How Does The King Move In Chess?

The king is by far the most valuable piece in chess; lose your king and you’ll lose the game! Reason enough to learn the king’s movement by heart. So let’s dive right into how the king moves (and also attacks!) in chess.

The King Moves One Square in Every Direction

The movement of the king is fairly straight-forward to remember.

The king can move one square in any horizontal, vertical, or diagonal direction in a given turn. Here you can see how the king could move on an empty chess board:

Movement of the King in Chess
Movement of the King in Chess: The King Can Move One Square in Every Direction

As you can see, the king is a rather slow piece and lacks any sort of long-range capabilities.

Because the king is such a special piece, there are a few limitations and exceptions to his movement. We’ll look at all of them later in this article.

Castling: A Special King-Move

You might’ve heard of a special move that rook and king can perform together: castling.

First, let’s look at the requirements that need to be met, for a player to be allowed to castle. There are four in total:

  1. The king and (castling) rook have not yet moved in the game
  2. The king is not currently in check
  3. No square the king would castle through is under attack
  4. The squares between king and rook are unoccupied

If all those preconditions are met, you are free to castle your rook and king! How exactly does that work? Let’s break it down:

  1. The king moves two squares towards the rook
  2. The rook jumps over the king and gets placed directly next to it

Here is the castling process animated:

short castle in chess
The King Castling Together With The Rook

Since each player starts the game with two rooks (one closer to the queen and one closer to the king), there are two different ways of castling:

  1. Kingside-Castle: Performed with the king and rook that is closer to the king.
  2. Queenside-Castle: Performed with the king and rook that is closer to the queen.

How Can The King Attack in Chess?

Although the king is usually in need of protection by your pieces, it can become quite an aggressive, and capable attacking piece in the endgame, where most other pieces are already traded off.

The king attacks in the same way it moves across the board under normal circumstances: one square in every direction.

However, unlike other chess pieces, the king cannot capture protected enemy pieces, as he would be putting himself in check by doing so. Remember: The king can only capture unprotected pieces.

Fun Fact
A king can never capture a queen by moving towards it, as he would be putting himself in check. The only way for a king to capture a queen is for the queen to move directly next to the king while being unprotected.

Limits To The King’s Movement

While the king is the most valuable piece in chess, it is also the piece with the most limited movement of them all. So, let’s look at what exactly the king cannot do; split up into moves that chess pieces in general can’t do, and moves that are prohibited for the king specificially.

Moves Chess Pieces Can’t Do In General:

  • The king can’t move “half squares”. This might be old news to more experienced players, but it is still worth mentioning. The king (and every other chess piece) can’t end their move in-between two squares on the chess board. Each move stops with the king being placed on one (and only one!) of the 64 squares.
  • The king cannot share squares with other enemy or friendly pieces. Generally, chess pieces cannot stand together on a single square. For that reason, the king is also not allowed to share squares with other pieces, either friendly or enemy.

Moves The King in Particular Can’t Do:

  • The king can’t move more than one square at a time (excepion: castling). As mentioned above, the rules of chess allow the king to move exactly one square at a time, never more. However, during castling, the king is allowed to move two squares horizontally.
  • The king can’t move itself into check. This might seem self-explanatory, but we’ll mention it anyways. The king can’t move himself into check. This would be considered an illegal move. You wouldn’t immediately lose the game, but you will have to take that move back and find a legal square to move your king to.
  • The king can’t castle through chess. As mentioned in the section about castling, the king is not allowed to castle through any squares that are currently under attack by enemy pieces (i. e. castling through check is not allowed).
  • The king is not able to jump over other pieces. The last point we’ll mention is the inability of the king to jump over other pieces. For once, the king can only move one square at a time, making it impossible to jump over other pieces. Additionally, the rules of chess allow only the knight to jump over other pieces.

Read More About the King in Chess

Read More About Castling