Want to learn how to play chess? There’s no better way than getting elbows deep in a game and playing.
“Checkers is for tramps.” So says Paul Morphy, the first “chess prodigy” in the modern era of the game. His quote rings true for many reasons — the game of checkers is a simple analogue of chess, and where chess players are generally thought of as intellectuals, we think of cab drivers and short-order cooks as checkers fans.
A proper game of chess involves two people sitting on opposite sides of a chessboard, which looks similar to a checkerboard. The squares on the board represent spaces that pieces use to move and capture other pieces. In that sense, chess is a game of war, strategy, and domination.
Grab a chess board and set it down. Let’s take a look at the board itself and the basics of the great game of chess.
For the purpose of this tutorial, your opponent’s name is Jim. The chessboard should sit between you and Jim in such a way that the white square at the bottom is to your right. This is the proper setup for a chessboard — just remember that “Right is white”.
Look at the chess pieces — depending on the chess set you’re using, they could be very different from one another. You have 6 different categories of chess pieces to place on the board and use in your pursuit of victory: 8 pawns, 2 rooks, 2 knights, 2 bishops, 1 queen, and 1 king.
The pawns are the smallest pieces, though many players don’t consider them “pieces” since they are so weak. One pawn won’t decide the game, but all eight can win or lose one. Pawns are the simplest pieces and there are eight of them. Rooks, on the other hand, are generally carved to look like castle towers. Knight pieces have horse heads to set them apart, and bishops are pointy-headed creatures with little balls on top of their heads. The king is the tallest piece and generally wears a cross on the head. The last piece is the queen, which is the second tallest piece in the game and is wearing a proper crown. At times it seems you figure out how to play chess by simply figuring out how the pieces move and which pieces are which.
In order to pick who will move first, you must decide which player controls the white or “light” pieces and which controls the black or “dark” ones. How do you decide? One of you holds a pawn in each hand (black in one hand, white in the other hand), and then the other player picks a hand. If your opponent Jim picks white, he controls white for this game. Whoever controls the white pieces always makes the first move of any chess game.
Once an opening player is determined, time to pick up your chess pieces and setup the board.
How to Setup the Chess Board
Rook pieces sit on the outside corners of the first row. They stand like sentry towers at the sides of the board. Next to each rook, place a knight. Next to each knight, place a bishop.
The queen sits in the first row on the same color box as the color of your pieces. In simpler terms — if you are black, the Queen sits on black. The king sits next to his queen.
Line up all eight pawns on the second row.
If you have trouble remembering the order, here’s a shortcut to remember how to play chess — the pieces always get taller as you move towards the middle of the board, and the queen goes on her own color. Also remember that your queen should always face Jim’s queen. Same thing goes for the king pieces.
How the Pieces Move
Every piece on the chessboard has slightly different rules about how it is allowed to move and capture other pieces. Remember that only one chess piece can ever be in a single square at once, so it occupies that square.. The only time that you can move a piece into a square occupied by another piece is when Jim’s piece is in a spot and you “capture” it. To capture, simply put your piece in the box on the board, take his piece off the board, and hold it on your side of the board. That piece is now out of play.
Each piece has its own set of rules for movement and capture.
Pawn — The simplest piece in chess — a pawn can move forward one space and that’s about it, unless it is “capturing” a piece, in which case it moves diagonally only. When a pawn first comes out of the box, it can choose to move forwards two spaces.
Rook — The rook is very easy to remember because it only moves up and down or side to side. Bishops aren’t allowed to move diagonally or horizontally or any type of move besides rank or file. Rooks can not “jump” over pieces in its way — a path must be cleared for the rook.
Bishop — Bishop pieces are the most overestimated piece on the board — they only move on a diagonal line, but for the entire length of the board as long as nothing is in its way. Since bishops are only allowed to travel in diagonal lines, they are permanently stuck to their original color square. Many chess players prefer to pounce on the enemy with rooks and use bishops for a trap move.
Knight — A difficult piece to explain, your knights can only move in an L-shape movement but in any direction.
Queen — The queen is a combination of the rook and the bishop: it can move as many spaces as it likes along a rank, file, or diagonal. The most powerful piece on the board, by far.
King — The king is similar to the queen except limited to moving one space. He can move in any direction, but only for one box. He can also capture in any direction.
If you’ve always wanted to know how to play chess but never jumped in and tried on your own, today’s your day. Chess is a simple game to learn but has so many permutations there is never a game played the same way twice.