Okay, let’s accept one thing right up front…chess is hard. At least, becoming really good at it is. It should NOT however be so hard to learn. Winning strategies in chess are so complicated they keep super computers up at night, but the mechanics of the game are really quite simple…albeit a little out of the ordinary.
Number of players
An 8x8 grid of squares which alternate between light and dark colors. The horizontal rows of squares are called “ranks,” the vertical columns “files.” Players sit on opposite sides, with a “light” colored square in their right hand corner.
16 per player (traditionally one light colored set, and one dark to correspond with the colors on the board). Each player’s pieces include: 1 king, 1 queen, 2 bishops, 2 knights, 2 rooks, and 8 pawns.
Each player sets up their pieces on the first two rows of their side of the board as follows:
- White (or lighter color) – first row from left to right: rook, knight, bishop, queen, king, bishop, knight, rook. Second row: all pawns.
- Black (or darker color) – all pieces are set up as a “mirror-image” to the white pieces. In other words, the set-up is identical, but the kings and queens always start directly opposite their counterparts on the other side of the board. A good way to remember this is that the queen piece always starts on a square of its own color.
Each individual type of playing piece has its own movement properties. They are as follows:
- King (the tallest piece) – may move 1 space in any direction (forward, backward, side to side, or diagonally), but it may NOT move into any space where your opponent could capture it on their next move.
- Queen (second tallest piece) – may move any number of spaces (unless obstructed by an edge of the board or another piece) in any direction.
- Bishop – may move any number of (unobstructed) spaces on a diagonal.
- Rook – may move any number of (unobstructed) spaces forward, backward, or sideways, or in other words, along the “ranks” and “files” of the board.
- Knight (usually shaped like a horse) – this is where things start to get different. Knights move very differently from all the other pieces, in that they don’t move along ranks, files or diagonals. Instead, the knight moves to the opposite corner of a rectangle 3 squares by two squares in size. Think of its movement pattern as an “L” shape. It can either move 1 space (forward, backward, or sideways) followed by 3 spaces on a right angle, or 3 spaces followed by 1 space on a right angle. The knight may also ignore obstructions, effectively being able to “hop” over any pieces in its way.
- Pawn (the smallest piece) – may only move forward one space at a time with the following exception: on a pawn’s opening move it may be moved two spaces forward instead of one. A pawn also moves differently when capturing another piece…see “capturing” below.
This is a very specific movement of two pieces…specifically, a player’s king, and one of their two rooks. Each player may castle only once per game and only if the pieces in question rest on their original squares without having previously moved. Also, all the spaces between the two pieces must be unoccupied, and “unguarded” by enemy pieces (this goes back to the king’s restriction of not placing itself in jeopardy).
To castle, the king moves two spaces toward the rook, and the rook “jumps” over the king to occupy the space directly adjacent to it on the other side. The purpose of castling is to further protect the king, while simultaneously freeing up the rook.
If a pawn manages to make it all the way to the edge of the board on the opposite side from where it started, it may be substituted for another more powerful piece (queen, rook, bishop, or knight). The queen, being the most powerful, is the logical choice (hence the term “queening”), and there is no limit to how many queens (or other pieces produced this way) may be on the board at once.
Moving any of your pieces into a space occupied by an opponent “captures” their piece and removes it from the board. Any piece may capture any other piece, except a king may never capture another king (as moving them adjacent to one another violates their movement restriction).
Pawns capture differently than other pieces because they cannot do it as part of their normal movement. If a piece sits directly in front of a pawn, the pawn may not capture it…instead it becomes blocked. A pawn captures another piece by moving one space on a forward diagonal (which they can only do if there is a piece to capture).
Pawns may also make a capture using a somewhat obscure rule called “en passant” (or “in passing”). It takes a very specific situation for this to happen. Here is an example of how it works: your opponent moves a pawn two spaces forward (instead of one) for its opening move, which puts it directly adjacent to one of your pawns on a separate file. Since your pawn could have captured it diagonally if it had only moved one space, you may now capture it anyway by moving your pawn diagonally into the space directly behind their pawn (the space it would have occupied had it only moved one square). This kind of capture can only be made on the very next turn after your opponent moves their pawn.
Traditionally, the player controlling the white (or lighter color) pieces moves first. Players move only one piece on their turn (except when castling).
To capture the opponent’s king. Okay, capturing your opponent’s king never actually happens, because a king can never legally put itself in danger. If an opponent’s piece threatens your king (or puts it in “check”), your king must be protected either by moving it to another space, capturing the piece that threatens it, or moving another piece in front of the king to block the opponent. Traditionally, players announce “check” when threatening their opponent’s king. This is not really necessary according to official rules, but considering that once in check, a player’s only legal move is to protect the king…it serves as a good reminder.
The game is won, when a player puts his opponents king in “checkmate,” meaning the king is in check and there is no way to protect it (it cannot move without still being in check, and there is no other piece that can legally come to the rescue).
The game may be declared a draw if:
- The active player cannot make a legal move, and their king is not in check (stalemate)
- All pieces on the board wind up in the same positions three times in a row (repetition)
- One player can unceasingly place the other player’s king in check (perpetual check)
- There are not enough pieces on the board (or they are too weak) to force a checkmate (lack of force)
- One player has not made a capture, or moved a pawn in at least 50 turns (50-move rule)
- Both players agree to draw intentionally (agreement)