Introduction: Learning to Play Chess

Chess is an ancient game that has became one of the most popular sports in the world. Here I will walk you through a tutorial on learning the basic rules of the game so that you may begin playing immediately.

You can pick up a chess set at virtually any department store. Contained within the set, you should have:

  • One chess board
  • One set of chess pieces containing:
    • One white and one black king,
    • One white and one black queen,
    • Two white and two black rooks,
    • Two white and two black bishops,
    • Two white and two black knights, and
    • Eight white and eight black pawns.

Disclaimer: Some of the pieces are small enough to present a choking hazard. Please take necessary precautions for younger children.

In order to play, you will also need to have an opponent who understands the basic rules of chess (which they can learn from this tutorial).

Looking at the diagram of the starting position for a game of chess, the names of the pieces are (from bottom left to right) rook, knight, bishop, queen, king, bishop, knight, and rook. In front of these pieces, we have eight pawns.

Now we will learn how each of these move.

Step 1: How the Rook Moves

The rook is the first piece we will look at. The rook is capable of moving horizontally and vertically along any number of unoccupied squares. This means that if there is any piece in the rook's path, it cannot move past that piece.

How captures are made: The rook captures enemy pieces in the same manner as it moves.

Step 2: How the Bishop Moves

The bishop is capable of moving on a given diagonal along any number of unoccupied squares. This means that if there is any piece in the bishop's path, it cannot move past that piece.

How captures are made: The bishop captures enemy pieces in the same manner as it moves.

Step 3: How the Queen Moves

We look at the queen next. The queen's movement is easy to remember once we know how the rook and bishop moves. The queen is capable of moving horizontally, vertically, and diagonally along any number of unoccupied squares. This means the queen moves with the combined power of the rook and the bishop. The queen also cannot move past a piece that obstructs her path of movement.

How captures are made: The queen captures enemy pieces in the same manner as it moves.

Step 4: How the Knight Moves

This is where chess becomes a bit more tricky. First, the knight is the only piece that can jump over other pieces. Second, it has an unusual movement. The knight begins its movement two squares up, down, left, or right, and finishes by moving one square at a right angle. You can also think of it as moving one square in any of these cardinal directions and then diagonal one square in the same direction.

How captures are made: The knight captures enemy pieces in the same manner as it moves. This means if the knight moves and the square is occupied by an enemy piece, it captures that piece.

Step 5: How the King Moves

Outside of the basic movements for the king and pawns, there are many special rules that apply. Starting with the king, the king can move to any adjacent square to the one it stands on that is unoccupied and not attacked by an enemy piece.

How captures are made: The king captures in the same way that it moves. The only except is that if the piece is protected by another enemy piece, the capture cannot be made. The king can never move into an attacked square.

Step 6: Safe Squares

In the diagram above, the king can move to only three squares here (one of them is capturing the rook). The white bishop and rook attack many of the other squares. Remember, a king cannot move to an attacked square or capture a piece that is defended by another piece.

Step 7: Check

Check is a term used to describe when one of the kings are attacked by an enemy piece. In the diagram above, we can see that the black king is being attacked by the white rook. The black king is in check.

Since it is black player's move, this player must get out of check. The king cannot remain attacked after a move.

There are three ways to get out of check.

  1. Move the king away to a safe square,
  2. Block the attacking piece with one of your own, or
  3. Capture the attacking piece.

An easy way to remember this is by remembering ABC (away, block, capture). In the diagram, the king can move away to one square, block the attack of the rook with the bishop, and capture the rook using the knight.

Step 8: Checkmate

The object of the game is to attack the enemy king so that there is no way to escape check. In step 6 and 7, we saw that there are three ways to get out of check and the king must be safe after the player makes his or her move. If the player is unable to move the king to a safe square, block the check, or capture the attacking piece, that player is in checkmate and loses the game.

The diagram above shows us that the black king is attacked by the white queen, the knight attacks two of the possible escape squares for the king, the black pawn in in front of the king (the king cannot capture it's own piece), and there is no way to block the check.

Step 9: Castling

Castling is a special move that allows a player to move two pieces in a single move. It is also the only time that a king can move more than one square or that another piece (other than the knight) can "jump" over another piece.

Castling is particularly useful when you are looking to bring a rook into the action and to ensure the safety of your king. There are many rules pertaining to castling and we will look at those below.

How to castle: The king moves two squares toward either of the rooks (diagrams one and two) and then the rook is placed on the opposite side of the king.

Rules to castling: In order to castle, there are several rules that we must follow.

Castling is permanently illegal if:

  1. The king has moved at any point in the game, or
  2. The rook you are attempting to castle with has moved at any point in the game.

Castling is temporarily illegal if:

  1. There are any pieces in between the king and the rook you intend to castle with,
  2. The king is in check,
  3. The king is passing through a square attacked by an enemy piece or pawn, or
  4. The king will be in check after you castle.

Step 10: How the Pawns Move

Pawns are probably the most tricky to learn because of a number of special rules that apply to them. Pawns capture with a different movement than they move under normal circumstances and we will see this in the next few steps. Pawns move forward one square at a time, as seen in the first diagram. The squares that the pawns move to must not be occupied by any other piece on the board (unless they are capturing that piece as shown in the next step).

In the second diagram, you can see that pawns can move either one or two squares. The reason for this (refer back to the diagram in step one) is that this pawn has not yet moved in the game. If a pawn has not moved, it has the option to move one or two squares.

Also, keep in mind that pawns are the only ones in the set that cannot move backward.

Step 11: How Pawns Capture

Pawns capture by moving one square diagonally to take an enemy piece or pawn that occupies that square. In the diagram above, the pawn can capture either the knight or the other pawn. This white pawn can also move forward one square. Keep in mind that pawns cannot capture by moving forward.

Step 12: En Passant Capture

Perhaps the most confusing of the basic rules of chess is en passant. Meaning "in passing," capturing en passant works in the following manner:

  1. A pawn, on its initial move, moves two squares forward next to an enemy pawn (diagram one).
  2. The opponent has the option on that move only to capture the pawn that had just moved two squares. This is accomplished by moving diagonally behind that pawn, as if it were capturing it on the square behind it (diagram two).
  3. The captured pawn is removed from the board (diagram three).

Note that if the pawn moves next to an enemy pawn in a similar manner, but did not move two squares or it is not the very next move, capturing en passant is not possible.

Step 13: Pawn Promotion

If a pawn moves down the board and reaches the end of the board (the player's eighth rank), that player must replace the pawn with a queen, rook, bishop, or knight of the same color.

In the first diagram, we can see the white pawn and the black pawn preparing to move forward to the edge of the board. In the second diagram, we can see that the white pawn has promoted to a white queen and that the black pawn has promoted to a black rook.

Step 14: Setting Up the Board

Now that we have finally made it through the basic rules of chess, we can set up the chess board and get ready to play.

The diagram above details how the board is set up at the beginning of the game. Here are some very important details that many beginners forget when starting a game of chess.

  1. The lower right hand corner of the board (from either player's perspective) should be a light square.
  2. The queen always goes on the color square that matches her.
  3. White always moves first.

That concludes the basic rules of how to play a chess game. I wish you the best of luck in your first match!