The king is the most important piece in chess because checkmating the king marks the end of the game. When the king is threatened to be captured on the next move, we usually say “check”, which really means to attend to the king.
Check is often delivered when the king is still in its initial position. When in check, chess players would sometimes move their king onto a safe square so it won’t be captured. However it’s not too often that beginner players see the king move without check. Therefore, you may want to know if it is possible. Can the king actually move without check? Read on to find out the answer.
Can The King Move Without Check?
Yes, the king can move to any legal square without being in check. It is free to move just about any given time in the game. However, you shouldn’t simply move your king just because you can. In the opening, the king should remain inactive and kept safe in the castling position.
The white king can move to b1 without being in check
The best time to move your king is in the endgame because it needs to help the pawns up the board to promote.
The word “check” means that the king is in danger of being captured on the next move, and you must do whatever it takes to prevent the king from being captured. In that case, you can either block the check, capture the piece delivering check, or move the king away from check.
Moving The King When In Check
When in check, one thing you can do is move the king away from the threat to prevent it from being captured. However, this is not the ideal approach to take, especially in the opening because you would have to give up castling rights once you move your king away from check.
Rather than moving the king when in check, you should find a way to either block the check with one of your pieces or remove the piece delivering check. That way you’ll preserve castling rights. However, if you don’t have any pieces to block or remove the threat, then your only choice is to in fact move the king to a safe square. Let’s look at an example.
In the position below, the bishop delivered a check to the white king. White can either play Nc3 or Qd2 to block the check. But this would be unfavorable, because after Nc3, white’s d pawn would be hanging. And, after Qd2, the bishop would capture the Queen. The best move for white is to simply side step the king via King to f1.
Though white gave up castling rights, he still has a better position and the king cannot be easily harassed on f1 since the center is closed. Only in these types of closed positions it is safe to give up castling rights. However, in an open position, the king could be vulnerable.
The Best Time To Move The King
We now know that you can indeed move the king without check. But you shouldn’t move the king whenever you feel like. Here we will discuss the best times to move the king so that you can make the right decision in your games the next time you play.
1. Move the king to castle
Besides the endgame, the most appropriate time to move the king is when you are castling. Castling is a special move that involves the king and rook. The king move 2 steps to the rook, then the rook jumps over and land next to the king.
Note that castling cannot be performed when the king is in check. You can read more about castling out of check here:
The reason you want to move your king in the opening is to keep it safe. Remember, if the king is checkmated then the game finishes. Therefore, king safety should be the number one priority when playing chess.
Castling is the only time when the king can move 2 steps. Other than that, the king can only move one square at a time in any direction.
2. Move the king after long castle
Long castle in chess is just another way of saying queenside castling. When you castle queenside, the king is not 100% safe. Usually, it’s on a diagonal which is susceptible to checks. For example in the Yugoslav attack of the Sicilian Defense, white typically castles queenside and then launches his king side pawns to start an attack. However, the white king is on the c1-h6 diagonal leaving him vulnerable to checks from black’s dark squared bishop.
In preparation, white usually moves the king one step closer to the corner. This gets the king off the diagonal and adds some more protection to the flank pawn on a2 (a7 for black)
White moves the king off the c1-h6 diagonal to escape any potential checks
This type of move is called prophylaxis. It’s where the player makes a move or series of moves to prevent their opponent from taking some action. In this case, white doesn’t have to worry about any annoying checks along the c1-h6 diagonal.
3. Move the king in the endgame
The king is perhaps the most active piece in the endgame. It arises from its slumber in the final stage of battle. At this point, most pieces are traded off, so you shouldn’t worry about it being checkmated.
In the endgame you should move your king to the center of the board. From the center, the king is more powerful and helps to “shoulder” off the opposing king from accessing crucial squares. The king can also help guide a passed pawn up the board so that it safely promotes to a queen.
The side who can promote their pawn to a queen first usually goes on to win the game due to the power of the queen and its ability to deliver checkmate fast.
All in all, you should bring your king to the center of the board in the endgame as quickly as possible so that you can shoulder off the opposing king. This often leads to good winning chances.
The king can move without check, but the best times to do so is when you are castling, getting the king off a dangerous diagonal, or activating it in the endgame. King safety should be your number one priority in chess. Avoid moving the king in the early stages of the game unless you have to.