In the previous lessons we have discussed some pawn endgames and have introduced Chess concepts like the King on the sixth rank and the importance of the key squares. Now you’re going to learn very useful tool called opposition.
Opposition is the main tactic in chess a player uses to make one king stronger than the other.
Gaining opposition over the enemy king often makes the difference between winning and losing the game. This is especially true in King and pawn endgames, where whichever King has the opposition will more than likely win the game.
In a bare-bones opposition position, both Kings want to advance, but each King prevents the other from doing so. Therefore, whoever has the move has the disadvantage by default. Because in order to move, you must also give up control of one of the critical squares your King controls before moving, which allows the enemy King to advance after you move.
Types of Opposition
Let’s go over the five different types of opposition.
- Vertical Opposition
- Horizontal Opposition
- Virtual Opposition
- Distant Opposition
- Diagonal Opposition
The vertical opposition occurs when two kings face each other on a file with only one square in between. This is the normal opposition and we have seen something from this opposition in the lesson about the King on the sixth rank
The horizontal opposition occurs when two kings are on the same rank with only one square in between. This is something we have seen before in the lesson about the rook pawn.
In the virtual opposition both kings are on the same colored square which are two of the corners of a rectangle with corners of the same color.
The two corners of the rectangle that are not occupied by the kings are indicated by an x. White has the (virtual) opposition.The virtual opposition is in fact the most generic concept. If the rectangle becomes a square it is called the diagonal opposition. If the rectangle transforms into a line we have the vertical or horizontal distant opposition and if there is only one square between the two kings we have the normal opposition.
In the distant opposition both kings are on the same file, rank or diagonal, but there is an odd number of squares (3 or 5) in between them.
There is one rule in the distant opposition: The King who has the move when there is an odd number of squares in between the Kings does not have the opposition. Inversely, the King that has the move when there is an even number of squares between the Kings does have the opposition.
The diagram above gives an overview of the vertical distant opposition. Kings in distant opposition will often maneuver to a more simple position of direct opposition.
In addition to this vertical and horizontal opposition, we also have a diagonal opposition, a distant opposition, and a virtual opposition. Concepts like key squares and opposition are strongly related. Having the opposition enables you to occupy a key square.
Here we have a diagonal opposition. The same rules that apply to the distant opposition, also apply to diagonals.
In the diagonal opposition both kings are on the same diagonal with only one square in between.
In the diagram on the left White has the opposition, but he has to come closer to the black pawn before he can take advantage of this.
If it’s White’s move, then White has the opposition since there is an even number of squares between the Kings. So White would play 1. Kb2. This would leave Black with an odd number of squares between the Kings, since it would now be Black’s move.
( 1… Kd8 will not help Black either and makes it very easy for White to get the opposition again. 2.Kd6 Ke8 3.Kc7 Kf8 4.Kd7 Kg8 5.Ke8 Kh7 6.Kxf7 )
2.Kc6 and now White has the diagonal opposition 2… Kd8 3.Kd6 White has the opposition, but now the opposition can be used to capture the pawn: Ke8 4.Kc7 Kf8 5.Kd7 Kg8 6.Ke8 Kh7 7.Kxf7 1-0
If The Kings Don’t Connect
You now know how to determine who has the opposition when the Kings connect on a file, rank, or diagonal. But how do you know who has the opposition when the Kings don’t connect at all?
Not a problem. Here’s the rule for when Kings don’t connect. Move the King to a square in which each corner is the same color.
The position below illustrates this.
White just moved to the b2 square making the connecting points b2, b8, f8, and f2 of a rectangle all the same color, in this case being dark squares. And since White just moved to Kb2, White has the opposition
Example From a Famous Game
Now let’s use the knowledge of the different forms of opposition in a discussion about the endgame in one of the Staunton-Williams games (London 1851).
This game between Howard Staunton and Elijah Williams is very illustrative of the importance of the different kind of oppositions in chess. If you haven’t read the lesson about the opposition it is probably better to read this first.
As you will see Staunton has lost the game, but you have to know that the virtual opposition was something nobody was aware of in 1851. Without these kind of guidelines it is very difficult to play this kind of endgame the right way.
But with all the lessons you have learned in this series the endgame is rather easy to play.
Staunton vs Williams (London 1851)
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 exd5 The French exchange variation 4.Nf3 Nf6 5.Bd3 Bd6 6.O-O O-O 7.Bg5 Bg4 8.c3 c5 9.dxc5 Bxc5 10.Nbd2 Nbd7 11.Qc2 Qc7 12.Bh4 Bd6 13.Bg3
( 13.h3 Bh5 is a better alternative for White, but let’s continue with the game, because we want to see the interesting endgame. )
13… Nc5 14.Nd4 Bxg3 15.fxg3 Nxd3 16.Qxd3 Rfe8 17.Rae1 Bh5 18.Qb5 a6 19.Qa4 b5 20.Rxe8+ Nxe8 21.Nxb5 Qc6 22.Qh4 axb5 23.Qxh5 Nf6 24.Qe5 Qb6+ 25.Kh1 Rxa2 26.Qf5 Qe6 27.Qb1 Ra8 28.Qd3 Qc6 29.Qf5 Qe6 30.Qd3 Qc6 31.Nf3 Qc4 32.Qd1 Re8 33.Nd4 b4 34.Nf5 Re6 35.Qf3 bxc3 36.bxc3 Qe4 37.h3 Qxf3 38.gxf3 Re2 39.Nd4 Rd2 40.g4 g6 41.Ra1 Nd7 42.Ra8+ Kg7 43.Rd8 Ne5 44.Rxd5?
( First the Knight has to be driven away 44.f4 Nd3 before capturing the pawn 45.Rxd5 )
44… Nxf3 45.Nxf3 Rxd5 46.Kg2 Rc5 47.Kg3 Rxc3 48.h4 h5 49.g5 f6 50.Kf4 Rxf3+ 51.Kxf3 fxg5
And now the most interesting part of the game starts.
52.hxg5 this is a draw, but White has to play the right moves 52…Kf7 53.Ke3 Ke6 54.Ke4! White has the opposition. 54…Kd6 55.Kd4! White has the opposition, but that is not the only thing he has to assure. White has to stay in the neighborhood of the pawn on h5, according to the pawn square rule. 55…Kc6 56.Ke5??
Staunton decided to go after the g-pawn, which was a serious mistake. The only move resulting in a draw is 56.Ke4!! and now White has the diagonal opposition 56…Kb6 57.Kd4 Ka6
( 57… h4 will meet 58.Ke4 h3 59.Kf3 h2 60.Kg2 h1=Q+ 61.Kxh1 Kc5 and White’s King will move between g2 and h3 enabling him to occupy g3 as soon as Black captures the pawn 62.Kg2 Kd5 63.Kh3 Ke5 64.Kg2 Kf5 65.Kh3 Kxg5 66.Kg3 and White has the opposition. )
58.Ke4 Virtual opposition 58…Kb5 59.Kd5 Horizontal opposition 59…Ka4 60.Ke4 Distant opposition 60…Kb4 61.Kd4 Kb3 62.Kd3 Kb2 63.Kd2 Kb1 64.Kd1 and the game will result in a draw. 64…Kb2 65.Kd2 Kb3 66.Kd3 Ka4 67.Ke4 Kb5 68.Kd5 Kb6 69.Kd4 Kc6 70.Ke4 Kd6 71.Kd4 and we have seen a lot of oppositions preventing black to capture the pawn.
56… Kc5! 57.Kf6 h4! According to the pawn square rule Black will win the game. 58.Kxg6 h3 59.Kf7 h2 60.g6 h1=Q 61.g7 Qd5+ 62.Kf8 Qf5+ 63.Ke8 Qg6+ 64.Kf8 Qf6+ 65.Kg8 Kd6 66.Kh7 Qf7 67.Kh8 Qh5+ 68.Kg8 Ke6 0-1
I hope this guide on Oppositions in Chess helped you.