In many games of strategy, the goal is often to capture the king or an equivalent piece. But why is it that the most valuable piece is generally also the least effective. In chess, the king is able to move in all directions orthogonal or diagonal; however, the piece is limited to just one step. Many would consider the king a rather useless piece up until the later game when nothing is really left. In shogi, xangqi, or chaturanga the king and its respective variations are also extremely limited in necessity until late into the game. These pieces are what ends the game, yet many other pieces around them are generally seen as more effective or versatile.
While it can be said that this is simply the way the game is played, why would these games be designed to enforce the idea that the king is most valuable but also the most useless in most situations. I believe this is meant to represent a nation at war; with the soldiers in the front lines doing battle and the special warriors tasked with greater responsibilities. Better yet, it is a representation of life at a more personal level. I see the king in this situation not as the ruler of the nation but as something else, something greater.
I remember being a fan of the anime series Naruto for many years. In the show, there was an instance where this very question was posed. The question of who the king represents in the game of shogi. It was revealed later that the king isn’t the leader of the village or anyone of power at all; it represents the future. The king was regarded and taught to symbolize the children of the village that needed the most protection but also guidance for what was to come later. It was up to the villagers, the other pieces of the board, to protect the king, to protect their kings.
I think this is a fantastic way to think about what the king represents. In any of these games, the goal is seen as defeating the opponent by capturing their king; in war, the goal is to eliminate what motivates the enemy. While there will always be a figure that leads the charge, there will still be the will to protect their own that truly spurs the fight. Just like in the most dire of situations the king must be forced to move about the board, so too can the children of a nation be forced to do what they are not meant for.
I like to say chess is one of the most important and fundamental games to learn, especially as a youth. It is a game that teaches problem-solving, probability, critical thinking, and sparks the imagination. But it is also a game that teaches unity, enforces versatility, and invokes a sense of humility and respect. With this teaching, it also creates a type of motivation that is unparalleled. To see your king on the board as your “king” in real-life is a powerful motivator. When one sees their king on the board, they play the game very different than if it was just another game-ending piece. To see what you do on a chessboard as a representation of what you would do in life is powerful and thought-provoking.
The king is not just the most valuable piece on the board, it is also the heart of the game. It is the reason you should be playing not just to win, but more importantly to protect. Play chess with the idea that you are to protect your king be your king is not your leader, they are your future, your legacy. Play chess with the idea that you are not trying to capture your opponent’s king but protecting your own to the bitter end. Your king is here, your king needs you, protect it, protect them.
P.S. Chess may be considerably the most popular and well-known of the four I mentioned, but I highly recommend trying all four as each, though similar, plays differently. The games are Western chess, shogi (Japanese), xangqi (Chinese), and chaturanga (Indian/original chess).