Learn to Play Chess
Learn to Play Chess

"White and black Queens both begin the game on squares of their color. The white Queen begins on a white square. The black Queen begins on a black square. "

Learn to Play Chess


Initial Board Position:


Chess is played on a board with 64 squares set up in the following way:


The Rooks begin the game in the corners. The Knights (many beginning players call them horses) are next to the Rooks. The Bishops start next to the Knights. And then the King and the queen.


Note that white and black Queens both begin the game on squares of their color. The white Queen begins on a white square. The black Queen begins on a black square.


And, at the beginning of the game, always start with a white square in the lower right corner of the chessboard.


TO BEGIN THE GAME, white moves first, and then black... taking turns until CHECKMATE, or one player RESIGNS, or both players agree to a draw.


How does the king move and capture? 


The king can move one square in any direction. The king can also capture an opponent's piece if it is on one of those squares... assuming of course that the opponent is not defending this piece! The king can NEVER move on to a square that the opponent controls. Doing so would move the king into check.



The first example illustrates how the king moves. It can move to any square marked with an "X"


In the second diagram, the king can move to any of the marked squares or capture the black rook because the rook is one square away and is undefended. But the king may not move to one of the squares controlled by the black rook even though the rook is undefended.


In the third diagram, the black rooks defend each other. The white king has only one legal move because the king cannot move to a square controlled by the enemy rooks.


Finally, it is important to add that if the king is under attack (in check), the next move MUST make sure that the attack has been stopped. There are three possibilities. The king must move out of check. Or... the attacking piece must be captured. Or... a piece must be moved between the attacker and the king in order to eliminate the direct attack. If the king is under attack AND there is no immediate way to end the attack, the game is over. CHECKMATE!




The king is permitted to take part in a very special move, the only chess move that actually involves two pieces at the same time! In the following diagram, the white king can castle on either side of the board. To castle, move the king two squares toward the rook, and then move the rook to the square immediately on the other side of the king.


For castling to be legal, make sure

  1. that your king and rook have never moved.
  2. that your king is not under attack. You may not castle out of check. 
  3. that your king is not passing through or arriving upon a square controlled by the opponent. 
  4. that all of the squares between the king and rook are vacant.
    You may castle if your rook is under attack. You may even castle if your rook passes through a square controlled by your opponent.

Here's where the king and rook end up after castling on each side of the board.


How does the rook move and capture?


The rook can move any number of squares in straight line, horizontally or vertically, but the rook may not jump a piece of either color.


In the diagram, the rook can move to any square marked with an "X" As you can see, the rook captures as it moves. The rook can capture the enemy bishop or the knight, but it may not jump over these pieces.


How does the bishop move and capture?


The bishop can move any number of squares diagonally, but like the rook, it may not jump a white or black piece. Like the rook, it can move forward or backward, but in only one direction at a time.



In the diagram, the bishop can move to any square marked with an "X" Like the rook, the bishop captures as it moves. In this position, the bishop can capture the enemy rook or the knight, but it may not jump over these pieces.


At the beginning of the game, each side has a "white-squared" and "dark-squared" bishop. Because they move diagonally, the bishops will always remain on a square of the same color on which they started the game.


How does the queen move and capture?


The queen combines the powers of both the rook and the bishop. As such, it can move horizontally, vertically, or on the diagonal. In a sense, it's like the king in that it can move in any direction. Unlike the king, however, it can move far in one direction so long as there are no pieces in its path.


In the diagram, the queen can move to any of the squares marked with an "X" Like the rook and the bishop, the queen captures as it moves. In this position, the queen can capture the enemy rook, knight, or bishop, but it may not jump over any of the pieces on the board.


The diagram shows clearly how powerful the queen is. Use it carefully. As you will learn, it is very risky to bring the queen out early because, if you lose your queen, you are likely to lose the game!


How does the knight move and capture?


The Knight is the only piece that can jump over other pieces! The knight always moves like the letter "L" Keep in mind, though, that the letter can be sideways or even upside-down and backwards!


In the diagram, the knight can move to any of the squares marked with an "X" Note that the white knight cannot move to the square occupied by the white bishop. No exceptions here. Two pieces can never occupy the same square!


How does the pawn move and capture?


The Pawn is the only piece that moves differently from how it captures. The pawn, like the foot-soldier in war, marches forward one square at a time. Unlike the other pieces, the pawn can NEVER retreat. Pawn that have not yet moves have the option of beginning their forward journey with a double move two-squares forward. The pawns may not jump other pieces or pawns.


The pawn captures differently from how it moves. The pawn captures diagonally ONLY one square ahead, as if it were fighting on its side with a short sword.



In the first diagram, the white pawn can move to any of the squares marked with an "X" By contrast, the black pawn, having already moved, has only one option.


In the second diagram, the white pawn can move straight ahead, or else capture the black knight or the black bishop. Meanwhile, the black pawn is about to move to the end of the board. When a pawn reaches the last rank, it becomes another piece! In most situations, it will become a queen; you may not leave it as a pawn and you may not promote it into a king. As a result of pawn promotion, it is possible to have many queens on the board at the same time!


Capturing "EN PASSANT"


The pawn is also able to capture in a most unusual way. This is one of the trickiest moves to learn and the single move that causes consternation among beginners. A small bit of history helps to introduce and to understand the en passant (French for "while passing") capture. During the early days of chess, pawns could only move a single square at a time. Several changes were introduced in Europe to speed up the game. One of these changes permitted pawns to move two squares if they had not yet moved.


But this rule change introduced an unfortunate situation. A pawn could now move all the way down the board to become a queen without the opponent's pawn ever having a chance to capture it. In the following diagram, it is white's move. When the White pawn moves forward two squares in a single move, the Black pawn on the neighboring file wants to be able to capture the pawn before the white pawn can advance further. The en passant rule applies here. For one move, AND ONE MOVE ONLY, the black pawn can respond by capturing the White pawn as if it had only moved a single square. To effect the capture, move the black pawn forward diagonally and remove the white pawn.



Note that only pawns can capture "en passant," and only a pawn on an adjacent file can capture in this way.


The relative values of the chess pieces:


The following table provides the approximate value of the chess pieces. We assign a value of 1 point to the basic unit, the pawn. Of course, the king is not included in the table because, in a real sense, it has infinite value.


Use the values in this table as a rough guide. By that, I mean that a rook is roughly worth as much as a knight and two pawns. A queen is worth approximately as much as a rook, knight, and pawn. Two rook rooks are roughly equivilent to a queen plus a pawn. Of course, in most situations, there are many other factors to consider, especially the relative activity of the pieces.


- 9 points

- 5 points

- 3+ points

- 3 points

- 1 point


You will also note that the bishop receives a value slightly greater than the knight. The bishop is usually, though not always worth a bit more than a knight. See the special section basic bishop strategy for more information on why this might be so.


Note also that there are many moments when it will be to your advantage to give up or "sacrifice" some material in inorder to gain other advantages. By giving up a pawn, you might gain an important square for your knight or an open file for a rook. By giving up a rook or queen, you might be able to force checkmate. You should therefore use this table of values only as a rough guide and not as the sole consideration in your play.


How to keep score in a chess game?


I recommend that all new players learn to keep score using what is called "algebraic" notation. In the diagram that follows, you will notice that the board includes the numbers 1-8 along the left edge and the letters "a" - "h" along the bottom the board. We can use the combination of one letter and one number to describe each square on the board.



For example, the white king begins the game on e1. The black rooks begin the game on a8 and h8. If I begin the game by pushing the pawn in front of the white king two squares, we can describe this move as e2-e4, or simply e4. Moving the knight on g1 to f3 would be written g1-f3, or more simply as Nf3.


An "x" is used to show that a capture has taken place. For example, Nxe4 means that the knight moves and captures whatever was on e4. You don't necessarily need to include "check" in your scoresheet, but you can easily with "ch" or just "+". For mate, many players use "#". Now who could resist that!


How most games really end?


Not every game ends with a checkmate. Many masters, before they are "mated," choose instead to resign. They believe that there is no longer any hope, so they award the win to their opponent. In tournaments, wins receive one point, recorded 1-0 when white wins and 0-1 when black wins. Many beginners are confused by such resignations. "Why did he resign here?" I often hear from my students. Figuring out the reason can be very instructive. And sometimes, master mistakenly resign when they were not losing. That is quite rare, but it's fun to see and talk about!



Between evenly matched opponents, chess games will often end in draws. So what's a draw? That's when nobody wins. In tournaments, draws are recorded as ½ - ½, essentially half a point rather than the full point for a win. There are six kinds of draws to discuss briefly.


(1) Draws by agreement

This kind of draw is the most common. At any time in the game, you can offer a draw to your opponent. Be mindful of good etiquette, however. Don't offer a draw on every move! That's just flat-out rude. And be sure to offer the draw correctly. Make your move, offer the draw ("I offer a draw" is fine) and only then press your clock (assuming that you are using a chess clock). An offer of a draw without making a move is NOT a legal offer and can be ignored.


Here's a famous grandmaster draw, a game drawn quickly. This game was famous because Tal already had 12 points in their 1960 world championship match. This draw resulted in the crowning of a new world chess champion! Tal had steered the game into a position in which Black has no meaningful chances to win, and Tal also had a large lead in the match.


(2) Stalemates!

In chess, each side must move. If the player who must move has no legal move (and is NOT in check), the game ends as a draw, a STALEMATE. Some stalemates are quite common. Here's an example of a king and pawn endgame that ends as a stalemate. At the end of the game, the Black king has no moves and is NOT in check.

Many examples are much more complicated and can be quite exciting.


(3) Perpetual check

Draws by perpetual check occur when one player, usually though not always with a queen, can deliver check regardless of the square chosen by the opponent's king. There's simply no escape from the checks.


(4) Threefold repetition

You or your opponent can claim a draw if the same position occurs three times in the same game, all with the same player to move. Such repetitions can easily occur in endgames when one player is checking another. To claim such a draw, you need to have an accurate scoresheet and demonstrate to the tournament director that the claim is valid. In one game between Fischer and Spassky, Fischer incorrectly claimed such a draw but Spassky, sure that Fischer must have been correct, agreed to the draw!


(5) Insufficient mating material

If neither side has sufficient material to win, either player can claim a draw. For example, suppose that each side has a king and a bishop. Try as you will, there's no way to FORCE a win. You can win force checkmate with a king plus a bishop and a knight (though some masters have trouble doing that!), but there is no way to FORCE checkmate with a king and two knights.


(6) The 50 move rule

This last rule is merciful. If after 50 consecutive moves by both players, no pawn move or capture has occurred, either player can claim a draw. Obviously, you will need to have kept an accurate score sheet to make this claim!