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  • Piececlopedia: King

    Historical notes

    Except for some differences in special moves, the King has remained the same from its earliest days to modern-day Chess. The King has always moved one space in any direction. The ability to castle is a recent modification to the King's powers, though this has precedents in earlier special moves, such as a King's leap. In Chaturanga, which is widely regarded as the earliest form of Chess, the King was called a rajah, which is Sanskrit for king. The Persians called it by the own word for king, which was shah. When the Arabs got Chess from the Persians, they left the name unchanged. When Shatranj, the Muslim form of Chess, spread to Europe, the King's name was latinized as rex, and in other European languages, it was commonly called by the native word for king. For example, it was a roi in French, a König in German, and a rey in Spanish.

    Our words Chess and checkmate both come from 'Shah,' the Persian word for King. Checkmate comes from the Persian expression 'shah mat,' which literally means, as Davidson points out, that the King is ambushed. Although 'mat' is also an Arabic word for dead, the expression was in use by the Persians before Chess spread to the Arabs, and it did not mean dead in Persian. Reports that checkmate means the King is dead are mistaken. While the Persian, Arab, and Spanish names for Chess have their roots in the original name of Chaturanga, which is Sanskrit for army, the Latin name of scaccus comes from 'Shah.' This led to the French échecs, the German Schach, and the English chess.

    In Shogi, the Japanese form of Chess, the King has the same powers of movement, except that it can't castle, and it is called a Jeweled General. In Xiangqi, the Chinese form of Chess, the King is alternately called a General (jiang) or a Commander (shuai), depending on which side it belongs to, and it is restricted to orthogonal movement within a 3x3 fortress.


    A King leaps (with or without taking) to any orthogonally or diagonally adjacent space. Orthogonally adjacent spaces share a side in common, and diagonally adjacent spaces are connected at a corner and share no sides in common. Diagonally adjacent squares share a common corner, and diagonally adjacent hexagons share no corners in common but are connected by a line that touches a corner of each space. On a suitably checkered board, orthogonally adjacent spaces are different colors, and diagonally adjacent spaces are the same color.

    Kings are royal: they may not be moved to a square attacked by a piece of the opponent. When they are attacked by a piece of the opponent, it is called `check', and when in a check that cannot be removed, they are mated, and the game is lost for their owner.

    Movement Diagrams


    For more information on the orthodox chess king, see our Illustrated rules of chess or the FIDE laws of chess.

    In Chaturanga the king moves as usual king, but additionally has the right to make one knight-move during the game, provided that he hasn't been checked before he makes his knight-move. Castling doesn't exist.

    In Shatranj the king moves as usual king, but may not castle.

    In Xiangqi the king may not leave the 'palace' (a central 3x3 area), and also may not move into the same file (column) as the opposing king (unless there are interposing pieces).

    Vocabulary: Royal

    The King is a royal piece. In regular Chess, and in most variants, the game is won by checkmating the royal piece. In some variants, it is won by capturing or baring the royal piece. Some variants may include multiple royal pieces. In some of these, the object will be to checkmate any single royal piece. In others, it will be to capture all of your opponent's royal pieces. The main thing about a royal piece is that it is the target in Chess. The object of the game involves it in some way, and capturing or checkmating it is the usual way of winning the game. When the object of the game is to checkmate a single royal piece, it is normally illegal for a player to move in any way that will let his royal piece be captured. When the object is just to capture it, making a move that let's it be captured is usually legal. Although the King is the most commonly used royal piece, any piece can be made royal. In Smess, the royal piece is called the Brain. In Fusion Chess, the King can combine with other pieces to form new royal pieces.

    Alternate Images

    Click on an image to view the full piece set it belongs to.

    Isle of Lewis Set Abstract Set Alfaerie Set
    Motif Set Cazaux Set


    Western Shogi Set Diagrammatic Shogi Set
    Shogi Playing Piece Shogi Symbol


    Iconographic Chinese Set Traditional Chinese Set National Standard Chinese Set
    Traditional Chinese Set National Standard Chinese Set

    Yáng Qí

    Traditional Chinese Set National Standard Chinese Set


    Davidson, Henry A. A Short History of Chess, 1949.

    Eales, Richard. Chess: The History of a Game, 1985.

    This is an item in the Piececlopedia: an overview of different (fairy) chess pieces.
    Written by Fergus Duniho and Hans Bodlaender. Diagram by Ben Good.
    WWW page created: September 4, 1998. Last modified: April 20, 2003.


    This item is a piececlopedia entry,
It belongs to categories: Orthodox chess, 
It was last modified on: 2003-04-20
 Author: Hans L. Bodlaender and Fergus  Duniho. King. Royal piece moving one in arbitrary direction.
    2004-07-20 JimmySeal UnverifiedGoodWhat Baughb says about shogi kings is correct. The one with the small dash is the 'jewel general' (black king), and the one without it is the 'king general' (white king). The player with the black king makes the first move, and in the event that the players are different skill levels, the more experienced player plays white and may have missing pieces as a handicap. View
    2004-02-25 NoneIn xiangqi, this is an illegal move. It is called 'fei jiang'. The general aka jiang must not expose itself along the vertical line to the opponent's jiang. it must be blocked by some pieces. If you expose yourself to the opponent's general, your general is captured and lost automatically. It is not a local variation but a valid move of xiangqi. View
    2004-01-30 Larry Smith Verified as Larry SmithNone

    In XiangQi, it is suppose to be illegal to expose your King to capture. But these students might merely be playing these games through to capture in order to learn its nuances. That way they can learn to visualize all these potential lines of attack on the King and realize a 'checkmate' position.

    Then again, it might be a local form of play. ;-)

    2004-01-30 Peregrino UnverifiedGood

    My family has just moved to china, and my son and I are learning Xiangqi. We have a question about a move his classmates are using regarding the kings on open file. If there is a peice between the two kings, and that piece is moved, the other player is immediatly capturing the other king to win the game. My interpetation is that this is an illegal move, like putting yourself into check. Are the kids (high school level) just playing with house rules or is this a special scenario?

    2003-06-07 Baughb UnverifiedExcellentIf I'm not mistaken, there exists two forms of the king in Shogi as well. Pieces marked with Japanese characters typically have two characters written on the piece, one above the other. The second king will have an additional comma looking mark to the right of the top character. It is my understanding that, besides having a different translation, the piece is used by the more experienced player in games involving a teacher and student. Typically the experienced player will also remove one or more of his pieces from the game as well to even things out. The Flying Chariot and Diagonal Runner (or 'Angle Goer') are examples of pieces the experienced player might forfeit. View
    Number of ratings: 4, Average rating: Good, Number of comments: 7

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    Author: Hans L. Bodlaender and Fergus Duniho.

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    Last Modified: Sun, 01 Apr 2012 20:51:00 -0400
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    Last modified: Sunday, April 1, 2012