How to Play Chess

Chess has been around for more than 1,400 years, and it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. Unfortunately, many would-be chess board wizards and checkmate artists think the game is too challenging to learn. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

Millions of people have learned how to play chess. We’re going to help you learn today too. In this article, we teach you:

  • How to set up a chessboard for beginners
  • How your pieces and your opponent’s pieces move (e.g., the king and queen, pawns, rooks, and more)
  • Chess rules for beginners
  • Special rules in the game of chess including en passant, castling, and pawn promotion
  • How to get started playing chess
  • Basic chess strategies
  • The best place to practice playing chess on your phone

By the time you finish reading, you will be ready to ditch checkers forever and become the chess master you’ve always wanted to be.

How to Set Up the Chessboard

The game of chess is played on an 8x8 chessboard totaling 64 alternating white squares and black squares. However, the colors may vary depending on the chess app or physical board.

When appropriately set up, the white square (or light-colored square) should be the last square on the bottom right corner of each player's board. Each player begins the game with two rows (e.g., ranks). The first rank, the row closest to you, includes the bishops, rooks, knights, king, and queen.

Chessboard set up basics for the first rank include:

  • Rooks (e.g., castles) - Placed on each chess player’s bottom right corner and bottom left corner of the board.
  • Knights - Placed on the second to last squares on the left and right side, next to the rooks.
  • Bishops - Placed on the third to last squares on both sides of the board, next to the knights.
  • Queen - Placed on one of the two middle squares that match its color. That means that the white Queen sits in the white square and the black Queen sits in the black square.
  • King - Sits in the remaining central square.

When finished setting up, black pieces and white pieces of you and your opponent should be directly facing each other, including the king and queen. That means the starting positions of the white king and the black king (and all other chess pieces) should be the same but on opposite sides of the board.

The second rank is the second row from each participant’s perspective. It consists of eight pawns, each positioned in a single square to protect the mightier pieces behind them.

How Chess Pieces Move

Although the boards are similar, chess is much different than checkers. Each chess piece is limited to making specific moves except for the queen (the most powerful piece in the game of chess). Learn the basics of how chess pieces move below.

How Pawns Move

The pawn is limited to moving forward one square at a time, in a straight line. However, a pawn can jump two spaces ahead from it’s starting position, so long as both spaces are unoccupied. Further, pawns can capture an opponent’s piece if it’s in the left or right diagonal space in front of the pawn. A pawn can’t capture a piece that’s directly in front of it.

How Rooks (Castles) Move

The rook can move backward, forward, and side-to-side as many spaces as it can along its row (rank) or column (file). However, the rook can not move past its own color on the same row or column.

Further, rooks are not allowed to make diagonal moves at any time in the game of chess. Rooks capture opposite pieces by moving onto the space of the opponent’s piece.

How Knights Move

The knight is the only piece that can “jump” over other pieces. Knights are reserved to making “L” shaped moves on the chess board. That means:

  • You can move your knight two spaces in front, behind, or either side, and then one space forward, backward, or horizontally, OR
  • The knight can move one space side-to-side or vertically, then two spaces in front, behind, to the left side, or right side.
  • Knights capture opposite pieces by landing on the square they currently occupy. Knights must make the complete “L” shape move.

How Bishops Move

Bishops are restricted to moving diagonally across the board in any number of spaces. That means they can only move onto the same color squares to the top-left, top-right, bottom-left, or bottom-right in a straight diagonal line.

Bishops are not allowed to move horizontally or vertically at any point in the game of chess. A bishop captures an opponent’s piece by moving onto its occupied square.

How The Queen Moves

The queen is the most powerful piece on a chessboard. It can move an unlimited number of squares diagonally, horizontally, forwards, or backward. However, your queen must make its move in a single path. That means you can’t move it three spaces forward and one diagonally in the same turn. Queens capture other pieces by moving onto the square it occupies.

How the King Moves

The king is the most important chess piece on the board. However, its movement is limited to one space at a time (side-to-side, vertically, or diagonally).

King’s capture other pieces by landing in the square they occupy. The king can’t be captured. Further, you can’t move your king into a space that would place it in “check,” i.e. a position that would result in the king being captured. When an opponent “checkmates” the king, or puts the king in “check,” the game is over.

Rules of Chess

Once you know how each chess piece moves, the rules of chess are pretty simple. A few basic chess rules you should know before you start playing include:

  1. White always moves first
  2. Each player takes turns making moves (sometimes the players only have a limited amount of time to make their moves)
  3. The game ends when an opponent’s king is checkmated, or it ends in a stalemate/draw

Continue reading to learn special chess moves and rules.

Special Chess Rules

There are some rules of chess that defy the basic rules. The most commonly used special moves in chess include en passant, castling, and pawn promotion. Learn more about each below.

En Passant

Should a pawn jump two spaces forward on its starting move (so long as no other piece obstructs its movement), and in doing so, avoid capture by an enemy pawn, then the enemy pawn can capture the just-moved pawn. En passant, if an option, must be performed on the turn immediately following.


The king moves two spaces in either rook's direction, the rook jumps over the king and is placed next to it. You can’t castle if:

  • The king is in check
  • There is a piece between the king and rook
  • Castling puts the king in check
  • One of the squares the king jumps is under attack
  • The rook or king have already moved from their starting position

Castling kingside is called “castling short,” and castling queenside is called “castling long.”

Pawn promotion

Suppose one or more of your pawns make it to the last row (rank) on the other side of the board. In that case, your pawn can be promoted to any piece in the game except for a king. Also, it can’t remain a pawn.

How to Get Started Playing a Game

Everyone learns differently. Some people prefer learning how to set up a chessboard and play by themselves before competing. Others require the stimulation of competition with a person or chess bot to hone their skills. It doesn’t matter how you start playing, so long as you do.

The Benefits of Playing Chess

Learning chess can benefit you in many other areas of life, including:

  • Improved memory
  • Enhanced ability to see from another person’s perspective
  • Heightened theta waves which allow chess players to enter a “flow state”
  • Better planning skills
  • Potential protection against dementia

You’ll be surprised at how fast you learn basic chess notation, special rules, and winning strategies.

How to Win at Chess

The best part of playing chess is winning. To win, you must place your opponent's king in checkmate. Learn the differences between check, checkmate, and draw/stalemate in the game of chess below.

What is Check?

Check occurs when the black or white king is under attack and risks being captured by an opponent’s piece. When in check, the king must move, or the player under attack must eliminate (capture) the piece that threatens the king.

What is a Checkmate?

Checkmate occurs when the black king or white king cannot escape from its current position while in check.

What is a stalemate or draw?

A chess game can conclude in a “tie” three ways. They include:

  • Stalemate occurs when one player has no more legal moves available but is not in check
  • Perpetual check or three times repetition of a position in a game
  • Theoretical draw occurs when there are not enough pieces on the board for either opponent to get a checkmate

Basic Chess Strategies

There are almost an infinite number of chess moves. With that in mind, it can help beginners to remember a few basic chess strategies such as:

  • Control the center of the board
  • Develop your positions as quickly as possible
  • Castle early in the game
  • Connect your rooks on the same rank or file
  • Think deeply before moving your pawns because they can never move backward
  • Don’t move your queen too early or put it at risk unless that’s your strategy (e.g., Queen’s Gambit, a chess opening, not the television show)

Once you get the hang of it, you can start implementing more advanced chess strategies like Queen’s Gambit, Blackburne Shilling strategy, Fajarowicz Trap strategy, and other advanced opening moves.

How to Practice Playing Chess

Now that you know the basics of chess, you’re ready to start practicing. Check out our unique selection of online chess games to begin your ascension from chess beginner to chess master today. Test your knowledge and skills against real opponents and win real money from your phone right now.

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