How To Set Up A Chessboard

Have you been ready to play chess with a friend and noticed that they had set up the chessboard incorrectly? Knowing how the board is set up is important for every player from beginner to master. Even the most experienced player can make a common mistake when setting it up.

GM Bobby Fischer, the famous world champion from 1969 to 1972, once said: “All that matters on the chessboard is good moves.” However, something else is very important so that each game is played according to the rules: correct placement of all chess pieces. Here is what you need to know:

Chessboard with all pieces places correctly After reading this article, you will know how to place all chess pieces correctly on the board.

Board Orientation

The first step is to orient correctly the chessboard, which is divided into 64 equal squares of alternating colors: the dark squares and the light ones. The vertical squares are known as files, which are named by letter in this order from left to right:

The horizontal squares are ranks numbered from the first to the eighth. (If you want to learn more about how squares are labeled, check out our "How to Play Chess" article.)

Always make sure that the right-hand corner of the chessboard is a light square. This step also helps to guarantee that later the queens are placed on correct squares. Each player starts with 16 pieces. There are just six kinds of pieces, and where they are placed to start a game is easy to understand.

Where To Place Pawns

Each player has eight pawns, and they are the easiest to set up. For White, they are aligned across the board on the second rank. For Black, they are placed on the seventh rank. After the pawns are placed on the board as shown in the following image, your setup task is half complete. 

Pawn locations on chessboard
Placing the pawns on the second and seventh ranks is easy. Observe that the right-hand corner is a light square.

Now the pawns are ready for the game, and soon one may even be promoted to another piece if it can travel to the opposite end of the board in an amazing move known as pawn promotion. Do you know this and other important chess terms?

Each player has two rooks, two knights, and two bishops. Let’s see where to place them.

Where To Place Rooks

The rooks, placed on files a and h, occupy the corners of the board. Because they are locked in corners, they need other pieces to move first before springing into action.

Rook locations on chessboard

Rooks are placed in the corners of the chessboard.

Where To Place Knights

Each knight is placed next to a rook. Unlike the other pieces on the back ranks that are blocked initially by the line of pawns, the knights are ready to jump immediately into action from their starting positions on files b and g.

Location of knights on the chessboard

Knights are placed next to the rooks.

Where To Place Bishops

Placing the bishops next to the knights continues the placement of pieces on the back ranks. Unlike the knights, they are blocked initially until a pawn moves forward and opens a diagonal so they can move.

After the bishops are set up, only the d- and e-squares on the back ranks should be unoccupied. The monarchs — the queens and kings — are the remaining pieces to be placed on the board.

Bishops added to the chessboard

Bishops are placed next to the knights.

Where To Place Queens

Placing the queen, the most powerful chess piece, on the board follows a very important rule. It always starts on a square that matches its color: a light square for the white queen, a dark one for the black queen. Each square is located on the d-file.

Queens added to chessboard
The queen is very unhappy if you don’t place it on a square that matches its color.

Where To Place Kings

When all pieces but the kings have been set up correctly, where to place the final two pieces is obvious. The only open squares on the back ranks should be on the e-file. During a game, the protection of a king is important, and it is often safeguarded behind a wall of pawns with a rook to its side by a move known as castling. Although the kings start on the back ranks, don’t be surprised when they need to move forward during the endgame phase.

All pieces placed on chessboard

The setup of the chessboard is now complete.

Common Mistakes

After the board has been set up, do you see any blunders? Two common mistakes sometimes happen, and they concern the corners and the queens. First, verify that a light square is in each righthand corner. Next, always check to make sure that each queen is on her color.

Let the blunders happen after a game begins, not before. They will be there as the famous Polish-French GM Savielly Tartakower once remarked: “The blunders are all there on the board, waiting to be made.” But don’t make a blunder on the board before a game begins by having an incorrect piece placement. 

Chessboard with queens on the wrong color
What’s wrong with this board? Can you quickly tell with a glance? 

Ready For First Move

If you follow these simple directions, your chessboard can be set up correctly every time. Now enjoy a game. Remember that White always makes the first move.

ChessKids playing online

Playing online with ChessKid means that we set up the chessboard for you.

Finally, playing online with ChessKid makes board setup too easy. We do it for you automatically, and you don't even have to check for mistakes. We promise the board will be set up correctly every time.

In addition, are you yourself are interested in teaching chess to kids? ChessKid has prepared an ebook for you if you have been asking, How do I even start a chess program and teach kids how to play chess? This resource is for teachers, coaches, and parents to give them guidance on starting a chess program for kids.

Download the ChessKid handbook