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Basics of Chess

If you are a newcomer to chess and would like to understand the basic rules of the game, then please read our instructive guide on how to play this wonderful game.

How to set up the board

At the beginning of the game the chessboard is laid out so that each player has the white (or light) color square in the bottom right-hand side.

Default Board

The chess pieces are then arranged the same way each time. The second row (or rank) is filled with pawns. The rooks go in the corners, then the knights next to them, followed by the bishops, and finally the queen, who always goes on her own matching color (white queen on white, black queen on black), and the king on the remaining square.

Default Board With Pieces

How the Chess Pieces Move

Each of the 6 different kinds of pieces moves differently. Pieces cannot move through other pieces (though the knight can jump over other pieces), and can never move onto a square with one of their own pieces. However, they can be moved to take the place of an opponent's piece which is then captured. Pieces are generally moved into positions where they can capture other pieces (by landing on their square and then replacing them), defend their own pieces in case of capture, or control important squares in the game

The King

The king is the most important piece, but is one of the weakest. The king can only move one square in any direction - up, down, to the sides, and diagonally.The king may never move himself into check (where he could be captured). When the king is attacked by another piece this is called "check".

Default Board With Pieces

The Queen

The queen is the most powerful piece. She can move in any one straight direction - forward, backward, sideways, or diagonally - as far as possible as long as she does not move through any of her own pieces. And, like with all pieces, if the queen captures an opponent's piece her move is over. Notice how the white queen captures the black queen and then the black king is forced to move.

Default Board With Pieces
Where the queen can move
Default Board With Pieces
Where the queen can't move

The Rook

The rook may move as far as it wants, but only forward, backward, and to the sides. The rooks are particularly powerful pieces when they are protecting each other and working together!

Default Board With Pieces
Where the rook can move
Default Board With Pieces
Where the rook can't move

The Bishop

The bishop may move as far as it wants, but only diagonally. Each bishop starts on one color (light or dark) and must always stay on that color. Bishops work well together because they cover up each other's weaknesses.

Default Board With Pieces
Where the bishop can move
Default Board With Pieces
Where the bishop can't move

The Knight

Knights move in a very different way from the other pieces – going two squares in one direction, and then one more move at a 90 degree angle, just like the shape of an “L”. Knights are also the only pieces that can move over other pieces.

Default Board With Pieces
Where the Knight can move

The Pawn

Pawns are unusual because they move and capture in different ways: they move forward, but capture diagonally. Pawns can only move forward one square at a time, except for their very first move where they can move forward two squares. Pawns can only capture one square diagonally in front of them. They can never move or capture backwards. If there is another piece directly in front of a pawn he cannot move past or capture that piece.

Default Board With Pieces
Where the pawn can move
Default Board With Pieces
Where the pawn can't move

Special Rules

Promoting a Pawn

Pawns have another special ability and that is that if a pawn reaches the other side of the board it can become any other chess piece (called promotion). A pawn may be promoted to any piece. A common misconception is that pawns may only be exchanged for a piece that has been captured. That is NOT true. A pawn is usually promoted to a queen. Only pawns may be promoted.

Default Board With Pieces
Promoting a Pawn at the edge of the board

En Passant

The last rule about pawns is called “en passant,” which is French for “in passing”. If a pawn moves out two squares on its first move, and by doing so lands to the side of an opponent's pawn (effectively jumping past the other pawn's ability to capture it), that other pawn has the option of capturing the first pawn as it passes by. This special move must be done immediately after the first pawn has moved past, otherwise the option to capture it is no longer available.

Default Board With Pieces
Default Board With Pieces
Default Board With Pieces

Castling

One other special chess rule is called castling. This move allows you to do two important things all in one move: get your king to safety (hopefully), and get your rook out of the corner and into the game. On a player's turn he may move his king two squares over to one side and then move the rook from that side's corner to right next to the king on the opposite side. (See the example below.) However, in order to castle, the following conditions must be met:

  • It must be that king's very first move
  • It must be that rook's very first move
  • There cannot be any pieces inbetween the king and the rook move
  • The king may not be in check or pass through a check

Notice that when you castle one direction the king is closer to the side of the board. That is called castling "kingside". Castling to the other side, through where the queen sat, is called castling "queenside". Regardless of which side, the king always moves only two squares when castling.

Default Board With Pieces
Default Board With Pieces
Default Board With Pieces

Who moves first?

Notice that when you castle one direction the king is closer to the side of the board. That is called castling "kingside". Castling to the other side, through where the queen sat, is called castling "queenside". Regardless of which side, the king always moves only two squares when castling.

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