As you probably know, "King of the hill" (KOTH) is a variant of chess where one can win either like in classical chess or by putting the king in the central squares, namely d4, e4, d5 and e5, by a legal move.

I would like to collect some information about opening in this variant. More precisely, we can try to answer the following questions.

  1. What are some examples of opening which are reasonably good in normal chess but almost losing in KOTH?
  2. Conversely, are there some examples of opening which are reasonably good in KOTH but almost losing in normal chess?
  • In my (rather limited, I admit) experience in playing KotH, I didn't see any decisive differences in the opening, other than skipping castling. In some variants, it is possible to aim directly at the special winning conditions, such as three-check, by e.g. sacrificing a bishop for a check. Trying to move the king to the center in the opening seems to be an impossible exercise, it is far too easy for the opponent to have at least one piece guarding all central squares. Commented May 31, 2019 at 17:20
  • My favorite strategy in KOTH is the Wayward Queen Attack, especially in fast time controls. After bringing out the queen, take out bishops and finally the knights. Keep in mind pawns and kings are good at controlling the center. Commented May 31, 2019 at 18:29
  • Basically control the centre. Commented Sep 28, 2019 at 23:11

3 Answers 3


As mentioned already, most hypermodern openings (King's Indian, Modern, etc.) are dubious in KOTH, because they give the opponent too much space in the center.

Besides that there are gambits where the compensation mostly consists of better control of the center, which is of course more valuable in KOTH. Therefore, some of such gambits that are often considered to be slightly inferior to dubious in chess are good or even best moves in KOTH. Usually, the gambit pawn should be rejected in order to get a playable position. A few examples are:

Furthermore, openings/gambits which try to drive the opponent's king to the center can be close to losing in KOTH. A notable example is the Fried liver attack. After 7.Qf3+ black should play 7..Qf6! followed by Be6 instead of 7..Ke6 in order to threaten the exchange of the white queen and bishop, which gives black a considerable advantage.

In order to double check my evaluation of the above mentioned openings in King of the Hill, I used the multi-variant Stockfish fork that is also used for analysis on lichess.


Basically, controlling the centre becomes significantly more important in KOTH. The obvious reason is that you want to spot the opponent's king from reaching one of the centre squares, and more space may allow your king to quickly march to the centre.

With that in mind, some openings that are good in chess but bad in KOTH are:

  • Grunfeld Defence
  • King's Indian Defence
  • Pirc Defence
  • Nimzo Indian Defence
  • Reti Opening

Your second question (openings good in KOTH but almost losing in normal chess) is much harder to answer. Since KOTH is basically a more demanding version of chess, it tends to be that only some openings are acceptable in KOTH (and not the other way around). The only openings would be where one side sacrifices a piece to get their king closer to the centre, but none come to mind.


In KOTH, the best opening are classical. Putting pawns in the centre will allow your king to safely march up and also stopping the opponent's king from entering the centre.

Gambits which sacrifise a piece for a large centre are good, such as the Halloween Gambit. It wins in KOTH, but is only remotely playable in standard chess.

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