The Rules of Chess – What You Need To Know To Get Started

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Grandmaster experienced chess player

The rules of chess date back almost 1500 years. The game itself originated in Northern India in 6th century AD, spreading to Persia, Spain, and Southern Europe. Historians say that the moves of the pieces changed in 15th century Europe. The modern chess game begins with these changes. During the 19th century, modern tournament play was created. Chess clock use was implemented in a tournament in 1883 with the first ever chess championship held in 1886.

As you can see, the game has a very rich and complex history. 1000 years ago, European chess was popular in Spain, and a game that only nobility learned. The game itself was cultivated over time and for centuries, it remained a royal game that was accessible only to the aristocratic class. Over the years, chess found a foothold in the mainstream world and has remained a challenging intellectual game for centuries. While there have been many changes to the game itself, the idea of chess has remained unchanged.

With practice, the a good chess set, and the right strategies, it’s possible for anyone to learn how to play fairly well, however, it will take extensive practice to master this intellectually challenging game.

The Chess Board

To begin this guide on the rules of the game, let’s start off by looking at the chess board. The most enduring and ancient component of the game is definitely the board. The board consists of 64 squares with eight rows. The squares themselves are alternately colored black and white.

As a student of chess, you will come to know the board very accurately and be able to visualize every square in its individual position, in addition to how it relates to any neighboring squares. The board is divided into three separate regions, the two wings and the middle. The left wing consists of the first and second line to the left. The right wing of the board is designed in the same way by the two extreme lines located on the right hand. The middle of the board is formed by the four remaining lines: 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th.

Located in the center of the middle region are four squares that form the intersection of the fourth line and the fifth line. These four squares have the greatest significance for strategic purposes.

To describe the events on a board accurately, names were given to each of the 64 squares. In modern times, where mathematics and the science of nature have become so prominent, a mathematical name has been assigned instead.

The eight lines that run upward are designated by the numbers 1-8. The eight rows that run left to right are designated by the letters A-H. Because every square belongs to one row and one line only, the row and line plainly designate it. For example, “B5” is a square on the B line that belongs to the fifth row. Traditionally, the letter precedes the number. You would never write 5B.

Chess Pieces

The armies that are at war with each other on the board consist of black and white pieces. White pieces will gather on one side and black on the other. The coloring of these pieces determines its fidelity and obedience, unconditionally. A piece will never desert to the enemy, rebel, and is totally faithful until its death. If a piece falls in combat, it will be removed from the board until the next game.

Both sides have equal forces. Each side will have:

  • 8 pawns
  • 2 knights
  • 2 bishops
  • 2 rooks
  • 1 queen
  • 1 king

Every piece will stand on the board until it has been captured. Each piece is placed on one square, with no two pieces standing on the same square. At the beginning of the game, the pieces will be placed in determined positions, and alternately moved. The game will continue until the king of a party has been captured or players agree upon a draw issue.

Most chess pieces are carved out of wood. The pawn is basically a common soldier without much detail, while the knights have a horse head. The bishops wear a characteristic headdress while the castles or rooks are carved as sturdy castles. The queen wears a crown that’s much smaller than the king’s.

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Moving Rules

Boy playing chess

Learning how to play chess can be tricky, especially when it comes to the moving rules. A move consists of transferring one piece from one square to the next. A white will move a white piece, a black will move a black one. There are times when a couple of pieces are put in motion, especially when a hostile piece has been captured or in queening or castling a pawn.


A king can move from its square to a neighboring square that satisfies the following conditions:

  • The square isn’t menaced by a hostile piece
  • The square isn’t occupied by a man of its own party
  • A neighbor to the square of occupation

With castling, a king can move two squares to the left or right, and their rook towards which the king has moved, will then be placed on the square that the king jumped over. Unfortunately, this move isn’t permitted when:

  • The king is in check
  • The rook or king has already made a move
  • The rook’s move is obstructed
  • The rook or king after castling would then be exposed to capture


Rooks can move any number of squares horizontally along their current column or row. However, the rook cannot pass through pieces that are the same color but they can capture pieces of the opposite color by moving onto a square occupied by one.


The bishop can move diagonally.


A queen can move any number of spaces diagonally, vertically, or horizontally. However, these movements must be made in a straight line during a single turn. A queen is not allowed to move through pieces of the same color and can capture pieces of the opposite color by moving onto its square.


A knight is the only piece that can move through other pieces by jumping over them. A knight can capture pieces as normal by landing on a square occupied by a piece of the opposite color. Knights cannot move to a square that’s occupied by a piece of the same color; however, they can move over pieces of both colors during its move.

A knight moves in a fixed L shaped pattern. This means that the knight can always move to the closest square that’s not on its current column, row, or directly adjacent diagonally.

Knights have to move the full distance and can’t move just a couple of squares in a straight line without also moving one to the side.


A pawn can move one square straight ahead. However, this type of move is only permitted if the square on which the piece lands is occupied by a hostile piece or empty.

The queen, bishop, and rook are obstructed in their motion as soon as they land on an occupied square. This means that a bishop that’s on C1 can go to any square diagonally, unless one of these squares is occupied. The queen, bishop, or rook can capture a piece as long as it’s hostile, by placing the moving piece on the square occupied by the obstruction, taking the latter off the board.

The pawns, knight, or king can capture hostile pieces. The knight or the king can do so whenever they have the right to move to the square that’s occupied by a hostile piece. However, the pawn can only do so with a diagonal move forward to a neighboring square.

Every piece is vulnerable to capture, with the exception of the king. The king’s life is sacred and should be defended. The king will only perish when there’s no other possible resources that can save it from capture. When this occurs, the game is over. The player who is not able to save his or her king from capture is “Checkmate”, losing the game.


  • A player’s pieces are placed on the board in a couple of horizontal rows that are also referred to as ranks. The army is placed on the two rows closest to each player. The second row, or second rank from a player’s perspective will consist of eight pawns that are each placed on a single square.
  • The rank closest to the player is almost symmetrical, with the castles, or rooks, placed on the two rightmost and leftmost corners, followed by the knights placed on the inside space by them, then the bishops.
  • There are a couple of central squares of the rank that will be occupied by the queen and the king. The queen should be placed on the square that matches her color, so if you have a white queen, she should be placed on a white square. The king will occupy the remaining square of the opposite color. This means that the queen and king of each color will face off against each other, making the proper setup look very symmetrical between the two players.
  • The player who chose white will be allowed to make the first move, with the players alternating their turns until one player has resigned or been defeated by checkmate. Players can also agree on a draw. If the players are using a timer, just like in tournament play, the first player who runs out of time will forfeit the game.

The Basics

In the game of chess, each player will take a turn, making a single move. A player cannot choose to skip turns, they are required to move a piece. Each of the chess pieces move in a very specific way and must be moved based on the rules of the game. The exception is the knight who can jump through pieces.

Capturing Pieces

capturing pieces

If a piece lands on a square that has an opponent, that piece will be captured and removed from the board. A piece cannot be placed on the same space as a piece of the same color. When a player captures an opponent’s piece, it must finish its current move action, ending the players turn.

Check and Checkmate

When a player moves their piece in a way that allows them to capture their opponent’s king on their next turn, the attacking player will announce “check.”

The player that’s placed into check will need to move their king or move another piece to prevent the attack on their next turn. This can be done by capturing the attacking piece or blocking the move.

If one player creates a situation in which their opponent is unable to prevent their king from being captured on the following turn, the attacking player will announce “checkmate”. A game of chess is won when a successful checkmate is announced. The king is never captured.

En Passant

This is one of the most famous moves in chess. En passant occurs when a pawn moves a couple of squares forward as a result of its optional starting move. If a player’s pawn would have been able to capture the moving pawn if it had only moved one square instead of two, the other player could declare en passant on their next turn, moving their pawn diagonally onto the space to pass through and capturing the pawn as if it had only moved a single square.

To be legal, a player must declare en passant and use it on the opponent’s next turn. Otherwise, the opponent with the chance to capture the pawn will lose the opportunity.


Castling is considered one of the most complex rules in the game and a rule that many beginners tend to overlook.

Castling is allowed when a player’s king and rook haven’t moved during the game. It can be performed with either rook if they haven’t moved. This means the rooks must still be in their starting corners placed on the edge closest to the controlling player.

This move involves a player moving the king a couple of squares towards the rook which they’re castling, before moving the rook to a space that the king has moved through. This will put the rook adjacent on the other side of the king, while the king moves a couple of spaces towards the square in which the rook started the game. Regardless of whether this move is performed with the rook that’s one square further away or with the rook that is closer to the king, the king will only move a couple of squares.

The king is not able to be used in this maneuver if it’s in check, but a rook can be used even if it’s under threat from a hostile piece, such as, if the rook can be captured on the opponent’s next turn, or on any of the spaces it passes through while performing the maneuver.

This maneuver cannot be used to move the king if it would put the king in check. It can also not be used if there are any pieces between the rook and the king. The squares must be unobstructed.

Advanced Rules of Chess

There are many advanced rules that can be used during the game, along with certain openings and board positions better referred to by a variety of names from king’s gambit or queen’s gambit to double king’s pawn opening.

The advanced rules may include certain variants that can alter the core rules, in addition to other requirements that are often used in a tournament setting such as the touch move rule, which states that if a piece is touched by a player, it must make a move.

However, advanced rules will not be discussed here. Instead, this guide focuses more on the basic rules of the game such as proper piece setup, capturing, and how to move pieces, in addition to the rules for declaring checkmate.

Once you’re familiar with the basics of the game, there are many books and other resources available online that can help you develop a strategy and take on a match following the advanced rules.

Final Thoughts

No one ever claimed chess was easy. This intellectual game of strategy and war can provide endless hours of challenging game play. As you’ve seen here, the rules of chess can be very complex, with many minor and major details to memorize. Not only will you need to become familiar with the basic rules of the game, but once you progress, you’ll also need to master the advanced rules. Learning how each piece is allowed to move, the right strategies to use, and how to prevent checkmate can take some players several months or even years. With this guide, you can learn the basics of the game and how to use your pieces correctly, which can prepare you to take on other players and begin building a strategy that works for you and helps you grow as a player.