How to play chess

for the official laws of chess, see the relevant bit of the online FIDE handbook

Why play chess? [*]

The game of chess [*]

The chessboard [*]

The moves of the pieces [*]

Attacking, capturing and defending. [*]

Castling. [*]

Winning, losing and drawing. [*]

Chess manners [*]

The phases of the game [*]

Next steps [*]

Not another 'how to play chess' page, surely? Well, all the ones I looked at I didn't like, for some reason: some had no chess symbols, and some only had the moves, and... well, here's another not to like.

Why play chess?

Chess one of the oldest known games, played for more than a thousand years in India, Arab countries, Spain and Russia, and is the one with the most books written about it. If you like logical puzzles, if you like neat patterns, if you like thinking up interesting ideas, or if you just like exciting games against your friends, you might well like chess.

The game of chess

Chess is a battle game for two people, who each control an army of pieces. The armies are White and Black; White moves first, then Black, and then the players take turns.

There are six types of chess piece, including the King, each with a different move.

Here they are:

The King (K)

K k

The Queen (Q)

Q q

The Bishop (B)

B b

The Knight (N)

N n

The Rook (R)

R r

The Pawn (P)

P p

The idea of the game is to catch the opponent's King.

+-----------------+
|.+r+.1k+|
|4.+.+p+Q|
|b+.+pGp+|
|h.+.).+.|
|p+.0.+.$|
|).+.+.).|
|.+p+.)B+|
|$.+.+.I.|
+-----------------+

Here the White pieces have crashed through and caught the Black King. Can you spot him? White wins!

The chessboard

The chess board is an 8x8 square, made of 64 little squares, coloured dark and light. You sit at one side and your opponent the other.

+-----------------+
|.+.+.+.+|
|+.+.+.+.|
|.+.+.+.+|
|+.+.+.+.|
|.+.+.+.+|
|+.+.+.+.|
|.+.+.+.+|
|+.+.+.+.|
+-----------------+

You always start with a light square on the right-hand corner nearest you.

The rows of squares are called ranks , and the columns, files . The diagonals of light and dark squares are just called diagonals

+-----------------+
|.X#+.+.+|
|+x+#+.+.|
|.X.+#+.+|
|+x+.+#+.|
|.X.+.+#+|
|+x+.+.+#|
|xXxXxXxX|
|+x+.+.+.|
+-----------------+

The squares each have a label, according to the algebraic system of letters and numbers. The squares are numbered from White's side of the board.

+-----------------+
|.+.+.+.+|
|+.+.+.+.|
|.+.+.+.+|
|+.+.+.+.|
|.+.+.+.+|
|+.+.+.+.|
|.+.+.+.+|
|+.+.+.+#|
+-----------------+

The light square bottom right is called h1.

White's left half of the board is the Queen's-side, and the right side is the King's-side. The Queen's-side is the side that the two Queens start on.

+-----------------+
|rhb1kgn4|
|0p0p0p0p|
|.+.+.+.+|
|+.+.+.+.|
|.+.+.+.+|
|+.+.+.+.|
|P)P)P)P)|
|$NGQIBHR|
+-----------------+

The Queens start on a square of the own colour: White Queen on a light square, Black Queen on a dark square.

+-----------------+
|.+.1.+.+|
|+.+.+.+.|
|.+.+.+.+|
|+.+.+.+.|
|.+.+.+.+|
|+.+.+.+.|
|.+.+.+.+|
|+.+Q+.+.|
+-----------------+

The moves of the pieces

The Kings can move just one square in any direction. Not very far - which means they can be caught!

+-----------------+
|.+.+#*#+|
|+.+.*k*.|
|.+.+#*#+|
|+.+.+.+.|
|.+xXx+.+|
|+.XKX.+.|
|.+xXx+.+|
|+.+.+.+.|
+-----------------+

The Rooks can move as many squares as they can see, either up and down the files or along the ranks.

+-----------------+
|.*.+.+.+|
|+#+.+.+.|
|.*.+.+.+|
|+#+.+.+.|
|.*.+.+.+|
|*r*#*#*#|
|.*.+.+.+|
|+#+.+.+.|
+-----------------+

Only as far as they can see, though - Rooks cannot jump over other pieces. In fact, only one piece can jump - the Knight.

The Bishops move as far as they can see along the diagonals.

+-----------------+
|x+.+.+x+|
|+x+.+x+.|
|.+x+x+.*|
|*.+b+.*.|
|.*x+x*.+|
|+x*.*x+.|
|x+.G.+x+|
|+.*.*.+x|
+-----------------+

The Queen is the most powerful piece on the board. The Queen combines the moves of Rook and Bishop - as many squares as they can see in any direction.

+-----------------+
|.+x+.+x+|
|+.X.+x+.|
|x+x+x+.+|
|+xXx+.+.|
|xXQXxXxX|
|+xXx+.+.|
|x+x+x+.+|
|+.X.+x+.|
+-----------------+

You can see easily how strong the Queen is from the diagram - it has a great reach on an open board.

The Knight has a move which is easy to understand but hard to describe in words! So let's look at it first.

+-----------------+
|.+.+.+.+|
|+.*.*.+.|
|.*.+.*.+|
|+.+N+.+.|
|.*.+.*.+|
|+.*.*.+.|
|.+.+.+.+|
|+.+.+.+.|
+-----------------+

You can say it's like the shape of a letter 'L':

N+
8.
*h

The L can be twisted any way round to reach the eight squares we see in the diagram.

    _  _ 
| |
| | |__ __|
| | __ __
|_ _| | |

Or it's a jump from one corner to the opposite corner of a 3x2 rectangle:

n.+
.+*

Or it's one square like a Rook and one square like a Bishop:

Hr+
.+b

It's the same move, however you think of it! Notice that the Knight hops from dark to light squares, or light to dark, each move.

Now, one more thing: the Knight can jump, so even if it's surrounded by opponent's pieces, it can still jump out to its squares.

Lastly, there are the Pawns. Look where they are at the start of the game:

+-----------------+
|rhb1kgn4|
|0p0p0p0p|
|.+.+.+.+|
|+.+.+.+.|
|.+.+.+.+|
|X.X.+x+x|
|P)P)P)P)|
|$NGQIBHR|
+-----------------+

The Knights can hop over the Pawns (to the marked squares). But the Pawns will have to move out of the way to let the other pieces out.

Pawns move forwards in a straight line, one square at a time.

On their first move only, they can move two squares forward instead of one.

|.+.+.+.+|
|+.+.+.X.|
|.+.+x+P+|
|+.+.X.+.|
|P)P)P).)|
|$NGQIBHR|
+-----------------+

The Pawn on e2 can move to e3 or e4, but the Pawn on g4 can move only to g5.

What happens when a Pawn moves forward seven squares, and reaches the other side of the board?

As a reward, you turn it into a piece of higher value, usually a Queen. This is called promotion

+-----------------+
|.+.!.+.+|
|+.+x+.+.|
|.+.X.+.+|
|+.+x+.+.|
|.+.X.+.+|
|+.+x+.+.|
|.+.).+.+|
|+.+.+.+.|
+-----------------+

You can have two Queens, one you started with, and another which is a promoted Pawn. In fact, I suppose you could have nine Queens! Any new Queens have the same moves and value as the old one.

The Pawns are the least powerful of all the chessmen, and we often think of the other pieces as being worth a number of Pawns:

The Queen

Q

= 9

The Bishop

B

= 3

The Knight

N

= 3

The Rook

R

= 5

The Pawn

P

= 1

The King is priceless!

Attacking, capturing and defending.

The aim of the game is to take your opponent's King. But you will find it easier if you take off some of your opponent's pieces first!

Taking a piece in chess works like this:

+-----------------+
|.+.+.+.+|
|+.+.+.+.|
|.+.+.+.+|
|+RXxXb*#|
|.+.+.+.+|
|+.+.+.+.|
|.+.+.+.+|
|+.+.+.+.|
+-----------------+

The White Rook can move to c5, d5 or e5 ( x ). It cannot move to g5 or h5 ( x ). But it can capture the Black Bishop on f5. The Bishop is removed from the board and the Rook stands in its place.

+-----------------+
|.+.+.+.+|
|+.+.+.+.|
|.+.+.+.+|
|+.+.+R+.|b
|.+.+.+.+|
|+.+.+.+.|
|.+.+.+.+|
|+.+.+.+.|
+-----------------+

The White Rook in the next diagram can also take a Bishop on f5, but might not want to!

+-----------------+
|.+.+.+.+|
|+.+.h.+.|
|.+.+.+.+|
|+R+.+b+.|
|.+.+.+.+|
|+.+.+.+.|
|.+.+.+.+|
|+.+.+.+.|
+-----------------+

The Knight defends the Bishop.

If White captured the Bishop, the Black Knight would capture the White Rook on f5. White would have swapped a Rook for a Bishop. The chess term for swapping is exchanging . Is it a good swap? Well, a Rook is worth 5 Pawns, and a Bishop only 3, so White would lose the equivalent of 2 Pawns.

All the pieces capture the same way that they move except Pawns. Pawns move one square forwards, but capture diagonally.

+-----------------+
|.+.+.+.+|
|+.+.0.+.|
|.+.+.+.+|
|+.+P+.+.|
|#X#+.+.+|
|+P+.+.+.|
|.+.+.+.+|
|+.+.+.+.|
+-----------------+

The White Pawn on b3 can move to b4 [ z ], but it can capture on a4 or c4 [ * ].

The fact that Pawns can move two squares on their first move might mean you miss out on a chance to take an opponent's Pawn. The White Pawn on d5 night be hoping to take the Black Pawn on e7. But if it moves to e5, then the White Pawn will miss out! To give your brave advanced Pawns a chance of taking opponent's Pawns, there is a special rule invented. If an opponent's Pawn, which has not yet moved, tries to dodge past an advanced Pawn on the fifth rank by moving two squares, the advanced Pawn is allowed to pretend that the opponent's Pawn moved just one square. Let's see this in pictures:

+.
.0
+.
PX

Black to move. The Black Pawn on e7 jumps past the White Pawn on d5 to reach e5 [X].

+.
.+
+x

P0

If the Black Pawn had only moved one square, to e6 [x], White could have taken it.

+.
.+
+P
.+

White says, "I'll take that in passing!"

The Black Pawn vanishes from the board.

We actually use the French phrase, en passant

You can do this only on the move after an opponent's Pawn has by-passed one of yours by moving two squares. Leave it a move, and you lose the chance!

Castling.

There's one more special move to learn, called castling . This is well worth using in your games. The idea is to get the King into safety and get the Rook into play quickly, and speeds up the game a lot.

You move the King two squares towards the Rook, and hop the Rook over the King to land beside it. This counts as only one move.

|.+.+.)P)|
|+.+.I.+R|
+-----------------+

|.+.+.)P)|
|+.+.+.IR|
+-----------------+ |.+.+.)P)|
|+.+.+RI.|
+-----------------+

The King is safely tucked away, and the Rook can join in the fight. Great! And you can do this on either side:

|.+.+.+.+|
|$.+.I.+.|
+-----------------+

|.+.+.+.+|
|+.IR+.+.|
+-----------------+

You are allowed to do this if:

  1. Neither the King nor the Rook has moved
  2. The King is not in check, does not move into check, and does not hop over checked square.

Chess used to be quite a slow game, and was speeded up by new rules which allowed Pawn promotion, a two-square jump by Pawns on their first move, and castling.

Winning, losing and drawing.

+-----------------+
|.+.+.+.+|
|+.+.+.+.|
|.+.+.+.+|
|+R+.+k+.|
|.+.+.+.+|
|+.+.+.+.|
|.+.+.+.+|
|+.+.+.+.|
+-----------------+

What's going on here? The Black King can be taken by the White Rook. Because the game will end if the King is taken, Black must on the next move, get out of this attack. If a piece attacks a King, the King is said to be in check , and you must get out of check, if you can. You must not move into check.

+-----------------+
|.+.+.+.+|
|+.+.+.+k|
|.+.+.+.+|
|+.+.+.+.|
|.+.+.+.+|
|+.+.+.+R|
|.+.+.+R+|
|+.+.+.+.|
+-----------------+

This poor Black King is in check and cannot get out of check. The King will be taken next move, and we say this is checkmate , and White wins the game. The King is never actually taken: checkmate is the end of the game.

If you attack the opponent's King directly with a piece, it is polite to say "check", just in case they haven't noticed.

+-----------------+
|.+.+.I.+|
|+.+.+.+k|
|.+.+.!.+|
|+.+.+.+.|
|.+.+.+.+|
|+.+.+.+.|
|.+.+.+.+|
|+.+.+.+.|
+-----------------+

If it was White's move here, White would play the Queen into g7 and cry, "checkmate!".

And if it was Black's move... but Black has no move! Only the Black King can move, and all the squares that the King could move to are attacked. So, Black cannot move into check, although it is Black's turn. We call this stalemate , and it is the end of the game, and it is a draw.

You can also have a draw in chess:

1. if neither side has enough material to force checkmate, the game is drawn (bare King vs. bare King, bare K vs. K+N or K+B or K+N+N)

2. if the same position is reached in the game three times (with the same side to move, and with the same moves available), the game is drawn

3. if there are 50 moves played (50 by White and 50 by Black) without a capture being made and without a Pawn being moved, the game is drawn

Sometimes you get a position where one side is giving a whole string of checks, which the opponent cannot get out of. This is sometimes called a draw by 'perpetual check', but it is really a draw by agreement, as you know that soon you will wither have a draw by three-fold repetition or by the 5-move rule.

If you have lost lots of pieces, and you know your opponent will checkmate you in the end, you are allowed to give up. In chess, we say resign . It is sometimes good manners to resign rather than waste time watching your opponent plonk through another 30 moves where you cannot do anything.

Chess manners

If you touch a piece, you must move it. If you move it and let go of it, the move cannot be taken back.

Resigning and "touch-move" are in the rules, but there are other bits of good manners that I advise you to practise.

Because of the touch-move rule, some players pick up a piece, and wave it around, still thinking where to put it. Even worse, when they put it down, they may hang on to it, having one last look around before letting go. This is dreadful, really - neither you nor your opponent will be able to see the board properly, and it can be off-putting. Always pick up a piece only when you know where you are going to put it down, and just move it there, and let go

Always try to put pieces in the middle of the squares . If you really want to touch a piece but don't want to move it, you should say " I adjust " before you touch it. Again, chessplayers use the French, " j'adoube

Shake hands before you start, and after the game. Don't talk to your opponent during the game , except to say "check" or "checkmate" or "I resign" (or "good move"). Remain quiet and still when seated at the board.

Don't talk to other people during the game - even if it's about the weather, it might look like you are getting advice!

The phases of the game

We call the first few moves, when each player is getting their pieces off the back row and into play, the opening . In the opening, you should get all your pieces out quickly, and try to control the centre.

The next phase of the battle is the middlegame , where the pieces are out and fighting. Keep control of the centre, try and win your opponent's pieces (for noything or for good exchanges), and try and checkmate the King by attacking it.

The last phase is the endgame . The endgame is when many pieces have been exchanged, and neither side can hope to force checkmate with their pieces. Instead, the players try to promote their Pawns, so that they can again start an attack on the opponent's King.

Next steps

You will get better at chess if you practise.

Practise playing against your friends , and try to play as many different players as you can - especially ones better than you. Also, you can practise playing against a computer. These days you can also play against players on the Internet.

As well as playing whole games, also

practise parts of games

. Try finishing your opponent off with 2 Queens and a King against their King. How many moves did they survive? Right, now swap, and see if you can last longer! When you both get the hang of this, try just one Queen, then two Rooks, then just one Rook.

One of the most important things is to

get your eye in

for all the captures and tricks and traps, which chessplayers call tactics . You will pick this up through playing, but you can improve your chess vision by

looking at books of chess puzzles

Chess Quotes

"A discussion between the top management of the firm Audi and grandmasters Darga, Schmid and Pfleger dealt with the similarities and differences between chess-oriented thinking and the thinking processes required in business, and in particular whether one can benefit from the other. The question arose as to how a chess master actually discovers his moves. Dr. Pfleger was of the opinion that in the last analysis nobody fully knows the reasoning by which he arrives at a certain move.
— PFLEGER and TREPPNER, Chess: the mechanics of the mind