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How to Play Chess for Beginners

Four Parts:Chess HelpUnderstanding the Game, Board and PiecesPlaying the GameIncorporating Strategy

Chess is an incredibly fun, addicting game that requires skill and strategy. It's been around for centuries as a game for intellectuals and scholars; however, playing does require a level of genius -- but that doesn't mean children can't beat adults. Read on to learn and play this ancient game, which has been considered as one of the best board games around.

Chess Help

Chess Rule Sheet

Chessboard Diagram

Part 1
Understanding the Game, Board and Pieces

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    Learn what each piece is and how it moves. Every type of piece moves differently. Here are the names of every piece and how they move (with one or two exceptions, that we'll cover in a bit):
    • The pawn: The most basic piece in the game (you have 8 of them). On its initial move, it can move forward one or two spaces, but it is only allowed to move forward by one space afterwards. Pawns are only allowed to attack other pieces one space diagonally from it, and cannot move backwards.
    • The rook: It looks like a castle tower. It can move horizontally and vertically as many spaces as are available. It can attack pieces in its path.
    • The knight: It's represented by a horse and is the most complicated unit. It moves in an 'L' shapes that consist of two spaces horizontally then one space vertically, or one space horizontally then two spaces vertically, in any direction. The knight is the only piece that can jump other pieces. He attacks only the pieces that are in the spaces he settles.
    • The bishop: It can only move diagonally, but it can move an unlimited amount of spaces until it attacks. It's shaped like a bishop's hat.
    • The queen: She is the most powerful piece (usually has a more feminine crown). She can move either horizontally, vertically, or diagonally by any number of spaces and attack from any of those directions.
    • The king: He can only move one space each turn in any direction and attacks in the same manner. He is the unit you do not want to lose at all costs, as it will make you lose the game.
    • Remember the strong points of the pieces.
      • The king is invaluable and must be protected.
      • The queen is the most versatile piece and is the most useful for supporting pieces, and often used for forking. The queen combines the power of a bishop and a rook in one piece. She is considered to be the most valuable, next to the King.
      • Knights are excellent for surprise attacks and forks.Their pattern of movement is often missed and confusing to novice players.
      • Bishops tend to be an excellent in an open position. However many novice players often underestimate bishops and do not make full use of them.
      • Rooks are strong and have a long range of movement. They work best on open files.
      • Pawns may seem insignificant, but they can be great for trapping an opponent when sacrificed to capture a more valuable piece. If played right, a pawn can even checkmate the King!
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    Understand what is meant by "check". If your king is in check, he is under attack from your opponent's pieces. When your king is in check, you must move out of check on your very next turn. You can move out of check by three methods:
    • By moving your King to a safe square. A safe square is one, where your king will not be in check.
    • By capturing the checking piece.
    • By blocking with one of your pieces. This does not work for Pawns and Knights.
      • If you cannot do any of the above, and your king is still in check, the game is over and you have lost.
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    Understand the concept. In chess, you are trying to capture your opponent's king and they yours. While this is the primary objective, the auxiliary aim one is to protect your king from getting captured. This is done by either capturing as many of your opponent's pieces as you can or avoiding the capture of your own pieces.
    • Chess is a game of intelligence and strategy. There are many moves and rules that beginners will not be able to foresee or understand initially. Be patient! It gets more and more fun the more and more you play.
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    Set up the board. Now that you know each piece you can place them on the board. Align it so each player has a light-colored square on the bottom right. Here's how to set up your pieces:
    • Place all the pawns on the second line in front of you so that you have a wall of pawns between you and your opponent.
    • Place each rook on a corner of your side of the board.
    • Place a knight next to each rook and a bishop next to each knight.
    • Place the queen in one of the two spaces that remain, according to her color (i.e. if you have a black queen, she should go on the black square; if it's white, then she should go on the white square).
    • Finally, place the King on the last remaining space. Check that your opponent has the same arrangement of pieces. The queens should be opposite each other and so should be the Kings.
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    If you're serious, consider learning the rank and file system. Each square on the board has a corresponding letter and number. When someone says something like, "Knight to C3," that C3 is part of this system; it makes reference a whole lot easier. Here is how it works.

Part 2
Playing the Game

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    The white player makes the first move. They choose any piece they'd like to move to begin the initial attack, or the opening. They move a piece, and black counters. The opening is one of the most important parts of the game. There's no real "right" way to do it -- everyone has their own style and you'll find yours. But there are a few things to keep in mind:
    • Do not go about about attacking for now. In your opening, you're just getting your pieces to their most useful posts. You want them to be on good and safe squares.
    • Generally, make only 1 or 2 moves with your pawns. Then start concentrating on your more powerful pieces -- bishops, knights, queen, and rooks. "Development" (getting your pieces to active squares, such as the center) isn't complete until all of these pieces have moved.
    • A lot of your opening moves depend on your opponent -- you'll just have to feel out the game. So observe and see if you can guess what his plan is. This game is more about anticipating threats and foresight than anything else.
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    Incorporate the "en passant" rule. If you'd like, that is. Plenty of beginners don't worry about it. But if you're curious as to how to make this game a little more French and a little more complicated than it already is, why, here's how:
    • If you recall, your pawn can move 2 spaces forward on its first move. Let's say you do just that, landing next to your opponent's pawn, on the same row. On the next move -- and only the next move -- your opponent can capture your pawn en passant (which literally translates to: in passing). Normally, pawns can only attack one square diagonally -- but this is an exceptional case in which it can capture in passing and still land on that same diagonal space.
    • Again, this can only happen directly after a pawn has made its initial 2-space move. If a turn goes by, the opportunity is lost. This move is unique only to the pawns and no other piece. Thus you cannot capture the queen or a knight by en passant
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    Take turns. And thus goes the game! You and your opponent take turns, trying to get to each other's king and capturing pieces in your wake. If you can threaten their queen or king and keep him on the defensive, you'll be at an advantage, but there are infinite possibilities as to how to win.
    • Pawns may seem like they're just in the way, but don't be tempted to sacrifice them just yet. If you get one to the other side of the board, it turns into a different piece (just not the king)! Generally people go for a queen, but you're welcome to turn it into a rook or a knight or a bishop. If you can sneak your pawn to the other side without your opponent noticing, you can change the tide of the game completely.
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    Always think a step or two in advance. If you move your knight there, what happens? Does it expose other pieces for your opponent's next play? Do you have time to play offense or does your king (or maybe even queen) need protecting? What ideas seem to be brewing on your opponent's turf? Where do you see the game going in the next few moves?
    • This isn't a game where you can mindlessly move pieces around -- they all affect each other in one way or another. You'll have a pawn in the way of your bishop's attack, you'll have your knight defending your king, and your opponent's rook is about to jump on your queen if you don't do something about it. So plan your next move and the one after that -- and your opponent's moves if you can, too. To win, you must be tactful and strategic!
    • Always have a comeback move, if possible. You can place your pawn at the will of your opponent's bishop if that means you can then take his bishop with your knight. Sometimes well-planned sacrifices must be made.
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    Know how to "castle." There is a special move involving both the rook and the King. It is the only time you can move two pieces in the same turn.Apart from the pawn's en passant move, one other special move is castling. That's when your rook and your king exchange places -- it shelters the king and gets your rook developed and ready to join the action. It is generally useful to have your king castled.
    • You can use your castle only if :
      • Neither the King or the Rook to be castled have moved.
      • The King is not under check.
      • There are no pieces between the King and the rook.
      • When your enemy pieces do not control the squares between the final castled position and the uncastled position
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    • In one turn, you move both your king and your rook. If castling towards the King side, your king moves two spaces right and your rook is placed right next to the king, (having moved two spaces) If castling towards the Queenside, your king moves two spaces left and your rook is placed next to the king(having moved three spaces right).
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    Win the game by checkmating your opponent's king. That means you've got the king in check but this time there's no escape. When this happens, saying, "Checkmate!" is acceptable, but not necessary. At this point your opponent taps over his king so that it falls and signals defeat.
    • Stalemates do happen -- where the game basically ends in a draw. It's when you can get your king is neither in check, nor has any safe squares to move to.
    • There are a few other ways by which a game can end in a draw.
      • By agreement. If both players agree that they can no longer win or see a method to win, they can agree to draw.
      • By repetition. If the same exact position of the chess board, occurs at three different points in a game, the game is declared a draw. For example, if both players just keep moving their Knights back and forth to the same squares, the game will be declared a draw.
      • By the 50 move rule. If neither player makes a pawn move or captures a piece for 50 consecutive moves, the game will be declared as a draw. This prevents player from playing endlessly, or to tire the other player out.
      • By insufficient material. If neither player has sufficient material to checkmate the king, the game is considered a draw. For example, a Knight and a King alone cannot checkmate the lone enemy King.
      • If all other pieces except the kings are captured and are off the board. This is an example of insufficient material and a King cannot checkmate or check the other king all by himself. The game will end as a draw.

Part 3
Incorporating Strategy

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    Use all your pieces. Do not keep moving your Knight around, just because he can give lots of checks. Use your entire army! One of the biggest rookie mistakes is to only using a few of your pieces. When that happens, the rest just end up lagging behind and make for easy captures for your opponent. So keep the board lively, keep your opponent on his toes.
    • In your opening, place a few pawns one or two spaces forward and then start moving the other pieces. This allows more pieces on the first row to pass through and enter the playing field easily, giving you more offensive power.
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    Control the center. Since so many pieces can move about every which way, controlling the center is considered more beneficial than controlling the sides. When you dominate the center, your pieces have more mobility than they had at the edge or the corner. As an example, the knight only has two options to move from a corner, but he has eight options to move from a central square! Dominate the center as quickly as you can.
    • It's for this reason that many people have their middle pawns start off the game. Just make sure you don't open up your king for an early checkmate by a well-placed bishop or a queen!
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    Don't give your pieces away needlessly. This is pretty obvious, yet many players hang their pieces, even grandmasters as well! If you must give them away, have them be in a trade. Never just relinquish one mindlessly -- they're all valuable, whether it is a pawn or a queen. There is a point system, if you're curious. The more valuable they are, the more points they're worth:[1]
    • Pawns are worth 1 point
    • Knights are worth 3 points
    • Bishops are worth 3 points
    • Rooks are worth 5 points
    • Queens are worth 9 points
      • Kings are invaluable because if you lose your king, you lose the game.
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    Protect your king. This is something you should pay special attention to. If you do nothing else -- if you aren't one much for doing the attacking -- you have to protect your king. Get him in the corner by castling, set up a fortress of pieces around him, make sure to give him a square to run, in case your opponent does manage to give you a check. You want to get your opponent fleeing rather than attacking as soon as possible.
    • He can do very little on his own, yet he can hold his own. In the starting and the middle phases of the game, he almost always needs at least one or two pieces to watch out for any checks. However in the end stages of the game, when only a couple of pieces and few pawns are left on the board, the King then becomes a fighting piece and should be centralized.


  • Be sure to watch your opponent's moves carefully. They determine what moves you do, not what plan you would like to fulfill in your head.
  • You can consider yourself fully developed, if your King is castled, your Bishops and Knights are not on their home squares and your rooks are connected.
  • Always remember to have many advanced pieces in the middle of the board. The more pawns you leave behind, the better to defend your king with.
  • Do not get frustrated if you lose a lot. Chess takes time and many masters have had an experience of over 10 years!
  • Make your pawn moves wisely. Unlike other pieces, pawns do not have the luxury of retreating to a square they once were on. They are largely static and can determine the style of play.
  • None of the playing guidelines are set in stone There is no specific way to win at chess.
  • Don't look for a quick checkmate. There's a good chance that you opponent will punish you for trying to checkmate them quickly.
  • Learn from your mistakes. You are bound to make mistakes as a novice. Even top level grandmasters make blunders and lose games.
  • The central four squares are the best place to have your pieces because they can make more moves toward the center of the board than near the edges. By increasing the number of moves you can make, you also limit your opponents options.
  • Learn some chess traps so you can use sneak attacks and avoid the trap if someone else tries to be sneaky!
  • Sometimes, castling can be a disastrous move ending in checkmate. At other times castling may Checkmate your opponent! Judge the position and make your best move.


  • Speed chess is not for beginners. It is difficult, competitive, and extremely frustrating for those who are new to the game.
  • Chess pieces can be hazardous for little children if swallowed.

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Categories: Chess