Can You Win At Chess With Only A King? [Sort Of, Yes]

You may be aware that in chess your king can only move one square at a time and they may not, under any circumstances, place the other king in check, so you might wonder, is it possible to win a game of chess with only a king on the board? Well, the answer, as with many things in chess, is a bit more complicated than you might first think. Here’s what you need to know.

How can you win chess with only a king? In theory, you can’t force a win in chess if you only have a king. With just the king left, you can win the game only if your opponent resigns or your opponent runs out of time. You could also get a stalemate achieved by the 50 move rule.

How to win at chess with only a king - ChessPulse.com
How to win at chess with only a king – ChessPulse.com

How Do You Win At Chess? Setting The Conditions For A Win

There are four ways to win a chess game and it is, just possible, to win a game of chess with only a king on the board based on three of these winning mechanisms. So, let’s take a look at each of them in turn:

Winning By Checkmate

This winning methodology is the standard way to win a game of chess but for a player with only a king on the board, it is entirely out of reach. You cannot use your king to put your opponent’s king in check and no, there are no special rules that change this once the king is on the board by himself, so checkmate is absolutely out of the question. (Miracles not withstanding).

Winning By Time Loss

Another way to win a game is when the game is being played on a chess clock. This is when each player is allotted a certain amount of time to play out all their moves (in some variations they may be awarded a small amount of additional time each time that they make a move or they may be awarded a block of extra time every time that x moves have been made).

If a player should run out of time, then the other player can be said to have won. However, it is important to note that the “winning” player under these circumstances is required to claim the win (from an adjudicator or arbiter if one is present) and it is not conferred to them automatically. Thus, it’s possible for a player who is not checking the clock to continue to play and lose the game even though they “won” on time.

It is completely possible for a player who has just a king on the board to exhaust his opponent’s clock and thus to win the game. We’ll be fair about this, it’s very, very unlikely, but it is possible, and this is probably the best chance anyone has of winning with just a king on the board.

Winning Because The Other Player Resigns

A game can be forfeited by either player at any point by the act of resignation. This is done by laying your king down on its side and announcing that you resign to the other player. It is typically followed by an offer of a handshake and then the signing of score sheets to confirm the resignation.

You would normally expect a player in a losing position to resign rather than a player in a winning position. However, the rules do not prevent a resignation from a winning player and there are circumstances where this might be essential.

For example, if a player was to receive a call requiring their attendance elsewhere, they might offer a draw to their opponent, who is under no obligation to accept this, and if the opponent refused, they might resign in order to take their leave from the game.

These circumstances are unusual, and we can’t think of any circumstances where your play with a single king would influence the outcome to provide you with a win by resignation.

Winning Because The Other Player Is Disqualified

There is also the outside possibility that the player with the winning position has somehow done something that infringes the rules either of the game or the tournament in which the game is being played in.

If this is the case and the behavior has been sufficiently egregious, the arbiter might come to a decision that results in their disqualification from the game. Thus, the player with only the king on the board might win the game.

In our experience, this is never going to happen. In several years of tournament play, we’ve never known anyone to be disqualified, let alone under these specific circumstances. Now, given the size of the chess playing community, it probably has happened, somewhere but it hasn’t happened often. You can’t rely on this to give you a win at all.

However, as you can see that leaves 3 ways to win at chess with only a king on the board. Sadly, we don’t think that you can rely on any of them to win, particularly if your opponent has plenty of time on the clock.


What Happens If The King Is Alone In Chess?

Nothing happens when the king is alone on the chess board. The game continues as normal. There are no special rules introduced in chess for a player with only a king remaining. So, you can’t “win” by hoping for an escape clause in the rules because there isn’t one.

How To (Sort Of) Win At Chess With Just The King?

OK, now that we’ve determined that winning with a single king is very unlikely, let’s look at some circumstances under which you could not lose the game. We’d suggest that from the position of only having a king, that a draw looks much more like a win than it did at the start of the game and there are three ways for you to do this with just a king on the board.

The 50 Move Rule

There is a 50-move rule in chess and it states that in the situation where a game progresses 50 moves in which no other piece has been captured and no pawn has been moved, then the game results in a draw. This is, by far, the most common way for someone with a single king to force a draw.

This is particularly true if your opponent is down to a bishop and a knight or pair of bishops and just their king. They can’t push a pawn to extend the 50 moves and forcing a checkmate without queens or rooks on the board, while not impossible, is often beyond the skills of beginning and even medium ranked chess players.

If you try to keep your king in the center of the board as much as possible, you may be able to wear your opponent down into a draw which is going to feel like a loss to them.

Take All Your Opponent’s Remaining Pieces

The alternative route out is to take all of your opponent’s remaining pieces. If you are both left with just the king then neither of you can create checkmate and thus, you have a draw.

Rely On Your Opponent To Make A Mistake

We’ve seen this quite a few times, when your opponent has a huge material advantage, they can often accidentally place you in a position where you can’t move your king without moving into check but without putting your king into check in the first place. This is a “stalemate” and it’s a draw. Skilled players can take advantage of certain positions to try and trick their opponent into the stalemate.


Conclusion

How to win chess with only a king? Well, you can’t win at chess with only a king unless your opponent acts to make you the winner, it’s not possible as your king cannot place the other king in check. You can achieve a stalemate under several potential conditions the most likely of which is the 50-move rule which asserts that if a piece is not captured within 50 moves the game is drawn.

However, you should not immediately resign if you find yourself down to only a king. Not only is there some hope of a draw (and if this happens – you didn’t lose the game, so it’s a (sort of) win for you) but you can also learn a lot from playing on from a bad position and learning how to make the game work for you even when your opponent has more pieces on the board.

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