Sacrificing chess pieces can be a sound strategy, as long as it helps a player win. But giving up a king is different: it is the most important piece among the chessmen. That’s exactly why the rules make it impossible for a player to forfeit their king during a game.
The rules of chess state that it is illegal to sacrifice the king, because it would result in an instant loss. While sacrificing other chess pieces is a common strategy to gain a strategic advantage on the board, sacrificing the king would allow an opponent to win the match.
It can make sense for a player to trade in a rook for a queen, or a pawn for a knight. These are trades that help a player win, given the right situation on the board. But why on Earth would you want to give away the most important piece on the board?!
1. Chess Cannot Be Played Without A King
The whole win/loss condition of chess is based on the premise that the king is cornered and checkmated. So what do you think would happen when one side of the board would sacrifice that king? What goal should the opponent have now, promote all their pawns to become a king?
Sorry, you are not allowed to promote a pawn into a king, so that little plan is not going to work.
If you want to play the game of chess, you have to have a king. Giving up that essential piece is like throwing all the pieces off the board and saying; screw it, I lost!
The king is the one piece that is worth essentially infinite points. For the sake of comparison, the queen is worth 9 points, a rook is 5 points, the knight and bishop are 3 points, and a pawn is 1 point. So which piece would you want to protect the most? Exactly.
2. A King Cannot Attack Protected Pieces
A sacrifice of a chess piece implies trading a piece for another, hopefully more valuable piece. The strategic advantage is what makes giving up one of your own pieces with it. Supporting pieces sacrifice themselves all the time during the course of an average chess game.
For the king, attacking is a little bit different. A king can only attack other pieces when they are not being defended.
That’s not a sacrifice, but that’s capturing an opponent’s piece. The rules of chess literally do not allow a king to attack other pieces when they are being protected by one of their own. Just check out the example below to see what I’m talking about:
Let’s say an opponent’s piece is within the ‘attack range’ of the king. The king in check can only capture that piece if it’s not actively being defended. You can’t just give up the king in the example above by taking the queen, that is against the rules of chess.
After all, the king is not allowed to put itself into check under any circumstance.
3. A Checkmate Freezes The Game Instantly
Even in the theoretical situation where a king would be able to sacrifice himself, what about the checkmate rules? We just said that the king cannot put itself in check, that’s not a rule we are allowed to break. A sacrifice would mean putting the king in check.
If you put the king in check, it’s automatically a checkmate when the opponent’s turn begins.
Under the commonly accepted rules in chess, a checkmate freezes and ends the game immediately. That’s because the king can never be captured. If the king is cornered successfully, a checkmate dictates that the game is completed.
Even in the endgame, when only two kings are left on the board, the game ends. A king is not allowed to take another king, so a stalemate happens. Checkmate is not always needed to freeze and end the game instantly. It only happens when the king is forced to sacrifice itself by putting itself into check. And that’s not something players are allowed to do in chess.
That One Time A King Was Sacrificed
Now that you know that royal sacrifices are illegal in chess, let’s end this story on an entertaining note. Some chess players rewrite Sun Tzu’s classic book ‘The Art of War’ completely with a simple rule break. Because we all know that the opponent cannot kill you if you kill yourself first.
That’s exactly what this player thought playing in a tournament against a grandmaster like Hikaru Nakamura. After ending up in a losing board position, he decided to think outside the box.
What better way to make sure you can’t lose than sacrificing your most important chess piece. Because we all know: if you don’t have a king you don’t have to defend it either. A bold chess move like that will even throw Mr. Nakamura himself off a bit: