Triangulation in Chess

Triangulation technique in endgame Chess terms

Chess is a sequential game where each player is compelled to make a move on their turn. But sometimes we may find ourselves in situations, mostly in endgames, where we would wish that we could say pass instead of making a move, and our opponent would have to make a move in that exact same position. Luckily, we have a technique called triangulation in chess for this exact purpose of losing a tempo. With the help of a triangulation maneuver, we reach the same position after certain sequences of moves, but this time with our opponent having to move. In this article, we’ll cover triangulation technique because it is such a fundamental thing to know.

Triangulation chess maneuver

Quick Summary

  • Triangulation in chess is a strategic maneuver to gain advantage in a specific position, often creating zugzwang where the opponent must worsen their position. It involves moving a piece, typically the king, in a triangular path to its original square, changing who has the move.
  • To execute triangulation, move the king or piece in a triangular geometry. For the king, this involves three strategic squares. The opponent cannot mimic this maneuver due to their position.
  • Example: In a given position, if it’s the opponent’s turn, you might gain an advantage, like establishing a passed pawn. Triangulation can change the turn, forcing the opponent into a worse position.
  • Triangulation can be used with other pieces like the queen. It’s a fundamental concept in endgame play, crucial in pawn endgames and can be applied in some middlegames.
  • Triangulation is important for achieving proficiency in chess, especially in endgames.

What is triangulation in chess?

Triangulation in chess refers to a strategic maneuver that a player uses to gain a small but potentially significant advantage in a specific position. It involves moving a piece (rook, queen) or king) in a triangular path, returning to its original square, but with the opponent having the move. The purpose of this maneuver is to create a zugzwang (a chess term for the obligation to make a move) situation where the opponent is forced to make a move that worsens their position.

How do you triangulate in chess?

The triangulation maneuver is executed by moving the piece or the king in a triangular shape of geometry. For a triangulation involving a king, the triangular path usually consisted of three strategic squares.

Triangulation maneuvering

For example, the white king moving to 1.Ke4, then 2.Kd5, and back to 3.Ke5 on the diagram above would create a triangular shape.

The very basic idea of triangulation in chess is based on the fact that the opposing player cannot imitate the triangulation maneuver in the same way due to certain reasons.

Examining the position below, if it were Black’s turn to move, White would have a significant advantage because they have the opportunity to establish a passed pawn, potentially leading to a winning position:

Diagram 1

Diagram 1 (D1)

For example, with black to move, 1…Kd7 2.f6 gxf6 3.Kxf6 Ke6 4.g7 and the g-pawn promotes or 1…Ke8 2.Ke6 Kf8 3.Kd7. Here 3.f6?? would lead to a theoretical draw because of 3…Kg8 4.f7 Kf8 and white king has no way of supporting the promotion of f-pawn because of stalemate ideas, while 4.fxg7+ Kxg7 5.Kf5 would be draw due to the defensive triangulation technique of creating a barrier with a king with 5…Kg8! (see the related chapter). So, after white has to continue with 3.Kd7 for these reasons. 3…Kg8 4.Ke8 Kh8 5.f6 gxf6 6.Kf7 and the g-pawn promotes in two moves.

But what if it was white to move in our starting position (D1)? We would need to use the triangulation maneuver to reach this exact position, with black to move, because, as we have seen, it would be a losing position for black. This method works because black cannot do the same maneuver:

Triangulation diagram example

Diagram 2 – (D2)

White can start with 1.Ke4! here in D2, following the path of the arrows. Black can also retreat one square back, 1…Ke8 (1…Kf6 2.Kf4 Ke7 3.Ke5 would be another triangulation) 2.Kd5 and now black cannot copycat white and play 2…Kd7 because of 3.f6! gxf6 4.g7 and the pawn promotes. So black is forced to play 2…Ke7 to stay close to the pawns, and white then completes the triangulation with 3.Ke5, reaching the initial position, but this time, it’s Black’s turn to move.

The triangulation can also be executed with other pieces, such as a queen.

Triangulation example with queen

Diagram 2.1 – (D2.1)

In the position above, both sides have just promoted to a queen in their last move and it’s currently White’s turn to move. Even though it looks like black’s queen is hanging now, 1.Qxa1?? Would be a stalemate. Therefore, White would prefer black’s king to be positioned at a8, so that the capture comes with a check. White can accomplish this by means of triangulation: 1.Qg8! Qa2 (offering queen as a decoy for the stalemate idea again) 2.Qe8 Qa4 3.Qe5+ Ka8 4.Qh8 and now the same idea, 4…Qa1 does not work due to 5.Qxa1+ with check. And if Black refrains from playing ..Qa1, then White will proceed to deliver a discovery check by moving the king to the 7th rank, setting the stage for a backrank checkmate.

Reasons to learn triangulation maneuver

The triangulation maneuver, along with mined squares, shouldering, and opposition, counts as one of the most fundamental concepts of endgame play, most prominently in pawn endgames. Without a firm grasp of these foundational techniques, achieving a high level of proficiency in chess remains elusive.

When do I use triangulation?

Triangulation becomes most relevant in pawn endgames. However, because triangulation is a form of inducing your opposing player into zugzwang, it may occur not only in endgames but even in specific middlegame situations.

Examples of executing to Triangulation with different aims

Gaining Material Advantage

Triangulation maneuvering example - Gaining Material Advantage

In the diagram above, black’s king is overloaded with two tasks: Keeping an eye on white’s pawn to prevent them from advancing, and also protecting the pawn on d4. Therefore, the black king has a limited scope of mobility and has to shuffle between f6 and e5. White can make use of three squares to put black into zugzwang: d2-e2-d3. So 1.Kd2 Kf6 2.Ke2 Ke5 3.Kd3 and white would win the pawn on d4 after 3…Kf6 4.Kxd4 (3…Kd5 4.g5) and eventually the game.

Initiating a Successful Pawn Promotion

Triangulation - Initiating Successful Pawn Promotion

Diagram 4 (D4)

We should know that the basic position above (D4) is a theoretical win for white if it is black’s turn, and it is a theoretical draw if it is white’s turn. With black to move, the king would have to sidestep, e.g., 1…Kc8, and after 2.c7, the pawn takes away the d8 square from the king, so 2…Kb7 is the only move. Now white’s king can advance 3.Kd7 and promote on the next move.

We can now apply this knowledge to the position below, where it’s white’s turn:

Triangulation - Diagram 5

Diagram 5 (D5)

If white 1.Kd6, then black defends with 1…Kd8. We’d prefer black to play Kd8 before us, so we can reach the situation in D4 by playing Kd6 after their move. With the help of triangulation, we can achieve our goal: 1.Kc4 Kd8 (1…Kc7 2.Kc5 Kc8 3.Kb6 and we win the a-pawn) 2.Kd4 Kc8 3.Kd5 and we reach D5 with black to play. 3…Kd8 4.Kd6 Kc8 5.c7 Kb7 6.Kd7 and white promotes next.

Creating a Barrier for the Opponent King

Triangulation - Diagram 6 (Creating a Barrier for the Opponent King)

Diagram 6 (D6)

Let’s look at the case of the theoretical draw we mentioned, if white was to make the first move in position D6 (or D4). 1.Kd5 Kc7 2.Kc5 and now black can apply triangulation to create a barrier for the enemy king:

Triangulation Diagram 7

Diagram 7 (D7)

2…Kc8! 3.Kd6 Kd8 (3.Kb6 Kb8) 4.Kd5 Kc7 and 5.Kc5 Kc8! This specific position at D6 is a common occurrence in many chess games, particularly in pawn endgames. It’s crucial to grasp the concept of opposing the opponent’s king when it advances to the 6th rank. So, when the enemy king moves to c8, it functions as a waiting move, compelling the white king to make a choice between advancing to b6 or d8. In response to Kb6, we respond with Kb8, and when faced with Kd8, we reply with Kd6. This strategic maneuver creates a barrier, preventing White from making meaningful progress. Eventually, White will be forced to push the pawn, once the position in the Diagram D6 has been reestablished. This sequence results in 1.c7+ Kc8, 2.Kc6, leading to a draw due to a stalemate.


Triangulation is a foundational and recurring concept in numerous endgame scenarios. Proficiency in its application can be the key to salvaging a draw in defensive situations or securing a full point when you have the advantage. Frequently, this technique is intertwined with other essential endgame themes such as opposition and shouldering. When combined, these principles form the cornerstone of endgame theory and are imperative knowledge for any serious chess player.

Written by
Deniz Tasdelen, National Master
National Master with over 20 years of experience. He has participated in many prestigious tournaments, including the European and World Youth Chess Championships.
Ask Question


Is Triangulation applicable only in the endgame?

Triangulation is mostly applicable in endgames, but it may be relevant in some middlegames too.

Can Triangulation be countered?

It depends on the situation and whether the opponent can triangulate as well. - Your One Stop Chess Resource
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