The king is probably one of the most confusing pieces on the chessboard for new players. At first, it seems like the king is an incredibly weak piece and that it’s clear that it must be defended at all costs. But is this entirely true or does the king have hidden strengths that allow him to defend himself when the other side comes calling for his head?
Can the chess king capture when in check? The king can certainly capture while he is in check. As long as capturing gets him out of check and doesn’t put him in a new one, the king can capture any piece except for the opponent’s king. Not only that, but there are often some very good reasons for the king to capture his way out of check.
So, let’s take a look at how the king is meant to handle direct threat to his power on the board. Here is a guide to getting your king out of check, the right way.
Why Does The King Matter In Chess?
A game of chess is played entirely because of the king. While it may not be the most powerful piece on the chessboard, it is certainly, without any exceptions – the most important. It may seem a little sexist to some but at the time chess was invented national rules were, almost without exception, men and thus the king is the literal ruler of his chess army.
When you capture the ruler of the army, it tends to disintegrate and in chess that’s exactly what happens – if you capture the king it’s all over. Except for one thing, no-one can capture the king, instead they must put the king into a state known as “checkmate” to win.
Checkmate Is The Purpose Of Chess
Checkmate exists when a king is in “check” – that is a piece is threatening to take the king and the king cannot either a.) remove the threat of check, b.) block the threat of check or c.) move out of check to a square where the king is no longer threatened by another piece.
To make matters slightly more complicated – the king may not castle out of check and nor may the king castle through check (e.g. he cannot move through an empty square under attack by another piece on his way to safety).
No Obligation For Fanfare Surrounding Check
There is no obligation for your opponent to tell you that you are in check, though traditionally in “friendly” games it is good form to do so with a polite announcement of “check”. In competition, it is, in fact, to your opponent’s advantage not to do this and they will have been briefed to try to avoid saying “check”.
When the king is in check, the player that is in charge of that king must move the king out of check on their next move. They may not, under any circumstances, make another move that doesn’t get the king out of check. If they do so, and the position is not “checkmate”, their opponent will require them to take the move back and play again.
Watch Out For The Time When In Check
If the game is timed – there will be no time added back on for this new move. If the game is a game of speed chess, blitz chess, bullet chess, etc. leaving your king in check may result in the forfeit of the game.
Thus, it’s pretty important that as a chess player, you can recognize when you are in check and move out of check in as many ways as possible.
Can A King Take A Piece In Check?
Yes, there are three options for a king to get out of check:
- The king can move to a square on the board, as long as he does not move more than one square in any direction, that he is not under threat in.
- The piece which is attacking the king may be blocked in its line of attack, for example, let us say that the queen is threatening the king – a rook, knight, bishop, pawn or queen might be placed on the line of attack to protect the king
- The piece which is attacking the king may be taken by any piece which can legally take it and this includes the king, with the singular exception of when taking this piece would place the king into check again
Let’s look at examples of each of these situations:
The King Can Move
White: King (A1) and Rook (G1)
Black: King (H8)
It is white to move and they play Rh1+
This means that the rook has the king in check. With no other pieces on the board, the king cannot block the attack and he is too far away from the rook to take it himself.
Thus, he must move out of check and would move either to g8 or to g7. Of course, technically, the player with the black pieces is already in a losing position here but they may be playing for a draw by repetition or the 50-move rule if their opponent isn’t particularly strong.
The Piece Which Is Attacking May Be Blocked
White: King (A1) and Queen (D1)
Black: King (H8) and Rook (A7)
In this scenario our white player decides to call check and moves Qh1+ and the queen now threatens the king.
Black, however, decides that it’s not in their interest to move the king and instead moves their rook Rh7 and blocks the attack.
This removes the king from check and, in fact, threatens white’s queen.
The Piece Which Is Attacking May Be Captured
White: King (A1), Bishop(H6) and Queen (C2)
Black: King (H8), Rook (A6)
Here we find white gearing up for the kill and they move their bishop Bg7+
Unfortunately, while they have got away from the rook’s attack, they haven’t kept their bishop safe and black simply responds by using the king to take the bishop. KxBg7
The king is out of check by taking the piece threatening it. This can be done with any piece in similar circumstances, the only piece that a king cannot legally capture when it has him in check is the knight as a knight is always, by definition, two squares away from the king and thus, they cannot be captured using a legal move.
The Piece Which Is Attacking May Not Be Captured
Finally, there are situations where the king cannot capture the piece which has him in check, but which are not checkmate, for example.
White: King (A1), Rook (B1), Bishop (F8), Knight (H5)
Black: King (H8), Bishop (D4)
Here it’s white’s move and they go with Bg7+
Unfortunately, the black king cannot take the bishop in this situation even though it is very similar to the situation that we have just looked at because the knight on H5 is attacking the square the bishop is on. However, it is not checkmate and the king may move Kh7 to get out of check.
So, there we have it – the four main scenarios in which a king is in check and may escape without being mated.
Of course, the ideal situation is to keep your king away from threats in the first place but that’s not always possible and when you do find your king is threatened – you must, according to the rules, get them out of trouble.
Fortunately, while the king isn’t the strongest piece on the board, he’s not entirely defenseless, either and you can use your king to capture any piece from the queen to a pawn and anywhere in between. The only constraint is that you may not move your king into check when you’re taking a piece other than that – if you can capture a piece, you can go right ahead and do it.