You can learn chess basics quickly and teach yourself; I taught myself how to play chess from a library book. First: become comfortable training your eye to how to set up chess. Second: learn how the pawn moves, only forward, and how the king moves, one square any direction. Next, we will look at how the rook and bishop moves because the queen moves like either the rook or bishop, it is the most valuable piece on the chess board. Finally, we will look at how the knight moves, the one piece that jumps from square to square.
How to set up chess
The player with the white pieces will move first, so we will start looking at the setup from there. Notice all eight pawns are in the second row ahead of all the larger pieces. There is one king and one queen, they start in the center of the board. The board can be divided in half, those in front of the king and to the right are on the king's side, likewise with the queen and the left. Below see what is considered the king's side.
The square in your right corner should be white! Seriously, every time I look at a chess board on t.v. or film, I check this because so often people get the chess board setup wrong. Right corner square should be white. Otherwise, as you gain experience everything looks slightly off.
Chess is one of the oldest and most respected games in the world. It exists as pure strategy, relying solely on the player's wits and ability to counter his opponent's moves to achieve victory. Experts study throughout their lives to master its intricacies. Chess has been compared to everything from classical warfare to an ever-changing form of art. Like all great games, its concepts are simple, yet can expand into an infinite number of possibilities.
Chess Piece Names and Chess Piece Values
|Value or Worth
Cannot be captured or removed
The value or worth of any chess piece is relative to the chess position. Sacrifice is a part of chess game play and often chess tactics require an initial sacrifice for future gain. A good lesson to learn from chess. Note the relative values above, you have eight chess pawns and pawns are worth a small value compared to the other pieces. This is why chess gambits are played and chess players often offer a poisoned pawn to their opponent.
You might ask why the rook is worth slightly more than a knight or a bishop and the value comes from slightly better ability to move to any square and to move to any square quickly.
The rook is slightly better than a bishop or a knight because it can move to any square, a bishop stays on one color, and the rook can move to any square quickly, a knight moves slowly across the board compared to a bishop, a rook or a queen.
The queen is worth the most and is the best piece on the chess board. You can see it is worth 3 + 5 + 1 points, mostly because of the combination of the rook and bishop abilities, and a plus one because when the queen threatens to capture another piece, action is most often required rather than a move the player would prefer to make.
Let's look at how chess pieces move and capture.
The pawn moves forward. With no obstructions, the pawn can move forward one or two squares on its first move, then one square until upon reaching the opposite side, the pawn can be promoted to one of either a knight, bishop, rook or queen.
There is a lot packed into that paragraph, so let's look through each:
The one white pawn is moved two squares ahead of the others. Notice the columns have letter names along the bottom and numbers along the sides. The square e4 is where that one white pawn is moved. This is called a king's pawn opening because the pawn in front of the king is moved two squares. The king's pawn opening idea is to rush a pawn into the center of the board to both take space and to provide space for further development.
Sometimes, but not often, the player with the black pieces will respond to the king's pawn opening by moving the queen's pawn two squares forward too.
Now, white's turn to move and the white pawn on e4 can capture the black pawn on d5, the square diagonal and forward to the pawn. Pawns can only threaten to capture pieces diagonal to them. So, yes, if another piece is immediately in front of a pawn, that pawn cannot move. This is why people often respond to a king's pawn opening by moving their king's pawn to the center too.
For centuries, the king's pawn opening and the black pawn moved to the center, recorded as 1. e4 e5, was how most chess games started. Not till the twentieth century was this orthodox chess opening expanded upon, and then, the queen's gambit chess opening came into favor. Yes, the queen's gambit is a great show on Netflix, but we are learning to play chess. Let's move on to look at how the rook and bishop move.
The King moves one square any direction.
The king never leaves the chess board. It cannot be taken because when threatened, called check, the king must move or the thread parried. Otherwise, the game is over and the king is checkmated. The king can not escape the threat.
There are two important caveats to how the king moves. One, the kings cannot threaten each other. A very important rule that becomes clear in endgame positions. Let's look at one.
White to move. The white king cannot move forward and threaten the black king. The white king cannot move to the left one square and attack the black pawn because that is check and also, the diagonal square is protected by the black king. If the white king moves backward, the black king moves forward, so white moves to the right, attempting to move to the square f5.
Now, black to move and the black king will naturally move to the left and block white's plan to invade via the f5 square.
Here, the position is likely to repeat. The white king will move one square to the left, the black king to the right. They shuffle back and forth and repeat the chess position. When a chess position is repeated three times, the game becomes a draw. Draws are part of the game.
A common question is whether the king can take a queen in chess. The answer is yes. The king may capture every other piece except for the opposing king.
The second odd thing with a king is castling. Let's look back at the start of the chess game. Here, the bishop and knight are developed and with white to move, the white king and the white rook have no pieces between them, this allows the one opportunity per game to castle.
The king and rook move simultaneously, the king moves over two squares and the rook is placed on the other side.
The reason to castle is to both protect the king by moving it away from the center and to develop your rook. Castling is a special move and the only time a player can move two pieces in one move.
Again, you have only one castle move per game, and beside castling on the king's side above, you can also castle on the queenside. Here is a typical position queenside castling position below.
White to move above. The position comes from an opening called the Caro-Kann, named after two players who popularized the defense in the nineteenth century. Here, white typically castles on the queenside. The white king is moved to the left, two squares and the rook on the queenside move to the other side. The completed move, castling on the queenside looks like the below:
Bishop moves in chess
We continue with our king's pawn opening. Notice the two bishops moved diagonally, the white bishop to square c4 and the black bishop to square c5. Notice the diagonal is all the same color. Bishops move forward and backward diagonally, so they always move on the same color squares.
Bishops capture or threaten to capture along a diagonal too, so in the position above, the white bishop on c4 threatens the black pawn on f7, the pawn next to the king where the bishop moved from.
This is an important point: even though the white bishop threatens to take the pawn on f7, the pawn is next to the king, so if the bishop takes the pawn, the black king will capture the bishop. Not a great exchange for white because the bishop is worth 3 points and the black pawn is worth 1 point.
Thinking through these possibilities is what a chess player is doing when they seemingly stare at a chess position. When I play, my imagination moves the pieces, evaluates the position and thinks ahead. As a chess game proceeds move by move, so does the plot. You coordinate your chess pieces to develop your plans, and proceed in response to the other player's own moves.
Chess games often last no more than forty moves, where above 1. e4 e5 2. Bc4 Bc5 is two moves. The reason is the pawns must move forward, chess pieces are developed, and skirmishes are often decisive when players are unequally experienced.
Chess uses a rating system, beginners are often rated at 1200 or close to that, the average chess rating for adults is 1600, and chess experts are above 2000, chess masters are rated above 2200. When you hear titles like Grand Master or International Master, these are titles earned by rating and by playing well against other titled players.
A Rook moves along the rank and files.
The position above is instructive to learn how rooks move. If white moves first in this position, the white rook can move all the way to the end of the board and threaten, or check when threatening the black king. Let's look at the possible position:
Rooks move forward or back or to the side, but not diagonally. So, because the white rook checks the black king above and all of the black pawns prevent the king from moving out of check, the game is over. White checkmates black because there is no escape from the rook attacking the king.
Now, this position is slightly altered to move the black king over one square and protect against the threat of checkmate. If black can move, black is threatening to take a pawn with the rook. Which one should it take? Not the pawn on f2, the white king protects that pawn. Black will take the pawn on a2. The rook can move and take sideways and forward.
A position like the above with most pieces exchanged or captured is called the endgame. Chess calls the start of the game, the opening, when pieces start to jostle after development is called the middle game and then, the chess game is in the endgame when few pieces are left and the king becomes a more active participant.
The chess queen is the most valuable and the most powerful piece.
The queen can move either like a rook or like a bishop. The queen can move to any square and when threatening to capture a piece, the threat is generally a serious one. Let's look back at the position where we looked at the bishop.
Here, one move that threatens either checkmate or a pawn capture is moving the queen diagonally like a bishop to the square h5.
White threatens to capture the pawn on e5 with the queen because the queen can move forward or sideways like a rook and white also threatens to capture the pawn on f7, checkmating the black king like below:
Take a moment to notice how quickly the white queen developed and threatens to checkmate and end the game. As you gain more experience playing, parrying these initial threats becomes easier. I lost a few games where I fall into opening traps. The beauty from falling into an opening trap is you can learn and start to play another game of chess.
So developing and moving the queen early attacks early, but the queen can also quickly become a target. The most natural way to defend against the Qh5 attack is to respond with a queen move that both defends against the checkmate, protects the pawn capture on e5 and threatens to capture a pawn and check white's king! The best chess moves are typically those that accomplish multiple actions, defending and attacking at once.
The black queen is moved diagonally, like a bishop, to the square f6. At once, the black pieces are protected and white's pawn on f2 is threatened to be taken with check. This is chess, chess moves back and forth that attack and parry.
The chess knight, the horse piece that jumps
In our position above, with white to move. White can parry the black threat to the f2 pawn by moving the knight, the piece that looks like a horse, to the square f3. Like the below:
The knight moves and threatens to capture squares that are two squares and over 1 square away. This is difficult to visualize until you understand the pattern. But, notice our white knight was moved from the square g1 to the square f3. This is two squares plus over 1 square away. From g1, the white knight could be moved to the square h3.
Notice, the white knight on h3 also protects the pawn on f2, because f2 is two squares and over one away from the square h3. This can feel like an L shape. And if you have played Tetris, the knight really starts to feel like the one piece that is L-shaped. The knight is a useful, sometimes transcendent and sometimes awkward piece to play with -- much like the L-shaped Tetris piece.
Let's look at the position with the knight moved to f3. On the square f3, the white knight threatens to capture the pawn on e5 because it moves two squares (3 to 5) and over one (f to e). And the white queen also threatens to capture the pawn on e5. White has two pieces threatening to capture the black pawn on e5 and black only has the queen defending the piece. What move is natural for black to respond with?
If you thought of moving the black knight to c6, great job! Black can parry the threat to the pawn on e5 and develop a new piece into the action:
The knight moves from the square b8 to c6, two squares (8 to 6) and over one square (b to c). The knight move will take some practice to understand, but if you visualize a knight on a horse jumping over pawns in the shape of that L-shaped Tetris piece, you will quickly learn to love the quirky and helpful nature of the chess knight piece.
A common question is can a knight move backwards in chess. The answer is yes. The knight can move backward in chess.
Let's end our section on the knight by looking at a chess tactic called a fork. Like the prongs on the fork, a piece moves to a square where it threatens more than one piece at the same time. The knight often accomplishes this fork. Here is a common opening trap beginners can fall into:
White to move and the white knight on g5 will take the pawn on f7, two squares (5 to 7) and over one square (g to f). The white knight on f7 is protected from capture by the white bishop on the diagonal and the white knight threatens to capture two pieces, the black queen and the black rook.
The white knight on the f7 square is said to fork the black queen and the black rook. Because the queen is a more valuable piece, the player with the black pieces will likely choose to save that piece and allow white to capture the rook. The black queen can only move to the square e7, allowing the white knight on f7 to capture the rook on h8, two squares (f to h) and over one square (7 to 8).
Paul Rohwer is a U.S. Life Chess Master and rated above 2500 on chess24. He enjoys playing card games, sudoku, programming, and solving puzzles. Kings in the corner, chess, and chinese checkers were his favorite games growing up. Euchre in college and nowadays, the nytimes spelling bee keeps him busy looking for the elusive pangram.