The Opposition

The opposition is a concept in King-and-Pawn endgames. It relies on zugzwang, which is the compulsion to move. In many King-and-Pawn endgames, they would be drawn if the weaker player could simply “pass” but the requirement to make a move forces the King to make a move backwards, a losing move. The situation where the attacker’s King forces the defender’s King to move backwards is called “the opposition”.

Diagram: The Opposition of Two Kings

Diagram: The Opposition on a Diagonal

The opposition is a fundamental concept in King-and-Pawn endgames. But it’s a very advanced endgame concept, which is poorly understood by beginners.

The opposition arises when the Kings are directly opposed, with one square between them. It’s like a stand-off, where if you flinch, you lose. The chess version is that whichever King has the turn to move, they are required to move somewhere, and they have to move backwards (they cannot move closer to the enemy King).

The opposition also only occurs when the defending player has run out of pawn moves. It only occurs when the King must move. So an important issue in King-and-Pawn endings is how many “spare moves” each player has with their pawns.

King-and-Pawn endings are amazingly tricky, despite having no pieces. The generalization of “the opposition” is called the “distant opposition”. And the generalization of the “distant opposition” is the concept of “related squares”. For advanced players only.

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