Centralize the King

Centralizing the King is an endgame strategy that involves using the King as an aggressive piece. Moving the King toward the center is usually one of the first things you do once you reach a simplified ending. It’s the opposite of the opening strategy of “castle early” and the middlegame strategy of “hide the King”.

In the endgame, the King is regarded as having the attacking power of about 3 pawns or perhaps 4 pawns. So having the King amongst the enemy pawns is like having a minor piece in there. And the King is less cumbersome at winning pawns than a Knight flapping around or a Bishop that cannot reach pawns on half the squares. But it’s less good at chasing pawns than a zooming Rook (or a Queen), so you can see why its “endgame value” is slightly more than a minor piece (3 pawns) but less than a Rook (5 pawns).

Endgame King Invasions

The King should become more centralized. This may mean move further into the center on your side of the board, but can also literally mean move the King into the center of the board. And if possible, the King should go further, and even invade into enemy territory to attack pawns. The endgames where the King should usually go to the center (or further), include:

Don’t Centralize the King!

In the opening and the middlegame, the opposite is usually true: don’t centralize the King, but hide the King in the corner by castling early. But the King is a good piece in the endgame, provided that there isn’t the risk of checkmate.

The exceptions to king centralization in the ending are those endgames where the King is likely to still come under attack in the center. This includes these types of endgames:

Queen endings are bad for Kings, which should still try to hide from the enemy Queen. The Queen is even worse if there’s also another Rook or Knight to support the Queen. Checkmate is likely in that situation if you centralize the King.

Surprisingly, a pair of rooks can be as bad as a queen. Double rook endgames are also dangerous for a King, which can often get mated in the middle of the board by two enemy rooks. And with two rooks plus even more minor pieces in a “Queenless middlegame” (semi-ending), the King should probably still stay at home. But once the Queens are off the board, and there’s only one Rook left (i.e. “Rook endgames”), or just minor pieces (see “minor piece endings”), then the King should probably start thinking about moving to the center of the board.

Endgame Attack or Defence

The King can be used both offensively and defensively in the endgame, and it is strongest in the center of the board. Offensively, the King can often invade into the enemy territory and capture enemy pawns. A King in the midst of lots of enemy pawns can wreak havoc.

Defensively, the King can also be more useful in the center. The King can be used to defend the base of a pawn chain, or the King can be used to control the center squares where an enemy rook might try to invade.

Related Chess Tactics

Read more about these related chess strategies: