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The Undisputed Rules of Chess: How To Play Chess

ChessArticle

Chess is a strategic board game where two players face off in a challenge of intellect and skill. The game begins with 16 pieces on each side of the board, and players move these pieces according to precise chess rules to capture and eliminate the opposing player’s pieces. To win, a player must trap the opposing player’s king so that escape is not possible. 

 

Chess is a complicated and complex game. Here, we offer a comprehensive account of the rules of chess and how to begin your chess-playing journey.

Setting Up

Setting up the game board is the first step to playing chess. Before you begin chess setup, make sure you have all your pieces. To play chess, you will need a board and 32 pieces. Some chess sets come with additional queens for pawn promotion, but we’ll get into that later.

Chess Board Set Up

Chess boards are square game boards with 64 square spaces that alternate in color, usually between a light and a dark color, and use algebraic notation or coordinates to organize them. The coordinates of a chessboard are a unique letter and number combination organized according to the white piece’s point of view. 

 

Note: White should have a dark space in the bottom left-hand corner when setting up the chessboard.

 

The unique coordinates of a chessboard use the rows, called ranks, and columns, called files, that make up the chessboard. Ranks are numbered one through eight, and rank one is the first row of white pieces. The first rank should always have a dark square in the left-hand corner. The chess board’s files are labeled A through H, and the A file begins on the same dark square in the left-hand corner. 

Chess Piece Names and Piece Setup

There are a total of 32 pieces used in a game of chess. Each player uses a set of 16 pieces that consists of 8 pawns, two rooks, two knights, two bishops, one queen, and one king. 

 

From left to right, the order of white pieces, starting from the dark bottom left-hand corner of the first rank, is a rook, knight, bishop, queen, king, bishop, knight, rook. The second rank of pieces is composed entirely of pawns. 

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A chess game can also end in a draw through stalemate, dead position, draw by agreement, threefold repetition, fifty move rule, or draw-on-time.

From left to right, the order of black’s pieces, starting from the dark bottom left-hand corner of the eighth rank, is a rook, knight, bishop, king, queen, bishop, knight, rook. The second rank of pieces is composed entirely of pawns.

 

Chess pieces can be styled in various ways but follow certain conventions to help players distinguish between pieces.

 

  • Pawns: the smallest chess pieces
  • Rooks: often styled as castle turrets
  • Knights: often styled as a horse’s head
  • Bishops: often styled after mitres, hats worn by the Roman Catholic church
  • Queen: the second tallest piece on the chessboard
  • King: the tallest piece on the chessboard and usually has a cross on its head.

Chess Moves

Each chess piece must follow rules that dictate how it can move and attack.

Pawns

Pawns can move forward one or two spaces from their starting position. However, a pawn cannot move two spaces after moving from its starting position. Pawns attack other pieces diagonally.

Rooks

Rooks can move any number of spaces along ranks and files. However, Rooks cannot move diagonally, and they can have their path blocked by other pieces. For example, the rook’s starting position cannot move because the pawn and knight block it.

Knights

The knight moves multiple spaces and, unlike the rook, cannot have its path obstructed by other pieces. The knight moves in a capital L shape, and it can either move two spaces horizontally and one space vertically or two spaces vertically and one space horizontally.

Bishops

Bishops move diagonally. Bishops can move any number of squares as long as a friendly piece does not obstruct its path. Each bishop lives on a specific color square, and bishops cannot change the color of the squares they move on. Bishops cannot jump pieces like knights.

Queen

The queen is the most powerful chess piece. The queen can move any number of squares in any direction as long as a friendly piece does not obstruct its path. The queen cannot jump pieces like knights.

King

The king can move one space in any direction. The king cannot jump pieces, and cannot move into the line of sight of an attacking piece. 

 

If your opponent attacks your king, then your king is in check, and you must move your king out of check. If no pieces can protect the king and the king cannot move out of check, the opposing player calls checkmate, and the game ends.

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How To Castle

Employing a castling chess strategy means learning fundamental chess rules to master the game. Castling is the only chess move where more than one piece moves at a time. 

 

Castling involves one rook and the king, and there must be no pieces to castle between the king and the rook. To castle, move the king two spaces to the left or right. Then, drag the corresponding rook onto the outside of the king.

Castling Rules

Your pieces must meet a few conditions to legally castle in a game of chess:

 

  • Your king can’t have moved—if you move your king before castling, you lose your ability to castle.
  • Your rook can’t have moved—if you move a rook before castling, that rook loses its ability to castle.
  • Your king cannot be in check—you cannot castle if you are in check.
  • You cannot move your king into check—you cannot castle if doing so will put your king in check.

How To Play Chess

Chess rules dictate that white always moves first. Chess players alternate turns until one player’s king is put in checkmate. Some general rules to help you play chess are:

 

  • Open with a center pawn
  • Develop pieces with threats
  • Move your knights before your bishops
  • Don’t move the same piece two times in a row
  • Limit pawn moves during the opening
  • Don’t bring out your queen too early
  • Castle as soon as possible, preferably on the kingside
  • Try to control the center squares
chess board start position

Winning

A chess game can be won by checkmate, resignation, forfeit, or time constraints. Games can also end in a draw.

Checkmate

Checkmate occurs when the king is in check and cannot escape or receive protection from another piece.

Resignation

A player can resign and thereby concede defeat.

Forfeit

A player forfeits if they cheat or use illegal moves.

Time Constraints

Each player has a predetermined time allotment to make a move in timed play. Gameplay ends when time runs out, and the player who runs out of time first loses.

Draws

A chess game can also end in a draw through stalemate, dead position, draw by agreement, threefold repetition, fifty move rule, or draw-on-time.

Additional Rules

There are a few additional chess rules players should be aware including:

 

  • En Passant: En Passant is when a pawn moves two spaces from its starting position, an opponent’s pawn on a square next to the landing square on an adjacent file. The opponent’s pawn can capture the moving pawn by moving to the square the pawn passed over. En passant can be confusing, and few people know the rule.
  • Promotion: if a white pawn makes it to the eighth rank, you can promote it to a queen. Likewise, if a black pawn makes it to the first rank, you can upgrade it to a queen.

 

To learn more about the ins and outs of chess, Amphy.com offers several chess course options, including group beginner’s classes and one-on-one instruction from grandmasters.

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