Basic Rules of Chess

Welcome to my beginner chess course!

I am going to assume that you know absolutely nothing about chess, to ensure that there are no gaps in your knowledge. By the time you have completed this course you will be able to play a game of chess (without breaking any rules), and you should also have a basic knowledge of some strategies and tactics.

In this first chapter, I will cover the basic rules of chess, which includes: how to set up the board and how the pieces move. There are just a couple of exceptions, which will be given their own post, because there is only so much you can learn in one go.

First of all, I should be clear that chess is a turn based game, so you can only make 1 move on your turn, then your opponent tries to find the best move to play for themself. White always moves first – This offers a small advantage for white, but at beginner level this is insignificant.

How to Setup the Chess Board

Here is a diagram of a chess board at the beginning of every game:

Here are some tips to help you remember how to set up the board correctly:

  • The bottom right hand corner is always a white square.
  • The queen always starts off on her own colour square.
  • The queens face each other – the board is symmetrical. 
  • The pieces (going inwards) are rooks, knights and bishops.
  • The second rank (horizontal row) is filled with pawns – the little guys.

How the Pieces Move and Capture

There are 6 different pieces, each with different moving capabilities, and the opposite coloured counterparts move in exactly the same way. A general rule is that the only piece that can jump over other pieces are knights, and for every other piece, you cannot move your piece further than an obstruction in any direction.

To make a capture, your piece moves in standard fashion, and you remove the enemy piece from the square your piece is going to. Note that you can never capture an allied piece (of the same colour), e.g. a white bishop can’t take a white pawn.

Kings

The king can move 1 square in any direction, that is to say diagonally, vertically and horizontally (as shown in the diagram below). The yellow box is the area the king controls at this moment in time.

For a king to capture a piece, it simply jumps into the square that the piece was in, just like any other move (only 1 square in any direction) and you remove your opponents piece from the board. Your king cannot capture an enemy piece if the king is walking into check.

Check is where your opponent is threatening to take your king. You can`t put yourself into check – this is an illegal move. The black and white kings never come into the range of one another, because they would be walking into check. This rule also means that kings cannot be captured, because they can`t stay in check for more than 1 move – If your opponent can’t  get out of check, then it is checkmate – and you win.

Queens

 

A great many more squares are available to the queen than the king, because the queen can move in any direction like the king, but has no restriction on how many squares she can travel (unless there are pieces in the way). For this reason, the queen is the most powerful piece on the board (in almost all situations).

Rooks

 

Also known as castles (less often), these fellows can only move in the horizontal and vertical directions – they cannot move

diagonally – ever. They too have no restriction on the distance they can travel, unless a piece obstructs their path (a general rule for all pieces except knights).

Don’t forget that the pieces don’t have to move their maximum number of squares in any direction, they can stop off at any point – except in between 2 squares.

Knights

Out of all the pieces, the knights are the most unique, because the move that they make is not one that a queen can. They move in an L – shape. Which is some combination of 2 squares one way, and 1 in the other. For example 1 up, 2 left. The knights can land on any square that is an L away (unless an ally piece is on that square).

You might have observed that knights go from light square to dark squares, and vice versa – this is always true.

Bishops

Bishops move diagonally only, never up and down; and never side to side. They have no limit to how far they can travel in one direction, but they cannot go through pieces that obstruct their way (like all pieces except knights).

If the bishop starts off on a light square at the beginning of a game, then it will never be able to go on a dark square, and vice versa, hence the terms ‘light squared bishop’ and ‘dark squared bishop’. The two different bishops have very different potentials as the game progresses.

Pawns

Now, this is where things become a little bit more complicated. Pawns are the only type of piece that do not capture in the same way that they move. I will first of all show you how they move. Generally pawns can only move 1 square forward at a time (by forwards, I mean directly towards your opponent), however on the very first move in a game, pawns have a choice, they may either move forwards 1 square or 2 squares. Pawns never move backwards.

Pawns always capture diagonally forwards 1 square. This could be diagonally left, or diagonally right in the forwards direction.

before capture

after capture

What is Check?

If you are ‘in check’, then your king is being threatened by an enemy piece. Here is an example:

The white king is being threatened, and has to do something about it. You can’t remain in check for more than a single move, otherwise it would be checkmate and the end of the game. I will talk more about checkmate in the next chapter.

There are 3 ways to deal with check:

  1. Capture enemy piece that is doing the check.
  2. Block line of fire of enemy piece.
  3. Move your king.

In this position, white cannot take the bishop, because none of his pieces are attacking the bishop. There are no squares for the king to move to either, so we must block. We can either put our knight in the way, or our bishop.

20 thoughts on “Basic Rules of Chess”

  1. Very useful article, which brought back fond memories of playing chess after school. It made me think, whether I should start playing chess again as a hobby with my little nephew, who is pretty good at the game. I would like to have a little portable board which can also hold the pieces while travelling. Where can I get one?

    1. I agree that travel chess sets are a must have for any chess player. The magnetic ones also have the benefit that the pieces don`t fall of when your vehicle jolts. There are many places you can purchase one, depending on how much money you wish to spend. I bought one from chessbaron a year ago (T2010) for £30 and it is very high quality, with a sliding drawer for the pieces. However, you can also buy cheap plastic £5 ones from amazon that work equally well. It depends how much you think you would use it.

  2. Greetings,

    I have been a casual chess player for many years and currently enjoy playing with friends online. I found your site to be very helpful for my skill level and refreshing my basic approaches. I also tutor a neighbor student to practice English and we have been using chess as a game to improve both language skills and teach strategy. I am going to refer to your site during my tutoring sessions because I think it would really benefit his skill level (he is 7 years old). 

    I also really like the format of your site, being setup with a simple to navigate sidebar table makes learning the content easy and simple to track. I also really like the Quiz feature you have because you can learn about something all you want but when it comes down to it you need to be able to put the knowledge into practice so a quiz is a great chance to make sure you have absorbed your content without the pressure of actually being in a live game setting.

    I am curious to know what you think the most important aspects of strategy are for new players? I am trying to explain the idea of looking at how your move can influence your opponents next move to my student but I am wondering if there are some other aspects to strategy that could benefit a new chess player of his age.

    Thanks for a great site!

    Cheers 🙂

    1. Thanks for your kind words 🙂

      Using chess as a bridge between languages seems like a great idea. Because chess can be analogous to life in many ways, there is a large communicative aspect of the game. 

      For new players, I think you should go through some textbook tactics, such as the fork, the pin and basic checkmates. It is good that you are getting your student to think about why they should play each move, and consider their opponents responses. I am going to release some new content shortly which covers these basic tactics. 

      The reason why I think tactics are essential for the new player, is that they appear so often in games. Every game will have some tactics in it, and most positional advantages materialise in the form of concrete tactical sequences. On chess.com there is a tactics trainer feature, that allows you to solve puzzles, other chess websites also have a similar feature. 

  3. This is a really interesting topic.

    As somebody who has never really been a chess player, but played a little when I was younger, you’ve managed to make sense of what seemed like a very complicated game.

    But, oh my days. How on earth do you remember who can go where and why?

    I think I’ll have to print the basics out and place it at the side of my board.

    Thanks for this, it finally now seems like a game I could enjoy.

    Paul

    1. You are right that chess is a complicated game. The possibilities are practically endless. I guess the rules become so ingrained that it is second nature for a chess player. It is a bit like riding a bike, once you have learned you will never forget. 

      I hope you have many fun games.

  4. Very good refresher course on setting up a chess board.  I used to play a lot as a teenager.  It’s a great game of strategy and can provide hours of fun and entertainment.  I wonder if there are young people that still play…is there such a thing as chess club in school?

    I have your site bookmarked so I’ll be back for more lessons…I still have a couple of chess sets at home and I think I’ll give this a go again.  Maybe I’ll teach my wife to play so I can have another game I beat her at.  ha!

    1. I am glad you have found this content helpful. 

      At my school, there is a chess club, but the level play could be improved. I think most people just go for the social aspect, or to have fun. It is also interesting that some countries, such as Armenia have chess as part of the syllabus for primary schools. It normally follows that where there is money there are strong chess players. Russia spent much money on chess, and as a result, it has had a handful of world champions. I hope your love for chess will be rekindled.

  5. I love chess! My dad taught it to me growing up. And my husband and I enjoy playing it from time to time. You lay things out in a great explanation and I love the pictures. They really depict the board and moves well.

  6. This is a really nice comprehensive rules list. I’m trying to become a better chess player because my brother always beats me and half the time I don’t even know all the rules and thinks he’s just lying to get a win, but after reading these rules it seems he’s been telling the truth all along and now I know how to play PROPERLY I think I’m going to beat him on our next game. Thanks a lot, I have a secret he doesn’t know about, lol.

    1. Make sure you manage to pull off the en passant rule against him in one of your games. This might throw him off balance if he is not expecting you to play it. 😉

  7. I love chess! I used to watch it on TV and I learned a lot.
    It always interested me because it keeps your brain thinking and healthy.
    You learn more as you play more often or at least I found it that way.
    It is relaxing and challenging too. I remember how to possibly beat the opponent in 4 moves.
    I also learned one of the keys to winning was to control the center of the board.
    Would you agree with that?

    1. Yes, controlling the centre of the board is really important as an opening principle. If you let your opponent control the centre with their pawns and pieces uncontested, then they will benefit from a space advantage, which gives them more options. From the centre your pieces can operate in all directions. There are some hyper-modern openings that don’t go for immediate control of the centre, with the idea of striking back at a later stage – Claiming that the big centre might be liable to collapsing. An example of this is after 1. e4 g6 2. d4 Bg7 3. Nf3 d6 this is a modern idea. All of the classical openings try to control the centre from go, e.g. 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 etc.

      I think the mate in 4 you were talking about is scholar’s mate. You try to deliver checkmate on f7 with your queen on f3 and your bishop on c4. e.g. 1. e4 e5 2. Bc4 Nc6 3. Qf3 now any random black move like 3… a6 loses to 4. Qxf7# so it is a trick that might catch out a few of your opponents but generally it is a bad opening, because your queen is developed prematurely.

  8. What a great and informative website you have. I’ve never knew how to play chess, but always wanted to learn, for me it was very complicated, but your course is very easy to follow. Thank you!

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