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How To Play Chess

The rules of chess (also known as the laws of chess) govern the play of the game of chess. Chess is a two-player abstract strategy board game. Each player controls sixteen pieces of six types on a chessboard. Each type of piece moves in a distinct way. The object of the game is to checkmate (inescapably threaten with capture) the opponent’s king. A game can end in various ways besides checkmate: a player can resign, and there are several ways in which a game can end in a draw.

While the exact origins of chess are unclear, modern rules first took form during the Middle Ages. The rules continued to be slightly modified until the early 19th century, when they reached essentially their current form. The rules also varied somewhat from place to place. Today, the standard rules are set by FIDE (Fédération Internationale des Échecs), the international governing body for chess. Slight modifications are made by some national organizations for their own purposes. There are variations of the rules for fast chess, correspondence chess, online chess, and Chess960.

Besides the basic moves of the pieces, rules also govern the equipment used, time control, conduct and ethics of players, accommodations for physically challenged players, and recording of moves using chess notation. Procedures for resolving irregularities that can occur during a game are provided as well.

Initial setup

Chess is played on a chessboard, a square board divided into a grid of 64 squares (eight-by-eight) of alternating color (similar to the board used in draughts). No matter what the actual colors of the board, the lighter-colored squares are called “light” or “white”, and the darker-colored squares are called “dark” or “black”. Sixteen “white” and sixteen “black” pieces are placed on the board at the beginning of the game. The board is placed so that a white square is in each player’s near-right corner. Horizontal rows are called ranks, and vertical columns are called files.


The player controlling the white pieces is named “White”; the player controlling the black pieces is named “Black”. White moves first, then players alternate moves. Making a move is required; it is not legal to skip a move, even when having to move is detrimental. Play continues until a king is checkmated, a player resigns, or a draw is declared, as explained below. In addition, if the game is being played under a time control, a player who exceeds the time limit loses the game unless they cannot be checkmated.

The official chess rules do not include a procedure for determining who plays White. Instead, this decision is left open to tournament-specific rules (e.g. a Swiss system tournament or round-robin tournament) or, in the case of non-competitive play, mutual agreement, in which case some kind of random choice is often employed. A common method is for one player to conceal a piece (usually a pawn) of each color in either hand; the other player chooses a hand to open and receives the color of the piece that is revealed.

Basic movements

Each type of chess piece has its own method of movement. A piece moves to a vacant square except when capturing an opponent’s piece.

Except for any move of the knight and castling, pieces cannot jump over other pieces. A piece is captured (or taken) when an attacking enemy piece replaces it on its square except in the case of en passant. The captured piece is thereby permanently removed from the game. The king can be put in check but cannot be captured (see below).

  • The king moves exactly one square horizontally, vertically, or diagonally. A special move with the king known as castling is allowed only once per player, per game (see below).
  • A rook moves any number of vacant squares horizontally or vertically. It also is moved when castling.
  • A bishop moves any number of vacant squares diagonally.
  • The queen moves any number of vacant squares horizontally, vertically, or diagonally.
  • A knight moves to one of the nearest squares not on the same rank, file, or diagonal. (This can be thought of as moving two squares horizontally then one square vertically, or moving one square horizontally then two squares vertically—i.e. in an “L” pattern.) The knight is not blocked by other pieces; it jumps to the new location.
  • Pawns have the most complex rules of movement:
    • A pawn moves straight forward one square, if that square is vacant. If it has not yet moved, a pawn also has the option of moving two squares straight forward, provided both squares are vacant. Pawns cannot move backwards.
    • A pawn, unlike other pieces, captures differently from how it moves. A pawn can capture an enemy piece on either of the two squares diagonally in front of the pawn. It cannot move to those squares when vacant except when capturing en passant.

The pawn is also involved in the two special moves en passant and promotion.