How to Play Chess - Full Guide

Learn the rules of Chess step by step, starting with setting up the chess board.

Setting Up the Board

Chess may be one of the most complex games in the world, but once you know the basics, it’s just a matter of time and practice until you can master its principles. You’re never too old to begin playing chess, so this quick overview will teach you the rules and basic gameplay so you can get started.

Moving the Pieces

Each piece has a different way of moving. You cannot move your piece through any other piece, although the one exception is the knight who is allowed to jump the other pieces. You can also never move to a square with another piece of your own colour on it.

You can, however, move your piece to any square which your opponent is occupying by capturing their piece. Generally, pieces will be moved into a position where they can then capture an opponent’s piece, control a key square or defend one of their own pieces from capture. Find more about the roots of the game on our page Chess history.

Moving the Pieces

Moving the King

While the king is instrumental to the game, it is also a weak piece. It is only capable of moving a single square up, down, diagonally or horizontally. If the king is attacked by its opponent, this is known as being “in check”.

Moving the Queen

The queen is the game’s most powerful piece as she is capable of moving in any direction for as many spaces as she likes so long as she doesn’t move through any pieces of her own colour.

Moving the Rook

The rook is also able to move for as many spaces as it likes, but it can only move directly horizontally or vertically.

Moving the Bishop

Like the rook, the bishop is also permitted to move as many squares as it likes, but it can only move in a diagonal direction. The colour which the bishop starts on is the one it has to stay on.

Moving the Knight

Knights have a very different style of movement from other pieces since it moves two squares in one direction before moving one more space at an angle of 90 degrees – basically, in an L-shape.

Moving the Pawns

Pawns capture and move in two different ways. While the move forwards, they capture diagonally. Although the pawn’s first move is permitted to be two squares, after that they are only allowed to move one space at a time. They are only allowed to capture the square that is diagonally in front, with no movement or capturing backwards.

Special Moves

Special moves in a chess game.

Now you know the basics, there are some special rules to keep in mind too. If you want to stand out in a chess competition, you must know when and how to use these special moves. These add extra excitement to the game.

  • Promoting pawns – when a pawn gets to the opposite end of the chessboard, it can then be promoted into any other piece. Usually, a queen is chosen since this is the most powerful piece.

  • En Passant – when a pawn moves two squares for its first move and, when doing this, lands at the side of their opponent’s pawn, it can then capture that pawn in passing.

  • Castling – this allows the player to move the king 2 squares one way and move the rook from the corner of that side of the board to the space on the opposite side of the king. There are a few rules which need to be followed, however. It must be the first move for both the rook and the king, the king cannot be in check or move through check, and there can be no pieces between the rook and the king.

Making the First Move

No matter who you are playing, the person with the lighter colour pieces moves first. Flipping coins or guessing the colour of a hidden pawn are two common techniques for choosing who plays the lighter colour. Play then switches between the players in order.

How Do You Win?

There are only two ways a game can be ended – by drawing, or by checkmate.

Checkmate is achieved if you put your opponent’s king in check and they are unable to escape. A king can only escape check if he can move, block it with a different piece, or capture the opponent’s piece.

The game is considered to be ended with a draw if there is a stalemate when a player cannot make any legal move and their king isn’t in check. Other ways in which a draw may be declared is if the players make an agreement to stop play, if there are insufficient pieces remaining on the chessboard to obtain a checkmate situation, if an identical position occurs 3 times, or if there have been 50 consecutive moves during which neither of the players has captured an opponent’s piece or moved a pawn.

Simple Chess Strategies

There are 4 key things which all chess players must be aware of:

  1. Protecting the king is paramount – always try to get the king into the board’s corner where it is safer. If you’re going to castle, do it quickly.

  2. Don’t lose any pieces through carelessness.

  3. Try to control the centre of the board with your pawns and other pieces. This gives you greater space within which to move the pieces, making it more difficult for the opposing player to find any good squares into which to move their pieces.

  4. Use all the chess pieces – it can be tempting to only move the pawns, leaving the first row untouched. This isn’t a good strategy. Try to move all the pieces so you’ll have pieces with which to attack your opponent’s king.

Practice Makes Perfect

The best way to excel in chess is to play it a lot. Whether you’re playing with family or friends or playing online, practice makes perfect!

There are, however, several different variants of chess, and each one has rules of its own. Knowing the differences between them is important if you’re going to have a thorough knowledge of the game.

The most commonly used rules are those which are used in standard tournaments. Here is a brief outline of those rules so you can practice with them:

Practice and get better at chess.
  • Touch move - when the player touches any of their own pieces, that piece must then be moved (so long as the move is a legal one). Should they touch one of their opponent’s pieces, they have to capture it then. Therefore, if any player wants to touch one of the pieces to adjust its position on the chessboard, they need to announce their intention.

  • Timers and docks - the majority of tournaments will use a timer so the amount of time per game can be regulated. Both players are granted an identical amount of time which they can use to play their game, and they are able to choose the amount of time to spend on every move. After making a move, the player hits the lever or touches the button, and this starts the opposing player’s clock. Should one player run out of time, they lose the game. The only exception to this is if the opponent lacks sufficient pieces for a checkmate. In that case, a draw is called.

Common Questions About Chess

Here are some of the most commonly posed questions and queries about chess:

  • Which move should I make first? – There isn’t any single best first move however you need to bear in mind that controlling the centre of the board is always wise. For this reason, most players choose to move a central pawn forward 2 squares.

  • Am I allowed to move several pieces in a single move? – Usually no, you’re only permitted to move a single piece during one turn. There is only one exception – during castling, you’ll move the rook and king in a single move.

  • Which piece is most important? – Although technically the king is most important, since losing the king means losing the game, the queen is actually most powerful in terms of movement and the ability to capture other pieces.

  • How can I improve my chess skills? – Play as much as possible. Take online lessons or lessons in person and even consider joining a chess club. Practice makes perfect.

  • What is the aim of the game? – The whole point of chess is to get your opponent’s king into checkmate. This happens if the king can be captured and is unable to escape.

Are you excited about the idea of learning to play chess? If so, it’s definitely time to start playing. Although it sounds complicated, once you’ve mastered the basics, you’ll be on your way to excelling in this amazing sport.