Master the art of playing chess. Learn the rules and uncover the countless secrets this fascinating strategy game holds.
In order to fully enjoy the game, you need:
- A chessboard: made up of 64 squares, including 32 light squares and 32 dark squares. The chessboard is in the shape of a square and it is composed of eight rows (called ranks) and eight columns (called files). The ranks are identified by numbers (from 1 to 8) and the files are identified by letters (from “a” to “h”).
- Chess pieces: each player has 16 pieces at the start of the game. One player has white pieces and the other has black pieces. The pieces of chess are always referred to as “white” and “black” even if they’re of different colors. Each player has in their possession a king, a queen, two rooks, two bishops, two knights, and eight pawns. (Serious chess players usually use the term “piece” only to refer to a rook, knight, bishop, or queen. The pawns and kings are referred to by their names.)
- A chess clock: the use of this tool is not really mandatory, especially for beginners. However, it is necessary during tournaments to limit the thinking time of each player.
Before starting the game, the pieces must be placed in a specific order. The king, queen, two rooks, two bishops, and two knights should be placed on the first row (the first rank or back rank). Here is how to place the chess pieces on the chessboard:
- The king and queen are in the middle, that is, the king is on the e-file (column) and the queen is on the d-file. To never forget which is which, you can remember the phrase “queen on her own color”. Meaning, the white queen is placed on a light square and the black queen is placed on a dark square.
- The two bishops are next to the king and queen, i.e. on the c- and f-files.
- The knights follow the bishops, they are on the b- and g-files.
- The rooks are at the end, that is to say on the a- and h-files.
- The pawns are in front of each piece, that is, on the second rank.
Note: the squares on the queen’s side, i.e. from a- to d-files, are called the queenside. The squares on the king’s side, i.e. from e- to h-files are called the kingside.
Each player takes turns moving one of their pieces. If a player moves a piece to a square occupied by an opponent’s piece, then the latter is captured and must be removed from the board.
Movement of the king: the king is the most important piece in the game. It can move in any direction, whether horizontally, vertically, or diagonally. However, he can only move one square at a time and cannot leap over another piece.
Movement of the queen: the queen is the most important piece after the king. It can move horizontally, vertically, and diagonally. Unlike the king, she can move as many squares as she wants, but she cannot leap over another piece.
Movement of the rook: the rook can move as many squares as it wants, but only horizontally and vertically (not diagonally) and it cannot leap over another piece.
Movement of the bishop: the bishop can only move in a diagonal direction, but cannot leap over another piece. At the start of the game, the two bishops are placed on the chessboard so that one is on a dark square and the other on a light square. Throughout the game, a bishop will respect the color of its starting position: if it starts on a dark square it will never step on a light square, and vice versa.
Movement of the knight: the knight has a unique way of moving, as it moves in an “L” shape. That is to say, it can move two squares horizontally or vertically and then one perpendicular square. The knight can also move one square horizontally or vertically and then two perpendicular squares (still an “L” shape, only turned over). A knight who is on a light square will not land on another light square when moving. The knight is the only piece in chess that can leap over other pieces.
Movement of a pawn: a pawn can only move one square forward, except in its first move, when it can move two squares forward if it wants. A pawn can move forward only when that square is unoccupied. A pawn can capture an opponent’s piece on a square that’s diagonally in front of it by moving to that square. Pawns are the only chess pieces that can never move backward.
In image number 1, the pawn can choose to advance one or two squares. After making this first move, it will be able to move forward one square only each time (as in image number 2).
In the two images above, we can see that the pawn captures an opponent’s piece (another pawn) by moving diagonally.
En passant is a special pawn move that enables it to capture an opponent’s pawn. When a pawn that has not yet been moved advances two squares and lands right next to an opponent’s pawn, the latter can capture it by advancing one square diagonally in its direction (where it will be standing behind the square that was occupied by the now captured pawn). This essentially means that the opponent’s pawn takes the place of the pawn that has advanced two squares, but as if it had advanced only one square.
Image number 1: the black pawn has moved two squares forward and is positioned right next to the opponent’s white pawn. This allows the white pawn to perform the en passant move.
Image number 2: the white pawn advances one square diagonally and captures the black pawn which was positioned right next to it.
The promotion is another special move for pawns. When your pawn reaches an opponent’s back rank, it transforms into any piece of your choice except a king. When you promote a pawn you can end up with two queens, three bishops, three knights, etc.
In these two images, we can see that the black pawn has reached the back rank of the white side and therefore has gotten promoted to a stronger piece.
The second image clearly shows us that the pawn has been promoted to a queen who can now join the rest of the black pieces to intensify the attacks on the white king.
Castling is a special maneuver that the king can perform with the aid of a rook. When the king and a rook have not yet moved during the game and there are no pieces between them, the king can move two squares towards the rook. The rook moves as well during the castling procedure, it ends up occupying the last square the king has crossed. Check out our detailed guide to castling.
Kingside castling is when the king castles on its side as opposed to the queenside.
Queenside castling is when the king castles on the queenside as opposed to its own.
Castling is impossible when the king is in check or when any of the squares between the king and the needed rook is attacked by an opponent’s piece.
Castling is the only instance in chess where two pieces can move at the same time. It is also the only time the king can move two squares and the rook can leap over another piece.
The player with the white pieces always starts a game of chess. The player with the black pieces goes second, then it’s the whites’ turn again, and so on.
When the king is attacked by an opposing piece, he is in check. The player is obliged to counter the opponent’s attack by capturing the piece that is attacking their king, by moving the king, or by interposing a piece between the king and the piece that is attacking him. The player attacking the king can choose whether or not to announce the check. It is forbidden to move a king to a square that’s attacked by an opponent’s piece where it would be in check.
In this image, the white king is in check by the black rook that’s on the g4 square. The king can counter the check by moving to the f3, h3, or h2 squares. On the other hand, the king cannot move backward, i.e. move to the f1, g1, or h1 squares because the queen would still put him in check.
This is the attack that ends the game. The king is in checkmate when the attack on him (the check) cannot be countered. This means that the king will have no possible moves, the piece attacking him cannot be captured, and no other piece can come between him and his attacker.
This image is the continuation of the check above. Being in check by the rook, the king decided to move to f3. Therefore, the black queen moved to e4 so that the king would no longer have any possible moves. This is when we say “checkmate!” (the king on f3 is checkmated by the queen on e4 and the rook on g4).
In a game of chess, there are only three possible outcomes at the end: white victory, black victory, or a draw. The game ends in a draw in the following situations:
- When there is a mutual agreement between the two players.
- When it’s a player’s turn but they have no legal moves yet their king is not in check. This is called a stalemate.
- When the remaining pieces on the chessboard couldn’t possibly enforce a checkmate (for example, only the two kings remain, only the two kings and one bishop remain, only the two kings and one knight remain).
- When the same position or the same movement is repeated three times on the chessboard.
- When the two players have each made 50 consecutive moves without using a pawn or capturing an opponent’s piece.
Official rules in PDF
Explore the official Chess rules in PDF