How to Play Chess for Beginners: Rules and Basic Strategy

No matter what your age is, it’s never too late to learn how to play chess. To help you get started learning the great game of chess, we’ve created this beginner’s guide. This guide will teach you the rules of chess, how chess pieces move, as well as basic chess strategy and moves.

The Chess Pieces

The first step in learning chess is knowing the different pieces. Each player gets 16 total pieces to start the game. There are 6 different types of chess pieces. Here’s the list of pieces including how many of each these pieces is on one side (the number of both white and black pieces separately).

  • King (1)
  • Queen (1)
  • Bishop (2)
  • Rook (2)
  • Knight (2)
  • Pawn (8)

staunton chess pieces

Pictured from left to right: Rook, Knight, King, Queen, Bishop, Pawn

How to Place Pieces on a Chessboard

In order to play chess, you need to know how to properly place the pieces on a chessboard.

Traditional Chess is played between two players, with one player using white (or light) pieces, while the other player uses black (or dark) pieces.

Chessboards contain 64 squares (8 X 8), half of which are white (or light) and the other half being colored (or darker). Square color alternates so that no two same colored squares are ever directly up, down, or to the side of each other. Same color squares are instead diagonal to each other.

At the beginning of a game the chessboard should be positioned so that each player has a white (or light) square to the bottom right.

Chess pieces are always arranged the same way at the start of each chess game, on the two rows nearest to each player.

For the white player, the first row (the row closest to the player) is always arranged in the following order from left to right:

Rook, Knight, Bishop, Queen, King, Bishop, Knight, Rook.

The second row contains all 8 pawns at the start of a games of chess.

From the black player’s side (black player’s point of view), the the first row is arranged from left to right in the following order:

Rook, Knight, Bishop, King, Queen, Bishop, Knight, Rook.

The second row contains all 8 pawns.

Each side’s King and Queen pieces should be facing each other.

When finished setting up your chessboard it should look like this:

chessboard set up

Which Player Moves First?

The player using the white (or light) pieces always moves first. Players then alternate turns throughout the game. On each turn a player may only move one piece, with the exception of a move called castling that will be explained in more detail below.

When playing chess with friends you can flip a coin to determine who moves first or allow the lesser experienced player to go first, as moving first provides a slight advantage.

How Do Chess Pieces Move?

One of the most basic rules of chess is the chess piece moves. While each of the 6 types of pieces move differently, all pieces share similar rules:

  • Pieces can never move onto a square where one of their pieces is currently placed.
  • Pieces can’t move through their own pieces (although the knight does have the ability to jump over pieces). This means pieces of the same color can’t be moved onto the same square.
  • While pieces can’t be moved onto squares where their own pieces are positioned, they can move onto a square of their opponent’s pieces, which ‘captures’ their opponent’s piece.
  • When a piece captures an opposing piece, their turn is over.

You can’t play chess without knowing how chess pieces move, so we’ve outlined the unique movements for each piece:

How the King Moves in Chess

The most important piece in chess is the King, however the king is also one of the weakest pieces in chess. When we say the king is one of the weakest pieces, we mean the king has some of the weakest movement of any piece. The king is only able to move one square in any direction. This means that the king can move one square up, down, to either side, or diagonally.

The king can also never be moved into ‘check’. This means the king can never move into a position in which he could be captured on the next turn by any of the opposing pieces.

How the king moves in chess

Chess Piece Move Pictures Courtesy of

How the Queen Moves in Chess

The queen is the strongest piece in chess. The queen can move in any direction, like the king. Unlike the king however, she can move as far as possible until she either captures an opposing piece or gets to any of her pieces (like all pieces, the queen may not move through any of her pieces).

how the queen moves in chess

How Bishops Move in Chess

Like the queen, the bishops may move as far as possible, although bishops can only move diagonally. The two bishops per side each start on a different colored square, one light and one dark. Naturally, bishops can only move diagonally on squares of the color they start on.

how the bishop moves in chess

How Rooks Move in Chess

The rook can also move as far as possible, but only up, down, and to the sides. Each Rook is positioned in the bottom squares of a player’s side.

how rook moves in chess

How Knights Move in Chess

Knights have very unique movement compared to all other chess pieces. Knights move in the shape of an “L”. The knight moves two squares up, down, or sideways and then one square at a 90 degree angle of the first two moves. For example in a knight ‘move’ the piece could move two squares up and one square to the right.

Another important unique feature of Knight’s moves are knight have the ability to move over their own pieces. However, they still may not finish their move on the same square as one of their pieces.

how knight moves in chess

How Pawns Move in Chess

Pawns are another very unique chess piece. Pawns can only move up (forward), never moving or capturing backwards.

Pawns move and capture differently. Pawns move up (forward), but they only capture pieces diagonally. This means if an opposing piece is in the square directly forward of a pawn, the pawn may not capture or move forward. If an opposing piece is in the direct forward and diagonal square, the pawn may move diagonally to capture it.

Another unique feature of pawn movement, is that on a pawn’s first move it may be moved forward two squares. This is only possible for each pawn’s first move.

Lastly pawns also have the ability to be promoted to become other pieces which we’ll discuss in more detail in the next section.

how pawns move and capture in chess

Special Chess Rules and Moves

There are a few unique rules of chess, as well as special moves, that you need to know before playing chess.

Promoting Pawns in Chess

When a pawn reaches the other side of the chessboard (row/rank 8), the pawn becomes another chess piece. After your pawn reaches this position, you can choose to exchange your pawn for a Queen, Rook, Bishop, or Knight. As part of the same move, the new piece is replaced on the same square that the pawn reached row 8.

Typically you will want to exchange your pawn for a queen. As previously mentioned, queens are the most powerful chess piece.

If you’re playing at home and do not have additional pieces, the pawn should still become a different piece, but you can use the pawn to represent that piece. In chess tournaments, according to FIDE chess rules, it is necessary to actually swap the pawn for the new piece.

What is En Passant in Chess?

En Passant and Castling (the next mentioned chess move) are perhaps the most bizarre rules of chess.

“En Passant” is french for “in passing”. In chess en passant refers to a rule where if a pawn moves up two squares on its first move and lands to the side of an opponent’s pawn, the opposing pawn may move diagonally and capture the original pawn.

This may be confusing to you, so we’ll go through an example.

  1. Player 1’s pawn’s first move is moving two squares forward, next to player 2s pawn.
  2. Player 1’s pawn has moved past player 2’s pawn’s diagonal square, which would usually prevent player 2’s pawn from having the ability to capture it.
  3. The special rule of en passant allows player 2’s pawn to still capture player 1’s pawn with its diagonal capture move, even though player 1’s pawn is not in that diagonal square.

It’s important to remember en passant can only be done when a pawn is moved two squares.

How to Castle in Chess

The last special rule to cover in chess is castling. This chess rule can be another doozy for chess beginners, so read through this one carefully.

The castle rule of chess allows the King to move two squares over to one side (when it usually may only move one square in any direction) and then have the rook move from that side’s corner directly to the inside square next to the king. This move is done all in one turn, however in order to do this move, all of these conditions must apply:

  • It must be both the rook and the king’s first move.
  • No pieces can be between the king and the rook.
  • The king may not be in check or pass through check to complete this move.

How to Win at Chess

There are two ways for a game of chess to end. A chess game can end in either a checkmate (resulting in a player winning) or a draw (tie).

How to Win at Chess / Checkmate

The purpose of chess and the way to win is to checkmate your opponent’s king. In order to checkmate your opponent’s king, your opponent’s king must be put into check and not be able to move out of check.

If you’re opponent’s king is in checkmate, this means he can’t move is king out of check, he can’t block check with another of his pieces, and he can’t capture the piece putting his king in check.

Draws in Chess

Chess games do not always result in a win/checkmate. Sometimes chess games conclude with a draw.

A chess games can end in a draw for any of the following reasons:

  • A stalemate occurs. This means it is a player’s turn to act, but their king is not in check and they do not have any legal move.
  • There are 50 consecutive moves where neither player has captured a piece or moved a pawn (referred to as the 50 move rule)
  • A player may declare a draw if the same exact position is repeated. These repeat positions don’t have to take place consecutively.
  • There are not enough pieces on the board to force a checkmate.
  • Players agree to a draw

Congratulations, You’re Ready to Start Playing

You now know enough to start playing. We’ve covered the basic rules of chess, how to start a game of chess, and how to move chess pieces.

While you now should be well enough equipped to play the game of chess, you can keep reading to learn chess strategy, tactics, and tips for improving your chess game.

Chess Notation

If you want to improve your chess game, one of the first things you should learn is how to read and write chess notation. Chess notation is the system of recording the moves of a chess game.

Most of the following strategy articles will use chess notation to describe moves. Before reading these articles, you should first read our guide on reading and writing chess notation:

Chess Openings

The initial moves in chess are called chess openings. Chess openings are a very important part of the game of chess, as they dictate piece positions in the later stages of the game.

For help with your chess opening strategy read these articles on our blog:

Beginner Chess Tricks and Moves

There are a number of chess moves and tricks that beginner chess players can learn. It’s worth noting these chess moves will likely only trick your opponent if they are also a very raw beginner.

Sites and Software to Help You Learn Chess

Once you’ve learned the basics of the game of chess, you may find your self wanting to take your chess game to another level.

Here are a list of free and paid resources that can help you continue to improve your chess play:

  • – Excellent General Chess Site which contains articles about chess in general and fascinating information about the chess world. They also have awesome in depth reviews that can teach readers how to select his chess products and the best products to suit their needs.
  • The ChessWarehouse Blog – On the same blog you learned the basics of chess, we’ll look to introduce you to more advanced chess strategy!
  • Chessentials – A fantastic chess blog from one of our Chess Warehouse Blog writers.
  • Shredder Chess Tutor – Shredder Chess Tutor is a paid software that that contains lessons, exercises, and games for you to learn from.
  • Caissa’s Free PGN Editor – This PGN editor is one of the best ways to quickly share a visual of chess games you’ve played. Helpful for sharing easy to understand game results with friends.
  • Chess EDU – Chess curriculum for teaching chess.

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How to Play Chess for Beginners: Rules and Basic Strategy
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