Obviously the most important piece on the board, as the game is lost without it. With a lot of pieces on the board, you are almost always going to want to hide it away, but as pieces disappear from the board it’s going to take a more dominating role in the game. First of all I would like to show some basic observations about the king’s movement. Of course the game is drawn if only the kings are left, as neither can threaten the other. However it serves to illustrate the dynamics between those two pieces.
The king is the first piece we are going to see being restricted by the edges of the board. If a king is placed away from the edge of the board, it’s going to cover 8 squares. In diagram 1 though, the white king only got five squares (d1, d2, e2, f2 and f1), as it’s along the edge of the board. It’s even worse for the black king in the corner who only covers three squares g8, g7 and h7.
Furthermore the geometry of the chess board doesn’t work quite as regular geometry, which is illustrated in the diagram 2. In a regular square the opposite corners are further away from each other, than those next to each other. This doesn’t really hold true for the king’s movement on a chess board. With the king on a1 it takes just as many moves (seven) to get to h8, as to h1 or a8. We also notice that a king in the center (e4, d4, e5 or d5) can get to any part of the board within four moves. This is our first example illustrating the importance of centralization, and how it increases the mobility of our pieces (much like the middle of the field in football).
Many endgames are more or less pure duels between the two kings, where one is going to dominate the other. The basic way for a king to dominate another is illustrated in diagram 3. The player who is to move got his king dominated by the opponent’s king. At the moment the squares d4, e4 and f4 are not available to either king, but as soon as one of them moves away, at least one more square will be available. If white is to move, 1.Kd3 concedes the f4-square and 1.Kf3 concedes the d4-square. The three remaining moves concede all three squares. With black to move he would also have to concede either the d4- or the f4-square. To dominate the opponent’s king in this way is called to have the opposition. The opposition can of course both be gained and conceded.
A further investigation shows us what we call the diagonal opposition. The player who is to move in the diagram 4 has to concede the opposition if he wants to maintain any influence over the opponents king. At the moment only the square d4 is being contested by both kings. If white is to move he has two alternatives to maintain control of this square. After 1.Ke4 he also contest the d5 square, but black is going to gain the opposition after 1…Kc4. The other alternative 1.Kd3 can be answered in a similar fashion by 1…Kd5. With black to move white gains the opposition after either 1…Kd5 2.Kd3 or 1…Kc4 2.Kd4.
This is our first mini game. We got the starting position in diagram 5. The goal is for the whit king to get to the 8th rank. With our knowledge so far, it’s not a very hard game to solve and entirely depend on who is to move. With white to move black can easily control the white king by maintaining the opposition, for instance 1.Kc1 Kc3 2.Kd1 Kd3 etc. With black to move, white can however force through the penetration of his king. 1…Kc3 as black would rather restrict white’s king by keeping it along the edge of the board. Keeping the opposition doesn’t help white, but after 2.Ka2 Kb4 3.Kb2 white has gained a rank. We call this maneuver outflanking. White momentarily concedes the opposition in order to penetrate black’s defenses. Notice that gaining the diagonal opposition doesn’t help black, as after 1…Kc3 2.Ka2 Kc4 white can simply gain another rank by 3.Ka3. Horizontal control doesn’t matter in this mini game. This also shows us that opposition is just an ends to a mean (penetration), not the goal in and by itself. White can now just continue with his outflanking maneuver: 3…Kc4 4.Ka3 Kb5 5.Kb3 Kc5 6.Ka4 Kb6 7.Kb4 Kc6 8.Ka5 Kb7 9.Kb5 Kc7 10.Ka6 Kb8 11.Kb6 Kc8 12.Ka7 Kc7 13.Ka8.
Distant opposition describes positions where the kings are further apart. The player who got the distant opposition stands to gain the opposition as the game proceeds. To gain the distant opposition you have to move the king to a square, where there are odd numbers of ranks and files between them (and there’s no other pieces obstructing the kings). In diagram 6 the marked squares shows the alternatives for white, if he wants to gain the distant opposition. In this case white can play 1.Ke2. Black is now not able to move his king closer to white’s king without giving white the distant opposition again (and even closer to an actual opposition), for instance 1…Ke7 2.Ke3 Ke6 3.Ke4. If blacks king keeps the distance by 1…Kd8, white can either keep the distant opposition by 2.Kd2 or concede the opposition in order to start an outflanking maneuver by 2.Kf3. To give a more practical example, let’s examine another mini game:
In this mini game (first presented by Silman, I think) white’s goal is to get to the f8 or h8 square with his king. I suggest you try to get some practice with this position against a friend, if possible, or at least study it in depth. This will give you a very good understanding of the way opposition work, and serve you in countless later endgames and transition to endgames. With black to move, he can easily keep the white king at bay by 1…Kb7, taking the distant opposition. White can’t make any progress here as long as black is careful, for instance: 2.Kc1 Kc7 3.Kd2 Kd6 4.Ke3 Ke5. With white to move the story is different, of course. 1.Kb2 takes the distant opposition. 1…Kc8 is most tricky, as white cant concede the opposition quite yet and start an outflanking maneuver. After for instance 2.Ka3 Kc7 (taking the distant opposition) 3.Ka4 Kc6 4.Ka5 Kc5, white doesn’t get anywhere. Had black started with 1…Ka8, white could of course just started running with 2.Kc3 at once, and 1…Kc7 allows white to get closer and maintaining the distant opposition by 2.Kc3 as well. After 1…Kc8 white has to continue 2.Kc2 in order to maintain the opposition. The natural continuation is 2…Kd8 3.Kd2 Ke8 4.Ke2 Kf8 5.Kf2 Kg8 6.Kg2 Kc8. The key position has been reach and white can concede the opposition in order to outflank the black king: 7.Kh3 Kf7 8.Kh4 Kg6 (8…Kf6 9.Kh4) 9.Kg4 Kf6 10.Kh5 Kg7 11.Kg5 Kf7 12.Kh6 Kg8 12.Kg6 Kf8 13.Kh7 Kf7 14.Kh8. Again this exercise shows us that the opposition is just an ends to a mean (in this case to penetrate to the f8 or h8 square). We maintain it until just the right moment to advance with our king.
That's it for now. In the next post we'll have a look at the most powerful piece on the board, the queen.