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The King in Chess: 21 Things You Must Know (Facts, Strategies,…)

Last Updated on January 25, 2024 by Gamesver Team and JC Franco

Everyone knows that chess’ objective is to defend your king and defeat the king of your opponent. It’s evident that the king is vitally essential to the game, but there are so many exciting things to know about this piece. Let’s look at a few facts, some background info, good strategies, and more on the king in chess.

The king is the chess piece with the most value but also the one that’s mostly ignored until well into the game. Despite its importance, it can only do a little because it’s slow and not very powerful. All the other pieces on the board are only there to defend your king and attack your opponent.

It might seem that the king is almost unimportant to the game of chess, but that’s not the case. It’s the pillar on which the game relies, and a fallen king is a lost game. It didn’t become the king by being useless, after all.

These are 21 interesting facts to know about the king in chess:

1. The King Is The Slowest Piece In Chess

Most of the other chess pieces can move either one, two, three, or more squares in various directions. The chess king is the only piece that can never move more than one square. 

Even the pawn, limited to one square through most of the game, can move two squares during the first move. The king can never move more than one, except when castling.

2. The King Can Move Anywhere On The Chess Board

Most pieces, except for the queen, have limited movement directions, shapes, or types of squares they can move to. The king can move anywhere on the board – horizontally, vertically, or diagonally – as long as it only moves by one square in a round.

3. Checkmate Refers To The Death Of The King

The word “checkmate” is an English version of the old Persian phrase “shah mat.” The literal modern English translation of the words is “the king is dead.” Unfortunately, they left out the “long live the king” part.

4. The King Was Less Prominent During the Early Days

When the predecessor of chess (Chaturanga) was invented in India, the game’s name was “four divisions of the military.” The name referred to the pawn, knight, bishop, and rook, and though the king was part of the game, it wasn’t considered prominent enough to be mentioned in the name.

5. The King Is The Main Way To Win Or Lose At Chess

As we’ve seen, the last word said in a game of chess means, “the king is dead.” Each player has two goals: defend their king and defeat the other. There are no different ways to win or lose a game of chess.

6. Old Chess Rules Saved The King From Death

Sometime between its invention and the 17th century, the rules of chess changed to allow annihilation. This was a way to beat your opponent by eradicating all of their pieces and leaving the king to stand alone. The rule of annihilation was dropped in the late 1600s because medieval players felt it was better to win a nobler victory.

7. You Can’t Ignore A King In Check

When your opponent places your king in check, you cannot ignore it. You may be ready to put your opponent in checkmate in one more move, but if your king is in check, you must resolve the check before making any other moves.

8. In Fighting Value, The King Might Be Less Valuable Than The Rook

When we talk about fighting value points, the king’s value is about 3.5 points. That’s a bit higher than the bishop and knight, each of which has 3 points, but less than the rook’s 5 points, not to mention the queen’s 9 points. 

With that in mind, since all pieces’ main objective is to protect the king, the king’s value might be viewed as infinite.

9. You Can Protect Your King With A Rook

Castling is a unique move in the game of chess. It involves protecting the king behind the rook by swapping places with it. Castling is the only move where two chess pieces can legally move at once, and the king can move over more than one square.

10. Pro Players Bring The King Into Play Before The Endgame

Many professional chess players like to use a powerful strategy: putting the king into play just when they see the endgame approaches. This can throw the opponent’s strategy off and force them to change tactics. If it’s safe, move your king into the game before it’s too late.

11. The King Can Never Be Captured

The king is the only chess piece on the board that can never be captured. The game is over as soon as the player realizes that they can no longer make a move to avoid capture of their king, then admits defeat by putting their king on its side. The king is never actually captured in traditional chess.

12. Modern Chess Is Named After The Kings

To show the change in focus since its creation, the name “chess” is a simplified version of the word “checks,” which translates to “kings.” Chess is the game of kings in a very literal sense.

13. A King Can Capture Any Other Piece If It Is Safe To Do So

A king may capture any other chess piece, but only if it won’t get into danger by doing so. Specifically, you are not allowed to capture a piece with your king if the move will put your king in check.

14. Move The King To A Corner Early In The Game

Most of the action on a chessboard happens in the center. That’s why moving the king as close as possible to a corner early in the game is crucial. You can move it back out at a later stage.

15. Try To Keep Your King Behind A Line Of Pawns

Pawns help protect your king, giving you a few precious opportunities to make alternative plans when you see trouble coming. Try not to move the pawns in front of your king unless you have to or if it’s part of your strategy.

16. The King Has Hidden Potential

Emanuel Lasker, the former chess world champion, said that the king is a vital piece to play in the endgame. As mentioned earlier, pro players take the king into play toward the end of the game. Still, Lasker effectively used the king to attack his opponents, not merely passively or defensively.

17. The King Can Kill A Queen

A common belief, especially among new players, is that the king cannot kill the opponent’s queen. This is not true. If the king ends up next to the other queen, it can capture the queen. The misconception happened because it’s nearly impossible for a clear-thinking chess player to move their queen to within one square of the king, and the queen can escape quickly enough.

18. The King Has Changed Very Little

The rules about what the king can do in chess changed very little over the centuries. From the start, it could only move one square in any direction. The only rule for the king that changed more recently was castling, which started emerging in the 14th and 15th centuries but eventually got formalized in the 17th century.

19. Sometimes You May Not Castle Your King

When playing by Asian chess rules, you are not allowed to castle your king. The rules simply don’t allow it. You also can’t castle if the king has already moved during the game. Castling must be the king’s first move, or it won’t be allowed.

20. There’s A Reason Why The King Starts In The Middle

Historically, it was customary for the king, or at least the highest-ranking leader, to join the battlefield in a clearly visible position. This rallied the troops and showed them their leader trusted them even with his life. That tradition carries on in modern chess.

21. Exposing Your King Early On May Be A Good Strategy

A chess strategy called the King’s Gambit can be an aggressive path to victory. The method requires you to move the pieces directly in front of your king in your first few moves, exposing the king and leaving it vulnerable. However, most of the countermoves that your opponent can make will also reveal their king, making it easier for you to win.

In Closing

Like the medieval kings who loved to play the game, the king in chess is a crucial part that can either win or lose the game for you. Understanding these 21 facts will hopefully help you formulate robust strategies to protect and use your king to score the victory.

JC Franco

JC Franco serves as a New York-based editor for Gamesver. His interest for board games centers around chess, a pursuit he began in elementary school at the age of 9. Holding a Bachelor’s degree in Business from Mercyhurst University, JC brings a blend of business acumen and creative insight to his role. Beyond his editorial endeavors, he is a certified USPTA professional, imparting his knowledge in tennis to enthusiasts across the New York City Metropolitan area.