The king is the most vulnerable piece on the chessboard since the main goal of the game is to trap and checkmate the king. Having more material and better development is of no use when the king is in checkmate!
The King’s strengths
The king is particularly weak in the opening and middle stages of the game but towards the end he will make a valuable contribution to your forces. Due to the way the king moves (one square in any direction) he is particularly good with or against pawns. He can also be effective in cutting-off the opponent’s king (by using opposition).
Examples of his strengths
The first example shows why the king is so useful in the endgame stage of the game. What can white do here to win easily?
The white king will go to the c6-square and then capture the black-pawns. First he will capture the c7-pawn, then b6 and a5. The black king is too far away and he cannot assist the queen-side pawns in time. White will win easily thanks to the role of his king.
In this position, the move h6? would be a big mistake since it will allow the black king to stop the white pawn from promoting by moving Kf7 followed by Kg7 or Kg8.
Instead, white should play Kg6! By playing Kg6 white will make sure the black king can’t stop his h-pawn from promoting. The game could continue 1.Kg6! Ke7 2.Kg7! b5 3.h6 and now white will get a queen soon.
Cutting-off your opponent’s king with your king as in this example is referred to as “opposition”.
Summary of his strengths
- The king becomes a strong piece in the endgame stage of the game.
- Due to the way a king moves he is particularly good with and against pawns.
- A king can be used to effectively cut-off another king by using opposition.
The King’s weaknesses
The king is the most vulnerable piece on the board since everything else stops when the king is in check. In the opening and middle-game stage of the game your king is a target to the enemy pieces and you need to be sure you have enough resources near him to defend him against possible attacks.
The king is also a very slow-moving piece, which implies that he cannot quickly run away from danger. It also means that he needs a couple of moves to get close to the action (in the endgame stage).
Examples of his weaknesses
In this position it is white’s turn to move. Black has an advantage in material since he has an extra knight and an extra pawn. However, his king isn’t safe at all. How can white exploit this?
White plays 1.Qf8# Game over. The safety of your king is one of the most important factors in the game.
The next example shows how the king can be exploited to help you achieve other objectives such as winning material.
Summary of his weaknesses
- The king is the most vulnerable piece on the board since everything else must stop when the king is in check.
- The weakness of your king forces you to allocate some of your pieces to defend him.
In fact, keeping your king safe is so important that it is one of the 5 main objectives of the game. We will study the weaknesses of the king in more detail in future lessons that deal with the objective of king-safety.
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