King (chess)

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White king
Black king

The king (♔, ♚) is the most important piece in the game of chess. In algebraic notation, the king is abbreviated in English by the letter K. 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 one of the weakest pieces in the game outside of the endgame.

Each player begins the game with a king of 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 movement[edit]

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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e8 black king
e1 white king
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Initial placement of the kings
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8
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d5 white circle
e5 white circle
f5 white circle
d4 white circle
e4 white king
f4 white circle
d3 white circle
e3 white circle
f3 white circle
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Possible movements of an unhindered king
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8
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f8 black rook
h7 black queen
g6 white knight
c5 black cross
d5 black cross
e5 black cross
b4 white pawn
c4 black cross
d4 black king
e4 black cross
c3 black cross
d3 black cross
e3 black cross
f3 white queen
a2 white bishop
f2 white circle
g2 white circle
h2 black cross
d1 white rook
f1 white circle
g1 white king
h1 black cross
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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.

Castling[edit]

The king can make a special move, in conjunction with a rook, 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 permissible only when:

  • neither the king nor the castling rook have previously moved
  • no squares between them are occupied
  • the king is not in check
  • none of the squares the king would move across or to are under enemy attack

Castling with the h-file rook is known as castling kingside or short castling (denoted 0-0 in algebraic notation), while castling with the a-file rook is known as castling queenside or long castling (denoted 0-0-0).

Status in games[edit]

Check and checkmate[edit]

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.

abcdefgh
8
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f8 black rook
h7 black queen
g6 white knight
c5 black cross
d5 black cross
e5 black cross
b4 white pawn
c4 black cross
d4 black king
e4 black cross
c3 black cross
d3 black cross
e3 black cross
f3 white queen
a2 white bishop
d1 white rook
g1 white king
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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.

Stalemate[edit]

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 (see swindle).

abcdefgh
8
Chessboard480.svg
f8 black rook
f3 black queen
h3 black king
f2 black cross
g2 black cross
h2 black cross
f1 black cross
g1 white king
h1 black cross
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66
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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 gameplay[edit]

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).

Unicode[edit]

Unicode defines two codepoints for king:

U+2654 White Chess King (HTML ♔)

U+265A Black Chess King (HTML ♚)

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  • 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
  • FIDE Handbook: Laws of Chess

External links[edit]