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Which color does the king go on?

Chess is a classic strategy game that has been enjoyed for centuries. The chessboard consists of 64 squares in an 8×8 grid, alternating between light and dark colors. Each player starts with 16 pieces: 8 pawns, 2 rooks, 2 knights, 2 bishops, a queen, and a king. The most important piece is the king – losing the king means losing the game. But one simple question can confuse new chess players: which color square does the king start on?

The Kings’ Starting Positions

The answer is that each king starts on the square that matches its own color. Specifically:

  • The white king starts on a white square
  • The black king starts on a black square

This convention holds true no matter who is playing white or black. The white pieces always start on the 1st and 2nd ranks, on the white squares. Meanwhile, the black pieces start on the 7th and 8th ranks, on the black squares.

Remembering the Rule

For beginning chess players, an easy way to remember which color the kings start on is:

White on right, black on back

Since the white pieces start on the 1st rank on the right side, the white king starts on a white square. And since the black pieces start on the 8th rank at the back, the black king starts on a black square.

You can also think:

Each king starts on its own color


Kings match their color

Any of these simple phrases will help you recall where the kings belong.

The Importance of the King’s Position

You might be wondering why it matters so much which color square the kings start on. Here are a few key reasons:

  • It affects the gameplay and strategy, since the kings can only move to squares of their own color.
  • Knowing the king’s position is vital for castling, an important chess tactic.
  • Mixing up the king’s start square is an illegal move that can result in penalties or forfeits.

Overall, the king’s start position impacts everything from opening moves to endgame play. So it’s worth taking the time to firmly memorize this fundamental rule.

Visualizing the Kings on the Board

To really cement the idea, it helps to visualize the kings on their correct squares. Here is a diagram of the starting position in chess, with the kings highlighted:

a b c d e f g h
a b c d e f g h

As you can see, the white king starts on e1, a white square, while the black king starts on e8, a black square. This lines up with the “white on right, black on back” memory trick.


Are there any exceptions to the king’s start square rule? In standard chess, the answer is no – the kings always begin matched to their color. The only exception would be in chess variants like Fischer Random Chess, where the start positions are randomized. But in orthodox chess, no matter if you’re playing casually or competitively, the king always starts on the square that matches its color.

Reviewing the King’s Square

To summarize the key points:

  • The white king starts on e1, a white square
  • The black king starts on e8, a black square
  • Kings always match their own color at the start
  • Remember: “White on right, black on back”
  • Getting the king’s position wrong is an illegal move

Knowing the proper start square for each king is indispensable chess knowledge. So be sure to review this information regularly until it becomes second nature. With practice, you’ll easily recall where each king belongs without hesitation.

Typical Gameplay

Once you have the starting positions down, how does knowing the king’s square affect typical chess gameplay? Here are some key ways it impacts the game:

  • Limits the king’s movement options to squares of its own color
  • Affects strategies like castling that involve the king
  • Defines the “king side” vs “queen side” of the board
  • Impacts opening moves and establishing control over the center
  • Determines if the king is in check by an attacking piece
  • Influences endgame play and cornering the enemy king

Throughout every phase of the game, being aware of the king’s location on its proper color square is vital. Both players are constantly trying to limit their opponent’s king mobility while maximizing their own. Master chess players have an intrinsic sense of the king’s position at all times.

Advanced Strategies

Once you fully understand the king’s start position and how to track it during gameplay, you can begin learning more advanced chess strategies that use the king’s movement:

  • Castling – A tactic where the king moves two squares toward the rook to bring the rook to the center.
  • King safety – Maneuvers to keep the king protected from check/attack.
  • Zugzwang – Forcing the opponent’s king to move to a worse position.
  • Endgame play – Mating the king by cornering it with optimal piece coordination.

But none of these expert skills are possible without an automatic awareness of the king’s location at the start and throughout the game. So ingrain that fundamental knowledge before moving to higher levels of play.

Teaching Chess Beginners

When teaching new chess players, especially children, be sure to clearly explain the king’s start position right from the beginning. Avoid assumptions that they will just “figure it out eventually” – lay down that rule firmly up front. Useful teaching tips include:

  • Show the “white on right, black on back” memory trick
  • Have them set up the board several times, focusing on the kings
  • Drill questions like “Where does the white king start?”
  • Play “spot the mistake” games with incorrect king positions
  • Gently correct illegal king moves during gameplay
  • Use visual aids like highlighting the kings’ squares

Establishing this core knowledge early will avoid much confusion down the road. Be patient, repeat often, test frequently, and use mnemonics to cement the rule.

Famous Chess Games

Now that you understand proper king placement, it’s interesting to look back at famous chess games where the king’s position played a pivotal role. Here are a few classic examples:

  • Morphy vs Duke & Count (1858) – Morphy’s early castling allowed a decisive quick attack on the enemy king.
  • Karpov vs Kasparov (1985) – Karpov constrained Kasparov’s king mobility by locking down the center squares.
  • Deep Blue vs Kasparov (1997) – Deep Blue sacrificed material to ultimately expose Kasparov’s king.
  • Carlsen vs Anand (2013) – Carlsen masterfully shepherded his king to safety amidst chaos.

The king’s position and mobility was the overarching factor that led to victory or defeat in each historical match. This emphasizes the king’s vital importance, which stems from its proper initial placement.

Common Beginner Errors

To drive home the lesson, let’s review some common mistakes chess beginners make regarding the king:

  • Forgetting which color square each king starts on
  • Mixing up right/left or front/back from their perspective
  • Assuming the black king goes on a white square (and vice versa)
  • Misplacing the king when setting up the board
  • Moving the king illegally early in the game
  • Forgetting the king’s position during endgame play

Pay special attention to avoid these pitfalls, and be understanding of newcomers who make such errors. With enough repetition and practice, the proper king placement will become second nature.


Knowing the correct start square for each king in chess – white on white, black on black – is absolutely elemental. Take the time to firmly cement this foundation before attempting more advanced strategies. Drill the “white on right, black on back” memory device until automatically recalling the kings’ positions. Proper king placement profoundly impacts tactics, endings, and all phases of the game. Mastering this most basic rule is the first step on the journey to chess excellence.