The Rules Of Chess How To Play Chess

For a beginner, the structured complexity of chess can make learning even basic chess rules a bit overwhelming and frustrating. As with any intricate game or information, breaking down the rules of play and teaching beginners basic strategies is the best way to help new players digest information and retain it for skillful play.

In general, the best approach to start teaching chess is to strip the game down to its barest components, starting with how to set up the chessboard and arrange chess pieces.

How to Set Up the Chessboard

Properly setting up the chessboard is a fundamental part of the game. To begin, the board has to be situated so that a white square is at each player’s right hand corner (and a black square is on the left-hand corner). You can easily remember this rule with the rhyming phrase, “White on right.”

Some chessboards come with numbers and letters printed on them. This alpha-numeric grid system is helpful when describing moves (such as “Pawn to A4”), making chess notations or recording the moves of an entire game. Beginners need not worry too much about chess notation.

Setting Up the Chess Pieces

Once the board is properly situated, you are ready to put the pieces in their proper starting positions. Because chess is a two-player game, one player will get all of the white pieces, and the other will play with all of the black pieces. Since the player using the white pieces always moves first, playing with white is considered an advantage, which is usually given to beginners or the winner of the last chess game.

Consult the table below for the basic abilities and starting positions of each chess piece (listed in order of value):

Type of Chess Piece BasicMoves # Each Player Starts With Starting Position
Pawns As the lowest valued chess piece, pawns can only move forward one square at a time, unless they are capturing a piece in which case they move diagonally one square. On their first move, pawns may move forward two squares if the player wishes. 8 All eight pawns line the second row (or “rank”), directly in front of all the other pieces.
Knights Represented by a horse’s head, a knight can move in an “L” shape in any direction (two squares horizontally or vertically and then one square perpendicular to the initial move). 2 Knights go on the back rank, behind pawns, two squares in from the edge of the board. Knights stand between rooks and bishops.
Bishops Bishops can move diagonally any number of squares without jumping over other pieces. 2 Each bishop starts three squares in from the edge on the back rank. While both bishops will have a knight on one side, the king or queen stands on the other side of the bishop, depending on the side of the board.
Rooks Rooks, valued highly in endgames, can move horizontally or vertically any number of squares without jumping over other pieces. 2 Rooks start on the corner squares in the back rank behind the pawns.
Queen Considered to be one of the most powerful pieces, the queen can move vertically, horizontally or diagonally any number of squares without jumping over pieces. Basically, the queen can move like all other pieces on the board except for the knight. 1 The queen will be on either one of the two middle columns of the chessboard in the back rank. The queen starts on the same color square as the piece (i.e. White queens start on white squares, and black queens start on black squares).
King The king can move one square in any direction. While considered to be the most important piece of the game (because a captured king causes a player to lose), the king is also ironically one of the weakest pieces on the board. 1 The king goes on the other middle square on the back rank (the one that the queen isn’t on).

A Few Words on Chess Strategy

The objective in chess is to “checkmate” your opponent’s king. A checkmate occurs when you have attacked your opponent’s king, and your opponent can’t move out of attack or block the attack.

While more advanced players can have highly complicated strategies for checkmating their opponent, beginners should focus on slowly breaking down their opponents’ defenses by taking one piece at a time.

The best way to attack a piece (and ideally not have to lose one of your own pieces) is to identify your opponent’s weaknesses, pieces that aren’t protected by other pieces. If you see a piece that isn’t covered by another, try to attack it. By targeting your opponent’s weaknesses, you can quickly take the offensive to gain better positioning on the board.

One more note on beginner’s chess strategy: Be careful of being overly aggressive. While it’s always wise to attack your opponent’s weak spots, be sure that you are properly defending your own pieces as you do so. Attacking without defending your pieces will only create weakness in your attack, which your opponent is likely take advantage of when he gets the chance.

Opening Moves

Another good beginner chess strategy is to start with a strong opening. A chess game consists of three phases: the Chess Opening, the Middle Game and the End Game. The Opening, which includes the first six to eight moves, is crucial to getting your pieces in play and in good positions on the board.

A good position is one in which a piece is protected and still has an open line of attack. The process of strategically moving pieces to get them in good positions is called “developing” pieces.

Some strong opening strategies include:

  • avoiding premature attacks: Try not to bring your queen out or move your knight or bishop too far into the middle of the board without protection. Using the opening game to develop your pieces will put you in a good position for later, stronger attacks.
  • not moving any chess piece twice: If you have developed a piece, it should not be moved again until the other pieces have been developed. Moving a piece twice basically gives your opponent an extra move to either develop his own pieces or to attack yours.
  • opening up the middle of the board: This refers to moving the pawns in front of the queen and king. Since knights can jump pieces, opening the middle of the board helps you develop bishops early on, as moving these pawns gives bishops an immediate outlet.

Learning open, middle and end game strategies takes time as you get more familiar with chess rules. As with most skills, the more you practice chess, the better you will be at it.