Learn to Play Chess
History of Chess
The origins of chess are not exactly clear, though most believe it evolved from earlier chess-like games played in India almost two thousand years ago. The game of chess we know today has been around for more than 500 years!
The Goal of Chess
You and your opponent are each in charge of an army. Your goal: to catch the other army's king (before they catch yours)! When you have him attacked and he can no longer escape, it's called "checkmate," and you win!
You each start with a trusty army of 16: the King, Queen, two Rooks, two Bishops, two Knights, and eight Pawns.
Starting a Game
At the beginning of the game the chessboard is laid out so that each player has the white (or light) color square in the bottom right-hand side. The chess pieces are then arranged the same way each time. The second row (or rank) is filled with pawns. The rooks go in the corners, then the knights next to them, followed by the bishops, and finally the queen, who always goes on her own matching color (white queen on white, black queen on black), and the king on the remaining square.
The player with the white pieces always moves first, so it's only fair to take turns playing white and black. On each turn you get to move one of your pieces (except for one special move). Then it's your opponent's turn. And back and forth, you take turns until one of the kings is cornered... or your whole army is tired out!
How the Chess Pieces Move
Each of the 6 different kinds of pieces has its own shape for moving. Most pieces cannot move through other pieces-- only the knight can jump over anyone who gets in his way! Also no piece can ever move onto a square with one of their own pieces. However, they can be moved to take the place of an opponent's piece: that's how you capture the enemies!
The king is the most important piece, since losing him means the end of the game. But he is also one of the weakest. So very often he needs his friends to protect him. The king can move one square in any direction - up, down, to the sides, and diagonally.
The king may never move himself onto a square where he could be captured (no losing on purpose). If your opponent ever moves their king onto a square where you can take it, don't grab the king and laugh "hahahaha, I win!" Instead, you should explain why they can't move there. Then your opponent can put the king back where it was, and choose a different move.
Click on the ">" button in the diagram below to see how the king can move around the board.
Check and Checkmate
When another piece threatens to capture the king, it is called 'check.' When there is no way for the king to escape check, it is called 'checkmate.' As stated before, that is how you win. There are only three ways a king can get out of check: move out of the way, block the check with another piece, or capture the piece threatening the king. If a king cannot escape checkmate then the game is over. Customarily the king is not captured or removed from the board, the game is simply declared over.
The queen is the most powerful piece. Like the king, she can move in any one straight direction - forward, backward, sideways, or diagonally - but unlike him, she's very speedy. In fact, she can move as far as you like as long as she does not move through any other pieces. And, like with all pieces, if the queen captures an opponent's piece, that's the square she stops on.
Click through the diagram below to see how the queens move. Notice how the white queen captures the black queen and then the black king is forced to move.
The rook moves much like the queen: as far as it wants along straight lines, but only forward, backward, and to the sides (not diagonally).
The bishop is the "other half" of the queen. It moves as far as it wants, but only diagonally. You start with one bishop on a light square and one bishop on a dark square, and you will notice, only moving on diagonals, each one is stuck on the color it starts on. Bishops work well together because each covers the squares the other one can't.
Knights move in a very different way from the other pieces - going two squares in one direction, and then one more move at a 90 degree angle, just like the shape of an "L". Knights are also the only pieces that can move over other pieces. People often say knights "hop" because of that special ability. Check out these knight hops:
Half of your starting team is pawns, so it's very important to understand how to use these little guys, even though they are not very strong. Pawns are unusual because they move in one way, but capture in a different way. When they move, they just go forward, but when they capture they go diagonally. Pawns can only move forward one square at a time, except for their very first move where they can move forward two squares or one. Pawns can only capture one square diagonally in front of them. They can never move or capture backwards.
Because they move and capture differently, the pawn is the only piece that can get blocked by enemy pieces: if there is another piece directly in front of a pawn he cannot move past or capture that piece.
Now pawns may be small and weak, moving slowly and having trouble fighting against the faster guys on the board. But pawns still have big dreams! They want to be the hero who rules the chessboard and brings you victory. And pawns have one more special ability that can help make their dreams come true.
If a pawn reaches the other side of the board it can become any other chess piece (called promotion), except a pawn or king. [NOTE: A common misconception is that pawns may only be exchanged for a piece that has been captured. That is NOT true.] A pawn is usually promoted to a queen, because she is the most powerful piece. Only pawns may be promoted; no other piece can do this!
The last rule about pawns is called "en passant", which is French, meaning "in passing." If a pawn moves out two squares on its first move, and by doing so lands to the side of an opponent's pawn (effectively running past the other pawn's ability to capture it), that other pawn has the option of capturing the first pawn as if it only moved one space. This special move must be done on the very next move after the first pawn has moved past, otherwise the option to capture it is no longer available. Click through the example below to better understand this odd, but important rule.
One other special rule is called castling, the only time you can move two pieces in one move. This combination move allows you to do two important things all in one turn: get your king to safety (hopefully), and get your rook out of the corner and into the game. On a player's turn he may move his king two squares over to one side and then move the rook to the other side of his king. (See the example below.) In order to castle, however, the following conditions must be met:
Notice that when you castle one direction the king is closer to the side of the board. That is called kingside. Castling to the other side, through where the queen sat, is called castling queenside. Regardless of which side, the king always moves exactly two squares when castling.
Occasionally chess games do not end with a winner, but with a draw. There are 5 reasons why a chess game may end in a draw:
- The position reaches a stalemate where it is one player’s turn to move, but his king is NOT in check and yet he does not have another legal move
- The players may simply agree to a draw and stop playing
- There are not enough pieces on the board to force a checkmate (example: a king and a bishop vs a king). Draw by exhaustion!
- A player declares a draw if the same exact position is repeated three times (though not necessarily three times in a row)
- Fifty moves in a row have been played by each player, without anyone moving a pawn or capturing a piece. This means no progress is being made!
If you've made it this far, you are ready to play! After this come extra rules for tournaments, variants, and some first advice for how to play chess well.
Chess960 (also called Fischer Random) is a chess variant that follows all of the normal rules of chess, except that the starting position of the pieces is randomly chosen at the start of each game.
There are two rules for placing the pieces: the bishops must be on opposite colors, and there must be one rook on each side of the king. The black and white pieces are in a mirrored position.
There are exactly 960 possible starting scenarios that follow these rules (thus the name "960").
The only odd rule is with castling: the rules are mostly the same (king and rook cannot have moved and cannot castle through check or in check), with the additional rule that the squares between where the king and castled rook will end up must be vacant from all pieces except the king and rook. And instead of moving exactly 2 steps towards your rook, you always castle so that it looks like in normal chess: King goes to g1 when you castle "kingside" and to c1 when you castle "queenside."
Some Tournament Rules
Many tournaments follow a set of common, similar rules. These rules do not necessarily apply to play at home or online
If a player touches one of their own pieces they must move that piece as long as it is a legal move. (of course you can't "touch" a piece online, so this is a tournament rule which does not matter on our website). If a player touches an opponent's piece, they must capture that piece. A player who wishes to touch a piece only to adjust it on the board must first announce what they are doing, usually by saying "adjust."
Introduction to Clocks and Timers
Most tournaments use timers to regulate the time spent on each game, not on each move. That's because when they first started having chess tournaments in the 1800s, some guys would just sit there and not move if they were in a losing position. This perfect strategy kept them from ever losing... and the tournament from ever finishing! Then they invented the chess clock, and it became normal at most tournaments.
Each player gets the same amount of time to use for their entire game and can decide how to spend that time. Once a player makes a move they then touch a button or hit a lever to stop their clock from running and start the opponent's clock. If a player runs out of time and the opponent calls the time, then the player who ran out of time loses the game (unless the opponent does not have enough pieces to checkmate, in which case it is a draw). Click here to watch two players quickly playing a timed game of chess!
There are four simple things that every chess player should know:
#1 Protect your king
Get your king to the corner of the board where he is usually safer. Don't put off castling. You should usually castle as quickly as possible. Remember, it doesn't matter how close you are to checkmating your opponent if your own king is checkmated first!
#2 Don’t give pieces away
Don’t carelessly lose your pieces! Each piece is valuable and you can’t win a game without pieces to checkmate. There is an easy system that most players use to keep track of the relative value of each chess piece:
At the end of the game these points don’t mean anything – it is simply a system you can use to make decisions while playing, helping you know when to capture, exchange, or make other moves.
#3 Control the center
You should try and control the center of the board with your pieces and pawns. If you control the center, you will have more room to move your pieces and will make it harder for your opponent to find good squares for his pieces. In the example below white makes good moves to control the center while black plays bad moves.
#4 Use all of your pieces
In the example above white got all of his pieces in the game! Your pieces don’t do any good when they are sitting back on the first row. Try and develop all of your pieces so that you have more to use when you attack the king. Using one or two pieces to attack will not work against any decent opponent.
Getting Better at Chess
Knowing the rules and basic strategies is only the beginning - there is so much to learn in chess that you can never learn it all in a lifetime! To improve you need to do three things:
#1 – Play
Just keep playing! Play as much as possible. You should learn from each game – those you win and those you lose.
#2 – Study
Check out our list of recommended books for beginners. There are also many resources on ChessKid.com to help you study and improve.
#3 - Have fun
Don’t get discouraged if you don’t win all of your games right away. Everyone loses – even world champions. As long as you continue to have fun and learn from the games you lose then you can enjoy chess forever!