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Chess 101: How the Pieces Move

Chess 101: How the Pieces Move

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A chess game pits two armies, evenly matched, across a simple terrain. The aim of the game is simple: Capture and kill your opponent’s king, while protecting your own. But before you do that, you need to know how all of your pieces work.

The General Rules of Chess

You’ll soon learn how each piece moves. But first, you must learn these simple rules:

Meet the Chessboard

The chessboard has 64 squares arranged in eight vertical rows (called files) and eight horizontal rows (called ranks). The squares alternate between one color and another, but no matter what the two colors, the squares are always referred to as “white” and “black.” to begin a game, the board must be placed so that the right corner square nearest each player is white.

A typical example of the chessboard diagram.

A typical example of the chessboard diagram.

Naming the Squares

Each square on a chessboard has a specific name so that players can refer quickly and easily to where each piece is placed at any moment in a game.

Letters and numbers of the files and ranks.

Letters and numbers of the files and ranks.

The Rows

With the white corner in the bottom right of the chessboard, the vertical column of squares (the file) at the very left is called the a-file. The file to its right is called the b-file, and so on to the rightmost h-file. The horizontal row of squares (the rank) at the bottom of the diagram is numbered 1, and called the first rank. The one above it (number 2) is called the second rank, and so on to the topmost eighth rank.

The Squares

Each square is named by putting the letter of its file (column) next to the number of its rank (row). So for example, the bottom-right corner square is called “the h1 square,” or simply “h1” for short.

Meet the Pieces

A game of chess is played between two sides. One side is called “White,” and the other side is called “Black,” no matter what colors they may actually be. Each side gets exactly the same number and kinds of pieces. Let’s look at the pieces.

An example of the White side of a typical chess set. Left to right, the pieces are king, queen, bishop, knight, rook, pawn.

An example of the White side of a typical chess set. Left to right, the pieces are king, queen, bishop, knight, rook, pawn.

The Pawn

The pawn is the foot soldier in your army. But don’t let that fool you into thinking he is unimportant! The strategy of most chess games is largely determined by the placement of these humble fellows. Each side gets eight pawns. At the start of the game, White puts the pawns along the second rank (a2, b2, c2, d2, e2, f2, g2, and h2), and Black puts the pawns along the seventh rank (a7, b7, c7, d7, e7, f7, g7, and h7).

Where the pawns start the game.

Where the pawns start the game.

Here’s how the pawn moves:

Each pawn can move to any of the squares highlighted in front of it.

Each pawn can move to any of the squares highlighted in front of it.

Each pawn can capture any enemy piece on either of the highlighted squares diagonally in front of it.

Each pawn can capture any enemy piece on either of the highlighted squares diagonally in front of it.

The Knight

The knight is usually depicted as a horse or a horse’s head, and is the only piece that doesn’t move in a straight line. Each side gets two knights. At the start of the game, White puts the knights on b1 and g1, and Black puts the knights on b8 and g8.

Where the knights start the game.

Where the knights start the game.

Here’s how the knight moves:

The knight can move to any of the highlighted squares.

The knight can move to any of the highlighted squares.

The Bishop

When chess arrived in England, the shape of this piece was thought to resemble a bishop’s miter, so it was christened “bishop” in English. Each side gets two bishops. At the start of the game, White puts the bishops on c1 and f1, while Black puts the bishops on c8 and f8.

Where the bishops start the game.

Where the bishops start the game.

Here’s how the bishop moves:

The bishop can move to any of the highlighted squares.

The bishop can move to any of the highlighted squares.

The Rook

The rook is heavy-duty artillery. Each side gets two rooks. At the start of the game, White puts the rooks on h1 and a1, while Black puts them on h8 and a8.

Where the rooks start the game.

Where the rooks start the game.

Here’s how the rook moves:

The rook can move to any of the highlighted squares.

The rook can move to any of the highlighted squares.

The Queen

The queen’s supremacy is her power: she is the most powerful piece on the entire chessboard. Each side gets only one queen, and the queen always starts the game on the same color square as she is. At the start of the game, White puts the queen on d1, and Black puts the queen on d8.

Where the queen starts the game.

Where the queen starts the game.

Here’s how the queen moves:

The queen can move to any of the highlighted squares.

The queen can move to any of the highlighted squares.

The King

In short, the capture of the king piece is the object of the game. Each side gets only one king. At the start of the game, White puts the king on e1, and Black puts the king on e8.

Where the king starts the game.

Where the king starts the game.

The aim is to put the king in a position where it can’t escape capture on the very next move. (When that happens, it’s called checkmate.) In fact, because the king can never move into check, and because you must always get the king out of check when it’s in check (if you can), the king is never actually captured in a normal chess game.

Here’s how the king moves:

Each king can move to any of the highlighted squares immediately next to it.

Each king can move to any of the highlighted squares immediately next to it.

Now that you know how to set up the chessboard and what all of the pieces do, you are ready to play the world’s greatest game of war, strategy, and conquest. Have fun!

From The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Chess, Third Edition, by Patrick Wolff