Basic chess skills

To begin to play the game of chess, a player must become familiar with some basic knowledge, such as how to set up the board, how the pieces move and capture, and special moves, among other things.

Board Set Up

The standard chess board is an 8 x 8 grid of alternating light and dark squares. Regardless of color, the lighter squares are called “white” and the darker squares are called “black.”

Horizontal rows on a chess board are called ranks. Vertical rows on a chess board are called files.

The initial placement of the chess board requires that the rightmost square on the rank closest to each player must be white. Take your right thumb and place it on the corner square closest to it — that should be a white square. If not, turn the board 90 degrees.

Official chess boards typically have the files identified by lowercase letters a-h and the ranks numbered 1-8. In the case of a regulation chess board, the first (1st) rank is placed in front of the player playing white and the eighth (8th) rank is placed in front of the player playing black.

Each side has sixteen (16) pieces: two (2) rooks; two (2) knights; two (2) bishops; one (1) king; one (1) queen; and eight (8) pawns.

The initial setup of the board should look like this:

The two rooks are placed at either end of the closest rank. The two knights are each placed next to a rook, followed by each of the bishops being placed next to a knight. In the remaining two squares of that rank, the queen is placed on the square corresponding to her color, and the king is placed on the remaining square. The eight pawns are placed on the next nearest rank.

The player playing the white pieces always moves first.

Piece Movement & Capture

Each of the six different chess pieces has a unique rule for movement, as well as a rule for capturing the opponent’s pieces.


A rook moves and captures along the rank or file that it is on. A rook may move any number of squares.


A bishop moves and captures diagonally. A bishop can move any number of squares.

Whatever color the bishop starts the game on is the color it will stay on for the entire game.


A queen can move like a bishop or like a rook. A queen can capture any enemy piece that it can reach with its move.


A king can move one square in any direction. A king captures the same way that it moves.

A king cannot move into check (see Check below).


A knight moves in an “L”-shape pattern: either one file (rank) away and then two ranks (files) away or else two files (ranks) away and then one rank (file) away.

A knight captures pieces by landing on them. A knight can jump over pieces that belong to either player.


A pawn can only move forward one square, and only if the destination square is empty. If the pawn has not yet moved, it may optionally charge forward two squares, provided the square traveled through and the destination square are empty.

Pawns capture enemy pieces diagonally.

Pawns may be promoted when they reach their last rank (see Promotion below).

Special Moves

Apart from the regular moving and capturing rules for the individual pieces, there are several special rules that apply to the game of chess, such as:


Castling is primarily a defensive move in which the king moves to the other side of one of the rooks.

In a kingside castle, the king moves two squares towards the kingside rook; the kingside rook moves to the other side of the king. In a queenside castle, the king moves two squares towards the queenside rook; the queenside rook moves to the other side of the king.

Just remember: the king always hops two, and the rook swings around.

Castling can be done only if the following conditions are true:

  • Neither the king nor the castling rook have been moved yet this game
  • The king is not in check at the start of castling
  • The king does not move through check during castling
  • The king does not end up in check after castling
  • There are no pieces between the king and the castling rook

In the example above, white has castled kingside and black has castled queenside.

En Passant

When a pawn is on the first rank in enemy territory, it may capture an enemy pawn that passes its capture square as if the enemy pawn stopped on the capture square. The player making this type of capture announces “en passant,” which is French for “in passing,” and captures the pawn.

For white, the first rank in enemy territory is the fifth (5th) rank. For black, the first rank in enemy territory is the fourth (4th) rank.

In the example below, black wants to move the pawn at d7 forward, but they don’t want the white pawn at e5 to capture it. So, black moves its d-pawn past the capturing square:

However, white is still able to capture the pawn using the en passant rule. White announces “en passant” (this isn’t actually required, but often it is done out of courtesy) and takes the pawn as if it stopped on d6:

After applying the en passant rule, the board looks like this:

Note: white could only use the en passant rule immediately after black moved the pawn to d5. If white had instead made a different move, he or she could not use en passant later to capture the d-pawn.


When a pawn is moved to its last rank, it is promoted to another piece. White pawns are promoted when they are moved to the eighth (8th) rank; black pawns promote when they reach the first (1st) rank.

Pawns promote to any piece EXCEPT (a) another pawn or (b) a king. Promotion is not restricted to pieces that have been captured.

In the example below, the black pawn is promoted to a rook, even though black already has two rooks:

Game Status

In chess there are three (3) game states that a player must be able to understand and identify:


A player is in check if his or her king is being attacked by one or more of the opponent’s pieces. If the player is in check, he or she must respond with a move that gets the king out of check; in other words, change the king’s status so that it is no longer being attacked.

A player may respond to check by (a) taking the piece that is attacking the king; (b) blocking the piece that is attacking the king; or (c) move the king to a square in which it is no longer under attack.

A player may not move the king into check, nor can the player make a move with another piece that would result in the king being in check.


A player is in checkmate if his or her king is being attacked by one or more of the opponent’s pieces AND there isn’t any move available to prevent the king from remaining in check. This ends the game, awarding the win to the player who checkmated the king.


A stalemate occurs if a player has no legal moves BUT his or her king is not being attacked. In other words, the player’s king is not currently in check, but he or she has no legal moves available. A stalemate ends the game in a draw.

A stalemate can also occur in officially scored games (i.e., as in a tournament) if:

No Progress Rule – A player makes fifty (50) consecutive moves without a capture or a pawn move by either player

Threefold Repetition Rule – A player faces the same exact board position for the third time (not necessarily consecutive)

Note: The No Progress Rule and the Threefold Repetition Rule can only be enforced if the conditions can be demonstrated by chess notation.

Tournament Scoring

Typically tournaments consist of several rounds of chess play. Players are awarded points based on the outcomes of their games:

A win is awarded one point.

A loss is awarded no points.

A stalemate is awarded a half a point.

At the end of all rounds of play, if multiple players have the same score, tiebreak methods are used to resolve the ambiguity. Read more about tiebreaks here.

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