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The Opposition

Until the endgame the king is likely to have been kept hidden safely. Finally it comes out to finish the job - there's hardly anyone left to interfere!

Where the two kings face each other on the same file, rank or diagonal and are sitting on the same colour squares (i.e. they have an odd number of squares between them), they are said to be in opposition. The player that is not forced to move out of opposition is said to "have the opposition." †The king that is forced to move first will be the one that yields ground to the other king. This is important in king and pawn endings as the player who can secure the opposition can effectively guard certain spaces or drive the opposing king back.

Direct opposition is when the two kings face each other along a rank or file with only one square in between. When the term opposition is used on its own, it normally refers to direct opposition.

Distant opposition is when the kings sit on the same square colour but have more than one square between them.

The rule of the opposition is: whoever is to move when there is an odd number of squares between the Kings does not have the opposition. So you want to make sure that you move your King to so that there are an odd number of squares between you and your opponentís King. Another way to look at the opposition is if itís your turn to move and your King is separated from your opponents by an even number of squares, then you do not have the opposition.


King and Pawn v King endgames

Above is a simple example of King and Pawn versus King endgame. White to move is a draw, while Black to move loses for Black. If White has the opposition, meaning that the Black King must move, then White wins. If Black has the opposition, Black draws.


The White and Black Kings are in opposition and the result depends on who is to move.

Black to move (i.e. White has the opposition) must give way to White. After 1...Kf6 2.Kd5 Ke7 3.Ke5 White again has the opposition, and after 3...Kf7 4.Kd6 Ke8 5.e4 Kd8 6.e5 Ke8 7.Ke6 Kd8 8.Kf7 and the Pawn marches to e8.

White to move (i.e. Black has the opposition) has no better than 1.Kd4 Kd6 2.e4 Ke6 3.e5 Ke7 4.Kd5 Kd7 5.e6+ Ke7 6.Ke5 Ke8 7.Kd6 Kd8, reaching the first diagram. Note how the Black King drops back one rank with 3...Ke7 in order to recapture the opposition on the next move.

The only difference in this diagram is that the Pawn is on e2 instead of e3.


Black to move loses as already seen. White to move has 1.e3 reaching the previous diagram with the opposition. White wins.


One important exception to the rule of the opposition is shown in the above diagram. Here the White King has reached the sixth rank in front of the Pawn.

White wins here with or without the move. White to move has 1.Kd6 Kd8 2.e6 reaching the same position as in our first diagram. As we saw earlier Black must drop back one rank at the right moment to maintain the opposition. Here the edge of the board prevents the saving manoeuvre.

Black to move is a faster win for White. After 1...Kd8 2.Kf7 or 1...Kf8 2.Kd7, Black can resign.

The principles discussed apply to all files except for the a- and h-files. If Black can reach the corner square or the square next to it, the game is drawn.


In this diagram Black shuttles between a8 and b8. White can't force Black to move away from these squares. If the Pawn advances to a7, White must either stalemate the Black King on a8 or lose the Pawn.


Opposition is one example of Zugzwang. In chess, the German word Zugzwang means that the player whose turn it is has no good move. Usually, in fact, whatever move they make makes things worse for them.