The king is the most valuable piece in chess. Once you are checkmated, you lose the game.
So you normally want to keep your king safe and away from danger.
But your king is far from useless!
Like any other piece, it can be used to attack and capture your opponent’s pieces.
Let’s take a look at how the king moves, how it captures, and which pieces it can capture.
How the king moves
The king can move one square in any direction as long as that square isn’t occupied by friendly pieces and the move doesn’t place the king in danger.
The position below shows the white king on an empty chessboard. The king currently has 8 squares it could move to.
So the king can move horizontally, vertically, and diagonally, but only one square at a time. It’s basically a weaker version of the queen, which can also move in all three direction but as many spaces as she likes to.
Moreover, you can’t move your king into a check because that would put your own king in danger. But you can move your king out of a check!
In the diagram below, the king only has two possible squares it can move to. The pawns on d5 and c4 and the rook on c3 prevent the king from moving to those squares. Moreover, due to the black rook on e7, the white king isn’t allowed to move to e5, e4, or e3 because it would move itself into a check.
If you aren’t familiar with rooks, you can read my article on how rooks move in chess.
How the king captures
If you move your king to a square that already has a piece of your opponent on it, you can capture that piece; the way the king moves and captures are the same.
This means that a king can capture horizontally, vertically, diagonally, and backwards by moving one square.
In the position below, the white king can attack forwards by capturing the black bishop, or it can attack backwards by capturing the black knight.
In the position below, the white king can attack and capture either of the two black rooks diagonally.
Can the king capture in check?
The king can attack other pieces even while in check, as long as the king moves out of the check by capturing and doesn’t move into a new check by capturing.
In the position below, the black queen is checking the white king. The white king can still attack the black knight and escape the check at the same time.
If the king is checked by an opponent’s piece directly next to it, the king can capture that piece to get out of check. So moving your king is not the only way to deal with a check.
In the position below, the white king is checked by the black bishop. Since the black bishop is in range of the white king, the white king can attack the bishop and get out of check.
Capture rules for the chess king
So now that you know how the king moves and captures, let’s look at the rules one more time:
- Capturing is not mandatory: capture is not mandatory in chess. This holds for the king as well. Even if your king has the option to capture a piece, you are allowed to ignore it or simply move your king away.
- You can capture when in check: if your king is in check, you are allowed to capture a piece to get out of the check. This also includes capturing the checking piece if it’s close enough.
- You can not capture into a check: your king can’t capture a piece if that means you are moving your king into a check. So a king can never capture a defended piece.
- You can not capture your opponent’s king: since you can only move your king one square at a time and you aren’t allowed to move it into a check, this means that you can’t capture a king with a king.
Which pieces can the king capture in chess?
It’s impossible to capture a king with another king. But all the other pieces are fair play. Meaning that a king can capture pawns, knights, bishops, rooks, and queens.
Yes, a king can even capture a queen in certain situations!
But let’s start with the pawn.
Since pawns can only move one square at a time and attack two squares, it’s easy for a king to approach and capture pawns from nearly any direction.
Knights are also pretty easy to capture for kings. Knights move in an L-shaped pattern, so a king can approach horizontally, vertically, or diagonally.
Bishops are a little more tricky because they move diagonally. This means that a king can only capture a bishop horizontally or vertically.
Rooks are the exact opposite of bishops. Since rooks move horizontally and vertically, the king has to approach the rook diagonally to capture it.
Finally, we have arrived at the queen. I already said that a king can capture a queen. But it’s not easy!
The first thing to remember is that the queen can move in all directions, as shown below.
This means that a queen protects all the squares directly surrounding it. And as long as the queen stays on the same square, the king can never approach and capture it no matter how many moves you make.
Moving the king close enough to the queen to capture it means placing your own king in check, which is not allowed in chess.
However, that doesn’t mean that you can never capture a queen with a king!
A king can’t approach and capture a queen on its own. However, a king can capture a queen if the queen moves directly next to the king and is undefended.
For example, check out the three positions shown below.
Black decides to move the queen directly next to the white king and give a check. Since the black queen is adjacent to the white king and not defended, the white king can simply capture the queen.
The next three positions are different.
The black queen still moves to a square adjacent to the white king. But the black queen is defended by the black king. Now you can’t capture the black queen and you have to move the king to safety.
A king can capture other pieces in chess as long as the king doesn’t move into a check. This means that the king can also capture pieces to escape a check.
However, since you can’t move your own king into danger, this means you can’t capture your opponent’s king with your own king. And while capturing a queen is possible, not normally requires your opponent to make a big mistake.
All the other pieces can easily be captures by the king, assuming that they don’t run away of course.
If you want to know more about the king, you can read one of the following articles: