The rules of chess. A divinely short tutorial.

The rules of chess are not very complicated.  This short tutorial will show you how. The game of chess is one the most exciting board games ever created. It has been around for over 1500 years. Learning to play is easy. Becoming a strong player? Well, that’s something else entirely.

Chess is all about square control. Each side takes turns moving its forces across the chessboard with the goal of checkmating the opponents king. According to the rules of chess, white always moves first – no exceptions.  Additionally, neither player can skip a move.  The game consists of offense and defense. You try to pressure you opponents forces while keeping an eye on your own vulnerabilities. The more chess pieces are moved, the more complicated the game gets. There are endless strategies on how to attack and defend in chess but for right now, we will focus on the very basics: the chessboard, the chess pieces and how they move. After that we’ll conclude with special rules of the game.

Chessboard

The Chessboard is an 8×8 square board where all the battles of a chess game take place. Boards can be made of wood, plastic, marble and a variety of other materials. Below is a 3D-generated wooden chessboard.

  • The horizontal squares (A-H) are ranks.
  • The vertical squares (1-8) are files.
  • To have a legal setup, a chessboard must always have a light square on the players right side. Think “White to the right.”
The rules of chess take place on the chessboard.

Chess Pieces

There are 6 types of pieces in chess. Each has its own unique strengths and weaknesses. Good chess players use their pieces harmoniously to control the board and ultimately checkmate the opposing player’s king. Not all chess pieces have the same value:

  • A pawn is the weakest piece on the board.
  • Knights and bishops are roughly equal (there is a big debate about this, but we’ll save it for a future discussion).
  • Rooks are more valuable than bishops.
  • The Queen is the most valuable piece on the board and should avoid being traded.
  • The King has no value since it can never be captured, only checkmated.

Pawns

  • The weakest pieces in the army, pawns grab space and protect the king from enemy forces.
  • Pawns can move 2-squares on the first move only. After that they can only move one square at a time.
  • Pawns capture opposing pieces when they are on an adjacent square diagonally.
  • En passant is a special pawn capture that will be covered later in the special rules of chess section.
  • If a pawn gets to the 8th rank, it has the option to promote into a Queen, Rook, Bishop or Knight. The rules of chess state that a player must say which piece he wants to promote to as soon as his pawn reaches the 8th rank.
Pawns can move one or two squares on their first move.
Pawns can move one or two squares on their first move.
A pawn that reaches the 8th rank can promote itself to either a Queen, Rook, Bishop or Knight.
A pawn that reaches the 8th rank can promote itself to either a Queen, Rook, Bishop or Knight.

 Knights

  • Not “horses” as they are mistakenly called. These pieces are the nimblest of the army and they are unique in that they are the only piece that can jump over other pieces.
  • Knights move in an L-shape and can capture any opposing piece that they land on.
  • Notice that a knight always lands on the opposite color square it starts on!
Kings move in an L shape.
Kings move in an L shape.

Bishops

  • An armed attendant placed directly next to the King and Queen.
  • Bishops are long range pieces. They rake the diagonals of the chessboard and can capture any opposing piece closest to them on that diagonal.
  • A player who holds the bishop pair strives for open diagonals so the bishops can maximize their scope.
Bishops move along the diagonals based on the square they are on.
Bishops move along the diagonals based on the square they are on. A bishop cannot change its color.

Rooks

  • Rooks symbolize castle turrets that are heavily armored and use long-range weapons. They occupy the opposite ends of the starting position.
  • Rooks move horizontally or vertically across the board.
  • They can capture any opposing piece so long as it is in line of sight of their movement.
  • Rooks that occupy the same file or rank are “doubled”. This is a common technique used to gain control of an open file.
Rooks move horizontally using ranks and files.
Rooks move horizontally using ranks and files.

The Queen

  • The closest piece to the King and the most powerful. A queen can move like a bishop and a rook which is why it is the most valuable piece.
  • The queen sits right next to the king and always takes its own color. So if you are playing Black, the Queen will always be on a dark square next to the king.
  • A queen can capture the first piece it sees along open ranks, files or diagonals.
  • Queens can come to the aid of a bishop or rook by helping to apply pressure along a particular diagonal, rank or file.
The rules of chess. A divinely short tutorial.

The King

The monarch must be protected at all costs. If your king is threatened to be captured and cannot move, you are checkmated and the game is over.

  • A king can only move one square in any direction.
  • A king and rook have a special move called castling which is covered later in the section.
  • It is illegal for a king to move into check.
  • If a king is placed in check it must either:
    • Move to a legal square where it is not in check.
    • Block the check with another piece.
    • Capture the piece that is putting it in check with another piece.
  • A king has no point value because it can never be captured.
A picture containing object, tiled, crossword puzzle, checker

Description automatically generated

Piece Placement

To prepare for a new game, the pieces should be arranged as show below.

A picture containing object

Description automatically generated

Check, Checkmate, Draw and Stalemate

Check – When a king is attacked by an enemy piece, the king is in check. This means the King must either move, block with one of its own pieces or capture the opposing piece.

A picture containing crossword puzzle, objectDescription automatically generated
The black Bishop puts the White king in check.

Checkmate – when the king is placed in check and has no legal moves to escape the game is over.

A picture containing objectDescription automatically generated
The black Queen delivers checkmate.

Draw –  No side wins. This can occur in the following ways:

  1. If the King cannot move to a legal square the rules of chess declare the the King is in stalemate. The rules of chess is score this as a draw.
  2. There is insufficient material to deliver checkmate.  For example: A King and Bishop or a King and Knight vs an opposing King cannot win.
  3. Three-fold repetition.  If your and your opponent repeat the same position three times in a row, the game is considered drawn.
  4.  The 50-move rule.  This is only in effect if a pawn has not been moved or a piece has not been captured for 50 moves.  As soon as a pawn has moved or piece has been captured, the move count restarts at zero.
When the king cannot move, the game ends in a stalemate or draw.
When the king cannot move, the game ends in a stalemate or draw.

White to move. This is stalemate because the White king has no legal squares to move to.

Special rules of chess: Castling and En Passant

When a player has moved her pieces so that there are no pieces between the King and rook, she has the choice to castle. There are two types of castling: kingside and queenside.

For the purposes of illustration, the graphic below shows the king ready to castle. To do this, it moves two squares to the left or right and then moves the rook so it is placed beside the king. This is a move that can only be made once during the game

Important rules of chess regarding castling:

  1. There cannot be any pieces between the king and the castling-rook.
  2. Once your king has moved, it cannot castle.
  3. You cannot castle through, into or out of check. Remember it this way: If you are in check, castling is not an option.
  4. If one of your rooks has moved, you cannot castle to that side.
Castling can occur on the king or queenside.
Castling can occur on the king or queenside.
The rules of chess. A divinely short tutorial.

En Passant

As stated earlier, when a pawn makes its first move, it can move one or two squares.  If it moves two squares and an enemy pawn is directly adjacent to it (left or right), the enemy pawn can capture it.

Your First Game

Now that you’ve learned the rules, it’s time to start playing. Here are some suggestions where you can play chess on the Internet. I recommend this approach as it will help to avoid mistakes you might make on a physical chess set such as illegal moves and so on. All these sites will abide by the rules of chess so you don’t have to remember them.

  1. Chess.com. Arguably, the most popular chess site. It’s free to join but paid members have access to videos, unlimited tactics puzzles and other training materials. The site has all kinds of innovative approaches to chess such as puzzle rush, arena kings to name a couple.
  2. Lichess.org. This site is 100% free. It has a sleek web interface and provides almost all of the features of chess.com except for training videos.
  3. Chessclub.com. One of the oldest chess sites on the Internet. I CC started it all. A paid membership give you access to training content, but you can start with a free account. Chessclub has a downloadable interface to your PC or Mac that is very customizable.
  4. Playchess.com. From the makers of Chessbase, this is a European site that is a cross between Chess.com and ICC. Playchess has paid content like the other sites but it also sells products – DVD’s, game collections and so on.

If you would like to see how the rules of chess in action, please read or watch my game analysis writings and videos.

Leave a Reply