What's the opposition? And why is it important?

In king and pawns endgames, the opposition plays a central role in almost every fight so it’s crucial to have a clear understanding of how it works and in how many ways it can occur on the board.

Let’s start with the simplest example possible:

In this situation, the side that has just moved has the opposition (so if white to move, black has the opposition. If black to move, white has the opposition).

The example provides us with some key aspects of what the opposition is about:

  • the kings must be on same color squares
  • the side to move is at disadvantage as the other side has the opposition

If the kings are one square apart and on the same file, then we call it direct opposition. There are other types of opposition, so let’s examine them one by one.

If the kings are on the same rank, like in the following diagram:

then we call it lateral opposition.

If the kings are on the same diagonal, like so:

the we call it diagonal opposition.

There’s one more kind of opposition that occurs when the kings are more than one square apart. It’s aptly called distant opposition. In this case, we have to take into account how many squares apart the kings are.

To illustrate the concept, let’s assume white to move in the next two diagrams:

In this first example, white has the opposition as it can move to e2, in the second diagram white has to move and it’s already on e2, so every move will lose the opposition. This example shows us how to count squares from the perspective of the side that has to move. If there are an even number of squares between kings, then the side can gain opposition moving toward the other side king.

Now that we have seen all kind of opposition the obvious question is: why is this important? And, once again, a simple example illustrates why opposition is vital:

In this situation, white can promote the pawn only if it’s black to move. Why? Because if black has to move then white has the opposition! I find amusing that the same exact position it’s completely winning if black has the move, and just a draw otherwise. This example shows how critical the opposition is in king and pawn endgames; it’s literally the difference between a win and a disappointing draw.