If, when you play chess, you find your king in jeopardy more often than not, have you thought about using your king more offensively, against another king no less?
Perhaps a king on king situation appears to be the perfect set up for a win, but in reality, the rules don’t make things so simple.
In this article, we aim to put to bed the question of whether a king can kill a king in chess. We will take a look at the role and capabilities of the king and the circumstances where you can legitimately use him offensively.
Chess strategists take note! If we can wrap our minds around it we will also explore how two kings could end up in the circumstance where one could ‘kill’ another. Enjoy!
Do you want to know if a king can kill a king in chess?
Firstly, understanding the role and capabilities of a king piece will help answer this intriguing point. Chess rules are relatively straightforward but the strategy is more complex. Before we get our hands on our king piece ‘battle-style’ we need to know what we can legitimately do with the game’s most enigmatic piece.
The king piece in chess
As its name denotes, the king rules as the most important piece in the game of chess. It is an ancient and foundational chess piece that goes back to the very origins of the game.
Known in Persian and Arabic languages as the “Shah”, ivory and bone carved king pieces from antiquity have been recovered that are thought to be at least two thousand years old!
With the translation and assimilation of the game into European culture for at least the last thousand years, the centrality of the king has persisted until the present day.
The role of the king in chess
With both the white and black chess pieces having equivalent forces, the game typically hinges on the inevitable capture of a king as the decisive act that determines a winner. Really from the opening moves, both kings are under continual threat of capture, with the other chessmen moved offensively or defensively about their king.
It is extremely rare for a king to be moved in the opening or middlegame. It really comes into its own during the endgame stage of a game of chess.
● If a king becomes at risk of imminent capture it is said to be in check. In this circumstance the players, next move must be to remove the threat from their king, either by moving the king or capturing the opponent piece that causes the threat.
● When a king is in check but has no means of escaping the piece that threatens capture, checkmate has occurred, with immediate forfeiture of the game.
● Apart from being on the run, a king may move offensively against enemy pieces and facilitate the promotion of remaining pawns by defending them.
Capabilities of the king
The power and potential of a king is markedly limited, especially when compared to the queen, rook, or castle.
● A king can move one square horizontally, vertically, or diagonally.
● A king’s move is restricted by an adjacent square being occupied by a piece from the same team, or where its move would place it in check.
● Kings are also involved in the special move of castling. This exceptional move enables a king to move two squares towards a rook that has remained in the first rank (row), while the rook simultaneously moves into the square crossed by the king.
Can a king kill?
Firstly, kings don’t kill. No chessmen do this, they are far less bloodthirsty than you think! They instead capture. A king, like other pieces, can capture an adjacent enemy piece as long as it is not putting itself in check, or exposing a discovered attack to do so.
So, can a king kill a king?
This question is, therefore, better phrased as can a king capture a king?
Once placed on the board, a king never leaves and actually is never captured. It is not possible to capture a king, it is only possible to place it in checkmate.
As a king can only maneuver in ways where they are not placing themselves in check two kings cannot occupy adjacent squares.
If you have been tempted to take down a king with your king anyway, you are in good company. Take a look at this famous chess grandmaster Vidit Gujrathri try and pull off some illegal king on king shenanigans:
Opposition of kings
King versus king encounters are known in chess as direct opposition. Variants of this concept such as diagonal opposition and distant opposition also exist. This is essentially a face-off against two kings who are positioned on the same rank (row of squares) or file (column of squares).
A game of chess will get to this point when all that is left on the board are the two kings and a handful of pawns.
A king can never move directly adjacent to another king, so the two kings are unable to advance against each other and create a mutual impediment.
When this tense blockade is set up, the player that does not have to move is said to “have the opposition”. The side with the king that has to move is left at a disadvantage, a situation known amongst chess pros as zugzwang which means “compulsion to move” in German.
This pressuring maneuver can be used strategically to force a king into a weaker position while the opposing king gets its pawns promoted. It may also lead to forfeiture of the game.
Getting your king into (and out of) trouble
So we are clear that deliberately putting your king into check to advance it against the opponent king is an illegal move. If an enemy king advances against your piece, you can respond by seeking to put another piece (most likely one of your remaining pawns) between your opponent king and yourself.
If this type of oppositional situation is entered, you can only legitimately move your king to a safe square.
You can also use your king to set up the opponent’s king for a check or checkmate indirectly. To pull this off, try one of these strategies:
● Like Neo in The Matrix, you can make your king leap out of the way of an offensive king, leaving your rook to take up a position where checkmate is an inevitability.
● Alternatively, you can serve your king out of the way of an attacking piece leaving the opponent king to take the fall.
Heady players who love the potency and potential of pieces like the queen, rook, knight, or castle may see a king as the weakling of the board. The king is a piece that reflects your strategic outlook and discipline as a player and can really demonstrate your command of the board.
Remember that a king is the only chess piece that cannot be removed from the board while the game is in play. Keep researching and playing good chess to learn and achieve more with every piece on the board.