How to Play Chess? A step-by-step guide for beginners

Chess is an exciting game played between two players. It is a tactical game in which no data is concealed. It is played on a 64-square chessboard with an 8 by 8 grid. Each player handles sixteen pieces – one Queen, one King, two Knights, two Bishops, eight Pawns, and two Rooks.

The game’s goal is really to checkmate your rival’s King, which means that the King is under imminent attack (in “check”) and has no possibility of escaping. A game might also result in a tie in a various ways, which are discussed in this article.

Most of us might have been introduced to Chess as children, but some of us haven’t played in a long time. This article will talk about playing chess, starting from the very basics. Beginners, as well as seasoned players, are welcome to read this article. We’ll go over a few fundamental principles, including how to move and capture pieces as well as essential Chess rules on En passant and Castling moves.

How to play Chess?

Chess is a strategic game that requires us to think about all the possible moves of our opponent. It is a game that enhances our analytical reasoning and problem-solving skills. The game has been around for centuries as a game for intellectuals. However, anyone can play chess. They just need to understand the rules and follow these steps to play chess:  

Step 1: Set up the game

The first step is to set up the game such that the white squares are at the bottom right-hand side. Each square of the Chess board has unique coordinate pair. To identify what coordinate a square represents, we need to make sure that we see from the White’s point of view. This is how you can locate each square:

Chess Algebraic notation

Chess game pieces come in six different types:

  1. The Pawn
  2. The Knight
  3. The Bishop
  4. The Rook
  5. The Queen
  6. The King

The pieces are to be arranged in the same way every time. Pawns go in the second row; the corners are filled with rooks, and the Knights go next to the Rooks. After Rooks, Bishops are placed. The Queen is placed next to a Bishop, and the King goes on the remaining square. Here is how the Chess board is set up:

How to set up a Chess Board

Step 2: Know how to move and capture game pieces

Each player gets 16 game pieces, and each piece moves in a certain way. We should understand how each piece moves and how can they capture the opponent’s pieces:

Pawns

  • Each player gets 8 Pawns.
  • The Pawns are only capable of moving forward and could go one or two squares in its first move. However, after the first move, they can only move one square.
  • To capture opponents, pawns can move diagonally.
  • A pawn cannot go over or take another piece right in front of it.

Rooks

  • Each player gets 2 Rooks.
  • The Rook can only move forward, back, and to the sides. When the rooks act together and defend each other, they are incredibly powerful pieces!

Knight

  • Each player gets 2 Knight.
  • You cannot block Knight. Knight can jump over any piece.  
  • It can move either two spaces vertically, then one space horizontally or two spaces horizontally, and one space vertically. You can see that the Knight moves in an “L” shape if you visualize.

Bishop

  • Each player gets 2 Bishops.
  • The Bishop is free to move as far as it wishes, but only in diagonal directions.
  • Each Bishop begins on one color (white or black) and must remain on that color at all times. Bishops get along well because they can hide each other’s flaws.

King

  • There is only one King with each player in Chess.
  • The King is the most crucial piece, yet it is also the most vulnerable. Up, down, to the sides, and diagonally, the King can only go one tile in just about any direction.
  • The King will never keep itself in ‘check’. The term “check” refers to when another piece attacks the King. Moreover, the King cannot advance to a square where the rival is attacking.

Queen

  • There is only one queen with each player, which is the most powerful piece.
  • She can go as far as she wants on any single path – forward, backward, sideways, or diagonally – as long as she doesn’t go through any of her own pieces.

Step 3: Begin the Game

Once we have set up the board and understand how Chess pieces work, we begin the game. The player who has white game pieces moves first and has a bit of advantage because they have the opportunity to attack right away. The players take turns alternatively and are supposed to move one piece at a time, once the white piece moves. However, there is an exception. The players can move two pieces at once when they are “Castling.” We will discuss this move in Step 6.

Remember: We cannot pass our turn in Chess unless we find ourselves with no legal move to make, which is a stalemate and therefore draw results.

We also need to keep in mind that Chess pieces other than Knight cannot move through other pieces. Moreover, we cannot move onto a square with one of our own pieces. However, if we capture an opponent’s piece we can take the place of that piece.

Step 4: Strategize your moves

Chess is a highly complex game of strategy, and it isn’t easy to cover all of the viable strategies for victory. Nevertheless, we can try a few suggestions for the newbie that will perhaps help them win. But, before that, we should know the value of our pieces to strategize.

Know the Value of Chess pieces

We want to keep our pieces safe from captivity, but knowing which ones are the toughest can help us determine which ones to save if we have to pick between two.

  • Most valuable = Queen
  • Least valuable = Rook, Bishop, Knight, Pawn

The Bishop and the knight are often treated equally on the value scale. However, many people believe the Bishop has a slight advantage over the knight. As they get closer to promotion, pawns become much more critical.

Now, let’s look at Pawn promotion and how you can use it to your advantage.

Pawn Promotion

When a pawn reaches the last rank, it is called “promotion” (eighth for White, first for Black). Under such circumstances, we can promote our Pawn to any other piece of the same color. However, we cannot promote it to King or Pawn.

Most of the time, players raise their Pawn to queen status, though there are a few exceptions. When a player promotes a piece other than the Queen, this is known as “Underpromotion.” But why would any player do that? Queen is the strongest piece, and not promoting Pawn to Queen does not make sense.

Well, there are many reasons why we would want to Underpromote our Queen, such as:

  • Avoiding a draw
  • Defending against an immediate threat
  • Planning a much devastating attack

We can promote as many Pawns possible.

Other Chess Strategizes

  1. Build up our strength: When creating defenses, make sure to look at the board to see how strong we are in particular areas. If we notice an attack approaching, try to keep power divided equally and bring pieces over to increase strength.
  2. Have pieces together: Allowing any of our pieces to become detached from our central unit is a dumb idea while attacking. When planning an attack, it helps to have a support. When two or more pieces are work together, the result is often better than one alone.
  3. Get the Knights and Bishops out: It is advisable to move our Knight and Bishop towards the center of the board before we move our Queen, Rooks, or King. Why? Because these pieces cannot attack if they are behind Pawns.
  4. Material Count: We will have an advantage if we can count the total piece value for each player. The player who has this advantage can win the game by trading pieces to simplify the position. We can also use this material superiority to overwhelm our opponent’s defense to checkmate the King.

Step 5: Use Special Moves – En Passant & Castling

En Passant Move

En Passant is another unique move for Pawns attacking Pawns. Let’s understand how this move works.

Let’s say the player moves Pawn two spaces, landing on the same row as their rival’s Pawn. The rival can seize the player’s Pawn En passant on the next move—and just the next move (which translates from French to “in passing”). Usually, pieces can only seize by going into the square that the opponent piece previously occupied—but in this scenario, the rival pawn goes into the square that the pawn has crossed over and still takes the pawn.

The player (or the rival) must have pushed two squares forward on the piece they were about to seize. The move would be incorrect if the Pawn had only moved once.

Thus, En Passant can only occur after a Pawn has moved two spaces in the first place. Only the Pawns and no other piece can make this move. Therefore, an En Passant capture with the Queen or a Knight is impossible.

Take a look at the image below to understand the “En Passant” move:

Chess En Passant -2
Chess En Passant -2
 Chess En Passant -3
Chess En Passant -3

Castling Move

“Castling” in chess involves both the Rook and the King. That’s the only instance we could move two pieces in the very same turn, and it’s also the only instance the King can advance two squares. Castling gives our King shelter (against the pawns) and mobility to our Rook.

The player can only castle if:

  • The King and the Rook to be castled have not moved.
  • The King is not under control.
  • Between the King and the Rook, there are no pieces.
  • The King does not go through or land on a square controlled by an opposing piece. (However, the Rook can depart or cross over a square controlled by an opposing piece.)
How to Castle?

The player advances both their King and Rook in one turn. They put the Rook in the square next to the King on the other side after moving two squares toward it. When castling on the kingside, the Rook travels two squares total. When castling on the queenside, the rook travels three squares overall. The King can move two squares in either direction. Take a look at the image below to understand better:

Placement of the Chess Pieces
Castling - Kingside
Castling - Queenside

Newbies may not grasp castling and may carry out a wrong move or claim that you are doing so when you castle. Try showing them this article about castling and providing them with a summary if that’s the case.

If using a digital board, move the King to the castle two spaces. If we castle before moving the Rook, the software will believe you wanted to move the Rook there.

It doesn’t matter if the King was in check before but isn’t in check anymore and if the Rook is to be attacked by a rival’s piece before we castle.

Step 6: Safeguard your King

If the King is in check, one of our rival’s pieces is attacking him. We must remove the King out of check on our next turn. There are three ways to get out of a check:

  • By shifting the King to a secure square.
  • By seizing the checkerboard piece.
  • By using one of our pieces to obstruct the check. If the checking piece is a Pawn or a Knight, we cannot block the check.

Checkmate occurs when it is impossible to remove the King from check on the next move.

Step 7: Checkmate your rival’s King to Win

The only strategy to beat the game is to “checkmate” the rival’s King. If we cannot seize the rivals piece, which has the King in check, we cannot stop the check and the King cannot move to a square that isn’t under attack. In short, the King is in checkmate.

The game is over if a king cannot evade checkmate. We cannot remove or seize the King from the board; instead, the game is just considered over. If one of the players doesn’t act appropriately, a checkmate can occur early in the game.

Stalemate – When does it occur?

A “Stalemate” is essentially a tie. When a player can’t make any acceptable moves its stalemate.

For instance, suppose it is white’s turn. All of the areas around the King are under attack, but the King is not in check and unable to move. The Pawn, the only other white piece, is blocked by the King. The game is a stalemate because moving is impossible.

White would have to move if it had another piece on the board that wasn’t blocked. The game would continue to be played.

Other ways to draw the game

  • By mutual consent: If all players agree the game can draw. This frequently occurs in the endgame, when both players have realized there is no way to win.
  • Three-fold repetition: If the exact position of the chessboard occurs three times during the game there is a draw. So, if both players keep moving their Knights back and forth to the same squares three times, its a draw. All of the allowed maneuvers had to be the same in both positions. If castling or En passant is legal in one position, it must be legal in other ones.
  • 50-move rule: According to the 50-move rule, you can declare a draw if no player makes a pawn move or captures a piece for 50 consecutive moves. This prohibits players from playing for an extended period of exhausting the other player.
  • Due to a lack of resources: The game has ruled a draw if neither player has enough material to checkmate the King.

Conclusion

Now that we have learned about each step in detail, it’s time to play and get better with each game. Chess requires strategy and skill, and people of all ages can play it. It is a versatile game where you can have fun and learn simultaneously. It will improve your skills and help in increasing your concentration and critical thinking. So, get your Chess board out and start practicing! All the best for your next game.

How to Play Chess – FAQs

How do I get better at playing chess?

Once you have learned about how to play chess and its rules, the next step is to play a lot to practice and learn from every game. You can take chess lessons to study and improve. There are chess lessons available online.

What is the best move in Chess?

There is no one best move, but one should try to take control of the center first. Players either play their central pawns and move two squares or move one square ahead.

Is it possible for a pawn to move backward?

No, pawns can’t move backward. But if a pawn reaches the other side and is upgraded to another piece, then if that piece moves backward, the pawn can move backward.

What color goes first?

As a rule, the color white goes first.

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