how to play chess for beginners

Chess – How to Play For Beginners / The Basics

Chess is one of the oldest games in the world. Even to this day, its level of strategy and mind-battling is unmatched compared to all other games. However, even with its complexity, it doesn’t take long to learn how the game works. Once one learns the mechanics of the game is when one can begin to formulate impeccable strategy. There is no chance or luck in this case; it’s merely a test of one’s individual mind. If you want to learn how to play chess, then you are in the right place.

Let’s explain the foundation: the board.

This is the chess battlefield. It consists of 64 squares with two colors, and no color ever touches (except diagonally, as seen). Understanding this essential concept will help you easily learn how to maneuver your chess pieces and come up with strategies. To refer to a specific square on the board, the letters A through H and the numbers 1 through 8 are used, like so:

Refer to this diagram if you need help identifying a tile.

Now that we’ve covered where the battle will commence, it’s time to explain how the battle is fought. Learning how chess pieces move may take a few games to memorize, but once learned, it will never be forgotten.

Chess is a two-player game, and each player is either white or black. White always has the first move.

The Pieces

Each player starts off with these pieces:

The King
The Queen
8 Pawns
2 Bishops
2 Knights
2 Rooks

Now we’ll go into how each piece works.

Pawns


At the start of the game, each player has a wall of eight pawns, starting at file (or row) 2 for white, and file 7 for black. Their movements are simple and easy to remember. If a pawn has not moved yet, it’s able to move either one or two spaces forward. After its first move, it may only move forward one move, or move diagonally once to “capture” an enemy piece. A capture is also allowed if a piece hasn’t moved yet. We haven’t covered capturing yet, but that will be explained later on. See the diagrams below for visual representations of these moves.

Above is a pawn that has moved one space forward on its opening move, to square g3.

Above is a pawn that has moved two spaces forward on its opening move, to square g4.

Above shows that after white has moved forward two spaces with a pawn to g4, black did the same with a pawn to f5. This sets up white to capture the black pawn on f5, meaning that white would move onto the f5 square, and the black pawn would be removed from the game.

Pawns are among the weaker pieces due to their inhibited movement. Their general purpose is to form defensive walls and establish territory on the board. However, they also have a unique feature, called “promotion“.

Promotion occurs when a pawn reaches the other side of the board (e.g. if any white pawn reaches file 8, or if any black pawn reaches file 1). At this point, the player has the choice of promoting the pawn to any other piece in the game (other than the king and a piece of their own color). In almost all cases, it’s most logical to promote a pawn into a queen due to the queen being one of the stronger (if not strongest) pieces.

The King

The king starts out at e1 for white, or e8 for black. As previously mentioned, the purpose of the game is to force the king into a position where they have no legal moves left (otherwise known as “checkmate“). The king is only able to move and capture a distance of one square unless the move would put them into “check“. They are also allowed to move two spaces to either the left or right during “castling” (explained in the “Rooks” section). This is your most vulnerable yet most important piece, reminding a player that while they’re playing offensively, they must also remember to play defensively.

The Queen

Ah, the queen. We have reached a notorious piece in chess. The queen is the most valuable piece that you can lose. This is due to its maneuverability. A queen is able to move in any direction vertically, horizontally, and diagonally, for as many spaces at it wants (so long as it’s not blocked by a friendly piece). The queen can be used to set up powerful plays. In conjunction with other pieces, it can set up a nasty and unforgivable attack.

The Bishops

Bishops are only able to move diagonally, for as many spaces as they want (so long as they’re not blocked by friendly pieces). As you can see, each player has two bishops, and each bishop starts on a different color square. Given that they’re only able to move diagonally, the color square that they start on will be the only color they’re able to move on.

Knights

Knights have the most interesting movement ability. Their movement can be complicated at first, but once learned, it’s actually quite simple. Knights are able to move in “L” shapes. This means that they could move up two squares, then over one square. Or down to squares, and over one square. Or, one could even go down one square then over two squares. Review the diagrams below for visible representation of their movement.

In this diagram, each player have decided that for their opening move, they will move their knight out. As seen, they both moved up two spaces, then over one space to the right.

White then moves up one, over two. This move is a mistake, as it sets up black for a capture without losing anything in return.

The black knight captures the white knight after moving down two, over one.

Rooks

We have finally reached a fully completed chess board by implementing the rooks. Rooks are able to move vertically and horizontally for as many tiles as they want.

Tip: An easy way to remember the rook, bishops, and queen’s movement is to think of it like this: A queen is able to go vertically, horizontally, and diagonally. A rook can only go vertically and horizontally, and a bishop can only go diagonally. Therefore, a rook’s movement + a bishop’s movement = a queen’s movement.

Rooks also have a neat feature called castling. Castling is able to be completed once there are no pieces in between a rook and your king. Once in this position, one simply moves their king two spaces towards their rook, and places their rook on the opposite side of the king. Review the diagrams below for visual explanation.

Above shows the chess board approximately 5-6 moves for each player into the game. Observe the areas circled in red. Each player is in a position to castle, because there are no spaces in between their rook and their king. At this point, each player may move their king two spaces towards their rook, then place their rook on the opposite side, like seen below:

Castling can be completed for both rooks that a player has; just apply the same rule.

Putting it all together

You have learned how each chess piece works. You have learned the rules of chess. There millions and millions of possibilities in chess, and you have the opportunity to become a master with enough practice. Click here to quickly become a chess master.
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12 Comments

  1. I grew up playing chess so this was very interesting to me its very informational as far as how to play the game and how the board work with their pieces i feel like you could maybe throw in some more color to your white and grey page and maybe some more information on the actual strategy part of the game like some simple plays to get an idea the better ways to play other than that looks good keep up the good work

    • Hello Taylor!

      Thank you for your thoughts! I’m glad you found it interesting. I plan on adding more strategy tutorials in separate articles, so keep your eyes out for those! This article was simply meant to introduce brand new players to the chess environment so that they’re not completely lost when they enter gameplay. 🙂

  2. Hi Castled Rook

    This is a nice tutorial for beginners. I love playing chess for its mental competitiveness. This is so due to all the possible moves/plays/strategies one can play based on the one done by the opponent.

    Quick question, as I understand castling can also be done if neither of the pieces (rook or king) have been moved in the whole game right?

    Thanks in advance,

    Luis

    • Hello Luis!
      Thank you, I’m glad you enjoyed it. Chess is an amazing game with endless possibilities.

      In reply to castling, that is correct! I have a more in depth definition on my Terms and Definitions page here that outlines all of the rules needed in order to castle.

      Thank you,
      ~CastledRook

  3. Bookmarked 🙂 I’ve always wanted to learn chess effectively, and doing anything effectively always means getting really good at the basics first.

    This is really a comprehensive breakdown of getting understand how things work in this legendary game. How old is Chess? Like where does it derive from?

    I love the saying “this is chess not checkers” so being as im pretty good at checkers, i should be able to get good at Chess, well in theory anyway lol

    • Hello Marley!
      I’m glad you’re interested in chess, and I’m glad my goal was achieved. I was attempting to help others learn in a simple and straightforward way, so it makes me happy that there is success in my endeavors.

      I plan on making an article about the history of chess soon, so stay tuned for that. Chess has been around for at least over a thousand years. It’s truly remarkable how it’s still played on a widespread to this day. Chess is believed to have originated from India, and I’ll go more into that when my chess history article comes out.

      Chess and checkers have similar game boards, but I find chess’s mechanical play to be vastly more complicated (and fun). 🙂

      Thanks,

      ~CastledRook

  4. Hello Castledrook!

    Fantastic resource of information you are putting up here. I have not played chess for a long time and am only recently getting back into the game. This was great to brush up on my chess knowledge and get me going again.

    I’ve never used the board coordinates before with the letters and numbers. How does it work when I am playing as black? Is it the same or do I have to look at it upside-down?

    Thank you!

    Happy chessing,

    – Chad

    • Hello Chad!
      I’m glad you’re interested in learning more about board coordinates!

      Whether you’re playing black or white, the chess files will always be numbered and lettered the same. For example, if I wanted to move my white pawn to g4 as a starting move, black could move their pawn to g5. The letters and numbers never change, it’s just that white starts on files 1 and 2 and black starts on files 7 and 8.

      Thank you and if you have any more questions, please feel free to ask!

      ~CastledRook

  5. I played chess as a kid against my older brother. I definitely wasn’t good at it as he kept winning. I did beat him once which was unbelievable. I realize you have to think ahead and figure out what your opponent might move, which I couldn’t do back then. Any suggestions for a novice like me?

    • Hello Kevin!

      A wonderful question! Thinking ahead many moves is important to practice, but will not help much if you are lacking on other areas too. I recommend studying strategy, tactics, openings, etc a little bit at a time, then put it all together. It will yield you the best results and help you track your progress!

      Beat of luck,

      ~CastledRook

  6. Hi,
    Really good beginners overview for someone who has never seen a chessboard before. I think it is really important to start with the absolute basics when drawing people in, rather than jumping straight to the perhaps more interesting aspects of the game.
    Once you build this foundation then you can really start getting the mind ticking over and the enjoyment for the game of chess really comes to the fore.
    I have played chess since I was 10, when did you first pick it up?

    • Hello Mark! 

      I have been playing chess since around the same time as well. I’m glad you enjoyed the beginner’s guide!

      ~Jackson 

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