- he or she has significant positional superiority; and/or
- he or she has a well-constructed pawn structure such that he or she will inevitably regain the Queen through pawn promotion.
If the opposing Queen in such a King fork situation is not protected from being taken by the player’s King, this would be a major blunder unless the opposing player intended to sacrifice the Queen because he or she has:
- an overwhelming material superiority; and/or
- significant positional superiority; and/or
- a well-constructed pawn structure such that he or she will inevitably regain the Queen through pawn promotion; and/or
- has a mating net.
Typically, a King fork is extremely rare especially in openings and the early part of the middlegame. The best chance for it to occur if at all during a game is in the endgame phase when there are few pieces and pawns left on the board.
IV. Checking and Checkmating; King Safety.
The basics of checking and checkmating a King were covered in The Objective of the Game of Chess section. The section also covered the basics regarding draws and stalemates. Further development of these principles is provided in other tutorials. Let’s continue with a prime basic principle regarding the King…the paramount concern to guide a player’s opening and middlegame playing of the game being King Safety.
A lack of King Safety early in a game may result from several factors: inattentiveness to what the opposing player is doing, failure to concentrate on development of pieces, setting up a good pawn structure, obtaining material advantage, and of course making bad moves, pawn advances, bad captures, and blunders. Thus, one may see that there is a definite connection between the governing principles and their applications while playing the game of chess.
King Safety is reached by several different means on a chessboard. Three primary ones are:
- The Castle Move or Castling. (clicking links to separate tutorial)
- Blocking open files and diagonals through pawn advances and positioning pieces on the chessboard.
- Creation of a well-constructed pawn structure, pawn center, and with good piece development.