Historians are not certain of when exactly the game of Chess was invented, but it is definitely one of the oldest and widely-played board games in the world today. A struggle of wits entirely dependant on the strategies employed by the two players, and not at all on luck, the game can be entertaining and challenging for anybody of any age or background. However, getting first started with the game can be a little confusing, especially if one just tries to pick it up by watching other players. This article will cover everything you need to know to start playing right away.
Chess is played on an 8×8 grid of alternating colors known as a chessboard. There are 32 total game pieces, divided into two colors, which are referred to as chessmen or chess pieces. While black and white are the most common colors used and thus give names to the two sides of play, any two colors can be used, given that one is distinguishably lighter than the other. Before the start of a game, the two players decide who will play White and who will play Black, either by a coin toss, or some other method (such as the loser of the last game automatically plays White).
It is important to note here that the board must be aligned so that the right-hand corner of the board on White’s side is a white square. Each player then takes their 16 chessmen and sets them standing up on the board, in a very specific order. The eight smaller pieces are known as Pawns, and all of them are lined up on the second row (called rank in chess) in front of each player.
The remaining chessmen for each player are arranged along the row behind the Pawns, though each player places their King and Queen in a different position, dependent on which color they are playing. The two royal chess pieces will always face each other, and the Queen is always placed on a square that matches her color, the King on a square opposite his. Therefore the order of placement in the back row should be Rook, Knight, Bishop, Queen/King, Bishop, Knight, and then finally the second Rook.
Starting with White, the two opponents take turns making moves. Each move (except for one exception, Castling) consists of moving one of your pieces one or multiple squares along the board, and hopefully capturing an enemy piece in the process. Capturingâ€ť an enemy’s chessmen occurs when one of a player’s pieces moves onto a square occupied by an enemy piece, with some exceptions. One a piece has been captured it is taken off the board and cannot be brought back into play. Each piece has its own unique pattern of movement, which are outlined below.
Pawn The Pawn is the most plentiful chess piece, and thus a player is only allowed to move a Pawn one square directly forward (never backwards), unless that square is blocked by one of his own or one of the enemy’s pieces. The exception to this rule is that the first time you move any Pawn, you can choose to move it two squares ahead instead of just one, assuming that the square is not occupied.
The Pawn is the only piece to capture in a different method than it moves. A Pawn may only capture an enemy piece if that unit is on one of the two squares directly diagonally-forward of the Pawn. So if, for example, two enemy Pawns are directly in front of one another, they cannot move any further. However, if an enemy piece is moved to where it is alongside the other enemy piece, the opposing Pawn can capture that piece and then continue moving forward along the board.
Finally, if a Pawn manages to make it to the last square on the board, either by moving forward or by capturing its way onto that square, the Pawn must be promoted to another piece. A Pawn cannot remain a Pawn and can become any of the other pieces except for a King. If there are none of that piece available in the player’s color, either loop a rubber band around the Pawn or use some other method of distinguishing it from a regular Pawn.
Rook The Rook (the piece which resembles a castle’s tower) may only move in a straight line, but they can move as many squares as are not blocked by another piece and may move in any of the cardinal directions. Therefore, a Rook can move from one end of the board to the other in a single move, assuming no other pieces (enemy or one’s own) are in the way. To capture an enemy piece with a Rook, you must be able to move the Rook onto the same square as is occupied by the enemy, and then the Rook may not be moved any further that turn.
The Rook has a special power it may employ in conjunction with the King, which is the only time two moves can technically be made in one turn, which is called Castling. If neither the King nor the castling Rook has been moved from its original position, and there are no pieces in the squares between them, and the King is not currently in check , a player may choose to Castle in hopes of putting their King in a better position.
There are two Castles possible King-side and Queen-side, one for each Rook the player starts with. In the King-side Castle, the two pieces are moved two squares each, ending up so that the King is closer to the edge of the board than the Rook. However, with the Queen-side Castle, the King has moved two spaces towards the Rook, while the Rook is moved three spaces towards the King. Again, the two pieces will end up on the other side of one another, opposite of how they started.
Bishop The Bishop (the taller piece which appears to be wearing a Pope’s hat!) always moves in a diagonal line, for as many squares as are not blocked by any other pieces. Due to this pattern of movement, the Bishop will always be on a square of the same color as the square it originated on. This piece captures if it moves diagonally onto a square occupied by an enemy piece, also forcing it to stop its movement.
Knight The Knight (the piece which looks like a horse’s head) has a very unique way of moving and capturing. It may only move three squares each turn, and MUST move three squares. Furthermore, two of those squares must be in the same direction (forward, backward, or laterally) and one square in a different direction.
For example, a Knight may move two squares forward and one square right, or two squares left and one square backwards, but they may not move three squares forward or three squares diagonally. Think of the Knight as moving in an L-shape. Also, a Knight may jump over any piece, regardless of color, as long as the piece occupying the final square of its move is an enemy piece (unless the square is empty), which is then captured.
Queen The Queen (which is a unique piece, and is usually the second-tallest and wearing a crown upon her head) is the most flexible, and therefore most powerful, a piece on the chessboard. The Queen can move any number of squares in any of the eight directions, as long as no other pieces block her movement in that direction. However, when she moves in one direction she must continue to move in that direction, and may not move in multiple directions in the same turn. She captures in the same way she moves and must stop on the square she captures on.
King The final piece is the most important piece in the game and is the key to Chess. The King is generally the tallest piece and has a cross at the top. This piece can move exactly one square in any direction and captures any enemy piece it happens to land on. However, there is one special feature about the King’s movements a player cannot ever move their King onto a square which would put their King in check, which just means in the line of attack of one of the enemy’s pieces.
In fact, putting your enemy’s King into check is in fact the goal of the game. Any time a player is put in check, they must move their King in such a way that they are no longer at risk of attack from any of the enemy’s pieces. If at anytime a player who is in check cannot get out of check, either by moving their King,
capturing the piece threatening it, or by moving another piece to block the attack, they are in checkmate and have lost the game. You don’t necessarily have to move one of your pieces into an attacking position against the enemy’s King to put them in check; you may instead move one of your pieces out of the way of another, whose line of attack at the King was previously blocked.
This is referred to as a discovered check, and if the piece which you moved out of the way is also able to attack the King when it is finished moving, this is called a double check and is usually a very potent move if you can accomplish it.
It should be noted that not every game of Chess ends in checkmate. If a player is put into the position where their King is currently safe and not in check, but any move they make would put their King in check, a stalemate is declared. Neither player wins in a stalemate; the game is simply a draw since a player cannot pass on their turn in Chess.
Other situations that can create a draw include when two players simply agree to it, if one player is unable to ever force checkmate because he is left without an insufficient advantage in pieces (such as a King and lone Bishop as his remaining pieces against a player with just a King), or if a situation arises where a player can put another player in a constant series of checks and escapes (without being able to checkmate).
Rules aside, here are a few strategies to help Chess beginners out. First and foremost, and perhaps most obvious, is to practice, practice, practice. The best way to get better at Chess is to play a lot of games, although studying recorded matches and analyzing the players moves can also help.
An important tip to remember during a game is to not play too fast and to look carefully at each move you make, as some moves that seem quite good may in turn cause your downfall. Just because you can take your opponent’s Pawn with your Knight, does not mean you should especially if it leads to you losing your Knight from a piece you didn’t notice.
Know how valuable each piece is, and use it to gauge whether you should sacrifice one of your own to capture an enemy’s piece. Generally the pieces are ranked in the following order of ascending value: Pawn, Knight, Bishop, Rook, and Queen. The King is of course the most valuable of your chessmen.
Be careful about exposing your more powerful pieces too early, because losing them in the beginning of the game can leave you painfully disadvantaged later on, when you need them to defend against or create a checkmate. However, your Knights are a good choice for early attacks, because they usually cannot be immediately captured by the piece they are attacking, and can also leap right over your Pawns on the first move.
While it may seem like a lot of very complicated rules, Chess is actually fairly easy to pick up once you sit down and start playing, though it of course can take much, much longer to master the intricate strategies involved in winning the game. However, you should now know enough to start playing some games and developing your own skills and playing style, and hopefully have a lot of fun doing it.