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The Rules of Chess: A Quick Guide on How to Play Chess


The rules of chess may seem complicated at first, but they're actually quite simple. I've posted a number of guides on how to play chess on this site, but if you'd like just the quick and dirty version of the rules of chess, this page will get you up to speed in just a few minutes.

Chess is a board game played between two players: White and Black. The two players alternate turns (White always moves first), moving one piece at a time with the ultimate goal of capturing the enemy king.

How the Pieces Move

There are six pieces in chess, each of which move in a unique way. All pieces do share some common traits. For instance, no piece is allowed to land on a square occupied by a friendly piece. If a piece lands on a square occupied by an enemy piece, that enemy is captured and removed from the board. Also, with the exception of the knight, pieces are not permitted to jump over other pieces. Clicking on the name of each piece will open a more detailed guide on that piece's movements.

The Rook: The rook usually looks like a small tower. It is allowed to move in a straight line horizontally or vertically, for any number of squares.

The Bishop: The bishop moves in a straight line diagonally, for any number of squares.

The Queen: The queen is a combination of a rook and a bishop -- it may move any number of squares in a straight line, either horizontally, vertically, or diagonally. The queen is the most powerful piece in chess.

The King: The king can also move in any direction, including diagonally. However, he can only move one square at a time. The king is the most important piece in chess, as the imminent capture of the king means the game is over.

The Knight: The knight -- which usually looks like a horse -- moves in an irregular pattern that can be described in several ways. This strange movement is usually referred to as an "L-shape", as the knight move can also be described as moving two squares vertically or horizontally, then making a "turn" left or right and moving one more square. From the center of the board, this means the knight can move to eight different squares.

The knight is also the only piece that is allowed to leap over other pieces. Note that the knight doesn't capture pieces it jumps over; it can only capture a piece that it lands on.

The Pawn: Pawns are the shortest and weakest pieces in chess. Pawns are also the only pieces in chess that move one way, but capture in another fashion. Unlike other pieces, pawns can only move forward, not backwards. They may only move directly forward one square at a time, unless they are still on the square on which they began the game; if it is the pawn's first move, it has the option of moving one or two squares, directly forward.

However, a pawn cannot capture a piece directly in front of it. Pawns can only capture a piece by moving one square forward diagonally.

Special Moves: There are a few notable exceptions to the rules listed above. They include castling (a move where the king and a rook both move at the same time), en passant (an unusual pawn capture), and pawn promotion (a situation that occurs if a pawn reaches the end of the board, where the pawn may "promote" to a stronger piece).

Setting Up the Chessboard

Before starting the game, make sure you have a light-colored square in the bottom right hand corner for each player.

Each player places his rooks on the bottom-left and bottom-right squares on their first row in front of them on the board. The knights are also placed on the first row of squares, next to the rooks. The bishops take the next two squares towards the center of the back row. Finally, you should have two empty squares at the middle of your back rank; these two squares belong to the king and queen. These two pieces are placed using the rule "queen on color" -- the White queen goes on the light square, while the Black queen goes on its dark square. The king takes the other square.

Finally, your eight pawns will go on the squares on the second rank -- right in front of your larger pieces.

How to Win

When a player's king is under attack and threatened with capture, we say that the king is in check. When in check, that player must take action to avoid having his king captured; this can be accomplished by moving the king, capturing the attacking piece, or (except in the case of a knight check) by blocking the attack.

A game of chess is usually won by checkmate -- a situation in which a player's king is being attacked, and there is no means for the king to avoid being captured on the next turn. To win the game, the victorious player doesn't actually capture the enemy king; once the capture is inevitable, checkmate has occurred and the game is over. A player who knows defeat is inevitable may also resign the game rather than wait to be checkmated.

There are also several ways a game of chess might end without a winner. In this case, we say that the result is a draw. The most common ways to draw a game in casual play are by stalemate, or by the players agreeing to a draw. Other draws include threefold repetition (the same exact position occurring three times with the same player to move) or the "50-move rule" (a situation in which no pawn has been moved and no piece has been captured for 50 consecutive moves by each player).

If you think you've got the rules of chess listed on this page down pat, you should be ready to play! If you need more information or details, check out a more comprehensive guide on how to play chess.

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