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Chess is one of the oldest games ever created. It was as popular back in the days of knights and gauntlets as it is in the days of smartphones and apps. Recently, thanks to movies like Queen of Katwe and television shows like The Queen's Gambit, chess is becoming even more popular, especially among younger people. Learning chess can feel intimidating, but it shouldn't stop anyone who is interested from trying. Chess takes practice, but anyone can learn with some effort.

How to Set Up the Chessboard

Chess pieces are always set up in the same positions to start a game. The person playing with the white pieces makes the first move.

  • The back row on each side of the chessboard is taken up by the rooks, queen, bishops, knights, and king. The rooks are placed on the corner squares, then the knights inside of them, then the bishops inside of those. The queen goes on the space matching her color (either the light square or the dark square), and the king goes in the last empty space.
  • The eight pawns are placed in a straight line in the next row.

How the Chess Pieces Move

Chess players take turns. Each player makes a single move on their turn, and turns can't be skipped. Each piece moves in a specific way. No piece can change direction during a move except the knight.

  • The queen is regarded as the most powerful piece on the board. It can move in any direction. It can also move any number of squares in a straight line in a single move.
  • The two rooks are able to move vertically or horizontally over any number of spaces.
  • The bishops start with one occupying a light square and one on a dark square. They only move diagonally, so they always stay on the same color that they began on.
  • The knight moves in an L-shaped path across the board. The knight moves either two squares in one direction and then one square in another direction or one square in one direction and then two squares in another direction. The knight is also the only piece that can jump over other pieces as it moves.
  • The pawns can only move forward. On the first move, they can move one or two spaces, but after that, they can only move one space per turn. However, a pawn can only capture diagonally; it can only take a piece that's diagonally in front of it.
  • The king is able to move a one square in any direction. However, it can't move next to the other player's king. It also can't capture the other king, although it can capture any other piece on the board. When a king is forced into a position where it can't escape being captured, the other player wins the game.

Special Chess Moves

Although there are specific rules for how each piece on the chessboard can move, there are exceptions. These special chess moves allow the pieces to move in ways that are typically against the rules of the game.

  • Usually, only one piece can be moved during each turn. However, if a king and a rook haven't been moved yet, they can be moved together in a move called castling. The king moves two squares sideways, and the rook in that direction moves around to the king's other side.
  • If the other player moves their pawn two squares on the pawn's first move and it lands next to their opponent's pawn, their opponent can capture the pawn. However, this can only happen on the opponent's next move. This move is known as en passant.

How to Begin a Game

The first, or opening, moves are important because players want to establish control of the board early. Getting control of the center of the board is crucial for many strategies.

  • Move pawns minimally at the beginning. Freeing other pieces so they can move around the board is more important.
  • Players try to avoid moving the same piece twice during their first few moves.
  • Many players begin by moving a pawn in front of the queen or king. This move frees up a bishop to move easily.

How a Chess Game Ends

Chess games can end in one of three ways. One player can quit, both players can agree that the game is at a stalemate and neither can win, or it can end with a checkmate.

  • When the king is into a position where it could be captured, this is called being in check. When a player can't move their king out of check in any direction, this is called a checkmate; the other player wins the game.
  • Experienced players often resign, or quit, when they're playing a game they know is hopeless. However, beginner players should play a game all the way through for the experience.
  • Stalemates, or draws, happen when both players have lost so many pieces they can't checkmate each other or when each player is trapped without a legal move.

Additional Resources

Edited by: Ben Thompson