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How to Play Chess—A Visual Guide and Tips for Beginners

Updated on June 17, 2017

Chess has long been viewed by our society as a game for intelligent individuals. Millions of people around the world are playing it. A classic game that will stand the test of time, Chess has a strong established club and online community, even drawing the interest of celebrities, such as Madonna, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jude Law, and others. Athletes such as basketball superstar Kobe Bryant, tennis player Anna Kournikova, and UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre are also enthusiasts. Alexandra Kosteniuk, Hou Yifan, and Judit Polgar are among the world's best female chess players, whereas the young prodigy Magnus Carlsen, Hikaru Nakamura, and Viswanathan Anand are the best of the males.

If you are interested in learning how to play this game of skill, this complete 3-step visual guide will show you how and give tips along the way.

Step #1: Getting Started—Setting Up a Chess Game

ROOK  ----  KNIGHT  ---  BISHOP  ----  QUEEN  ----  KING  ----  BISHOP  ---  KNIGHT  ----  ROOK
ROOK ---- KNIGHT --- BISHOP ---- QUEEN ---- KING ---- BISHOP --- KNIGHT ---- ROOK
  • Properly place the board. Always position the light-squared corner to face your bottom right (and the dark-squared corner to face your bottom left).
  • Put the pieces on the board exactly as shown in the diagram. Always set the king on the square that is opposite of color (e.g., always put the white king onto the dark square; always put the black king onto the light square).
  • Black's position is the mirror image of white's.

Step #2: How to Move the Different Chess Pieces

In chess, players take turns moving their own pieces. White always moves first. When you move onto a square occupied by an enemy piece, you capture it and remove it from the board. The game continues until one of the kings can't escape enemy capture.

Now that you understand the basics, it's time to cover how the rules governing movement are different for each piece.

A Friendly Reminder

Players can only make one move per turn. They can't skip their turn or capture their own pieces.

How the King Moves Across the Board

The king can move one square in any direction.
The king can move one square in any direction.
  • The king is the leader of your army. His old age might make him slow and vulnerable in the beginning, but his experience will bring him triumph in the end.
  • The king can move one square in any direction. You can't move him to a square where he can be captured. If a king is threatened with capture and can't escape, that player loses the game.
  • Approximate value: n/a

The King isn't assigned a value because if he's lost, the game is over. However, his suggested value is 4 points.

How the Queen Moves Across the Board

The queen can move to any square vertically, horizontally, or diagonally no matter the distance.
The queen can move to any square vertically, horizontally, or diagonally no matter the distance.
  • Her Majesty is beautiful, fast, and powerful, making her a lethal attacker. She can defend if necessary, but she prefers to be aggressive. She has the flexibility and mobility to handle any situation that comes her way.
  • The queen can move to any square that is vertical, horizontal, or diagonal—at any distance. However, the queen can't "jump" over pieces that are in her path.
  • Approximate value: 9 points

How the Rook Moves During the Game

The rook can move to any square that is vertical or horizontal to their starting position.
The rook can move to any square that is vertical or horizontal to their starting position.
  • These siege towers are always steady and reliable. They might get off to a slow start, but as the battle wears on, they become stronger and stronger. The mobility of a piece and its ability to create threats is the determining factor of a piece's value.
  • The rook can move to any square that is vertical or horizontal to their position on the board. The rook can't "jump" over pieces blocking its path to a square.
  • Approximate value: 5 points

How the Bishop Moves During the Game

The bishop can move to any square that is diagonal to it.
The bishop can move to any square that is diagonal to it.
  • Bishops are specialists at their own talent---range. They cooperate well with others, contributing their talents to help the team achieve its goal. They like open territory where they can maximize the use of their range like archers.
  • The bishop can move to any diagonal square of the same color (e.g., a bishop on a light square can move to other light squares but not dark squares). It can't "jump" over pieces blocking its path.
  • Approximate value: 3 points

How the Brave Knight Moves

the knight's movement resembles an "L" shape.  it can jump over pieces to land on any square
the knight's movement resembles an "L" shape. it can jump over pieces to land on any square
  • Knights are brave and loyal. They fight at their best in close combat and on crowded battlefields. They use their tricky maneuvers to catch enemies off guard.
  • The knight can move to any square in the pattern indicated above. Its movement resembles an "L" shape. A knight always lands on a square of an opposite the color than where it began (e.g., a knight moving from a light square will always land on a dark square). Unlike other pieces, the knight can "jump" over other pieces to reach its destination.
  • Approximate value: 3 points

How the Humble Pawn Moves

A pawn can move one or two squares (only from its starting position) forward. It cannot move backward.
A pawn can move one or two squares (only from its starting position) forward. It cannot move backward.
  • These soldiers come from all different walks of life. From their humble beginnings, their journeys may one day lead them to achieve greatness. Chess strategy is often based on the placement of pawns, known as "Pawn Structures."
  • A pawn can move one or two squares forward. It can only move two squares forward from its starting position; afterward, it can only move one square forward. Pawns can't move forward if blocked directly in front by another piece and also can't move backward.
  • Approximate value: 1 point

Capturing With a Pawn

A pawn can capture a piece that is exactly one diagonal square in front of it.
A pawn can capture a piece that is exactly one diagonal square in front of it.
The black pawn is captured.
The black pawn is captured.

A pawn can capture a piece that rests on one of the two diagonal squares directly in front of it (one square away). It can't capture in any other direction.

Capturing a Pawn En Passant

White has just moved his pawn two squares forward. The black pawn can capture it en passant.
White has just moved his pawn two squares forward. The black pawn can capture it en passant.
The white pawn is captured.
The white pawn is captured.

If a pawn moves two squares forward and lands next to an enemy pawn on the same row, the enemy can capture it en passant. In English, this means "in passing." The enemy pawn captures it by moving diagonally one square to get behind the moved pawn.

En passant can only be played the turn immediately after the pawn moved two squares forward. Afterward, it can no longer be captured en passant. This move can't be used if the pawn only moved one square forward.

Promoting a Pawn

The white pawn is one square away from promotion.
The white pawn is one square away from promotion.
White chooses to promote it to a queen.
White chooses to promote it to a queen.

If a pawn reaches the opposite end of the board, the player can promote it to a queen, rook, bishop, or knight—anyone but the king.

Castling With a King and Rook

The king can castle by moving two squares to the left or two squares to the right towards his own rook.
The king can castle by moving two squares to the left or two squares to the right towards his own rook.

A king together with a rook can make castle if both pieces have not previously moved during the game (meaning they have remained "untouched"). The squares in-between the king and rook must be empty in order to castle.

To castle, move the king two squares left or two squares right towards your rook. Then put the rook on the opposite side of the king (see diagrams below).

A king can't castle if he's in check (under attack) or if an enemy piece is attacking one of the squares in the king's path.

How the Game Ends

There are two ways to end a game of chess. You can either capture your opponent's king (checkmate) or trap them in such a way that any move they make will put them in check, resulting in a stalemate.

Checkmate—The Preferred Ending

The white king has no way to escape being captured by black. White is checkmated. If his pawn were still on g2, he could've moved the pawn up to g3 to block the check, but pawns can't move backward. This is an example of the famous "Fool's Mate."
The white king has no way to escape being captured by black. White is checkmated. If his pawn were still on g2, he could've moved the pawn up to g3 to block the check, but pawns can't move backward. This is an example of the famous "Fool's Mate."

A check occurs if a king is in danger of being captured by an opponent's next move. The player must move their king out of harm's way, capture the checking piece, or block it to avoid capture. When a king can't escape capture, it's checkmate, and that player loses. In practice, a king is never actually "captured"; the game ends when it can't escape from check.

Stalemate—An Unsatisfying Conclusion

Unfortunately for Black, he has attacked all the squares around the white king. It's white's turn and he has no legal moves. It's a draw.
Unfortunately for Black, he has attacked all the squares around the white king. It's white's turn and he has no legal moves. It's a draw.

A stalemate occurs when a player is not in check but has no legal moves. This is because any move they make would put their king in check, which is not permitted by the rules. The game ends in a draw.

Players can also mutually agree to draws at their own discretion or forfeit a game at any time.

Well, we've officially covered everything you need to know. There are other rules, but those are related to etiquette or tournament practice and are not required to start playing chess.

photo by Ray Morris-Hill
photo by Ray Morris-Hill

Step #3: Start Playing Chess

Congratulations, you can now start playing. In the video below you can see how a game might be played. Watch and learn as the legendary Paul Morphy defeats Duke Karl of Brunswick and Count Isouard in this famous classic, played at the Italian Opera House in 1858. You don't have to absorb this information all at once. Take your time learning each piece and revisit this page at your convenience. You'll soon realize that chess is actually pretty easy to play.

Have fun.

Paul Morphy vs. Duke Karl & Count Isouard, Paris, France, 1858

© 2011 sunnyjook

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    • erniesliter profile image

      erniesliter 5 years ago

      This is a useful page to examine if you want to learn to play chess.

    • alipuckett profile image

      alipuckett 5 years ago

      Oh my gosh! This is awesome. I've been wanting to learn to play chess, and your illustrations are really clear. Thank you!

    • sagecarter profile image

      sagecarter 5 years ago from Upstate New York

      Wow, very informative - I've been wanting to learn to play!

    • tobusiness profile image

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 5 years ago from Bedfordshire, U.K

      What a very good way of teaching the game, well done. I tried playing chess years ago but I've forgotten the moves, I think it's time to dig up my old set and have another go. vote up

    • ilikegames profile image

      Sarah Forester 3 years ago from Australia

      I play chess on and off with my husband who really enjoys it (I always get beaten) but maybe with these tips I've got some hope.

    • profile image

      alireza 3 months ago

      Great!

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