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How to Play Chess

Five Parts:Understanding the Board and PiecesKnowing How to WinPlaying the GameUtilizing StrategyKnowing the Special Moves

Chess is a very popular game and is widely accepted as one of the oldest games still played. Although it has a set of easily comprehended rules, it requires a lot of practice to win against skilled opponents. To win, a player must use his pieces to create a situation where the opponent's King is unable to avoid capture (a condition known as checkmate). If you're ready to take on this highly strategic game of skill, see Step 1 below.


Chess Help

Chess Rule Sheet

Chessboard Diagram

Part 1
Understanding the Board and Pieces

The board is an 8x8 grid and each space is uniquely identified by a letter followed by a number using a notation called the rank and file system. Each piece has a specific name, an abbreviation (in chess notation), and specific move capabilities. Here, we'll explore the board, then each piece one by one. If you already know the basics, skip to the next section.

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    Position the board correctly. The orientation of the board is important for proper play. When positioned properly, each player will have a black square in the lower left corner.
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    Place the rooks on the corners of the board. This piece is also known as the castle. It is abbreviated as "R" in notation and starts on a1, h1, a8, h8. Those are the corners in the rank and file system.
    • How do they move? Rooks may move any number of vacant squares vertically or horizontally. If an opponent's piece blocks the path, that piece may be captured by moving the rook into the occupied square.
    • Pieces cannot be jumped (except when castling). If your piece is on your rook's path, your rook must stop before it.
    • Castling is a special move, detailed below.
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    Place your knights next to your rooks. This is the horse piece. In notation, it's referred to as "N" ("Kt" for older texts). Technically speaking, it starts on b1, g1, b8, g8.
    • How do they move? Knights are the only pieces that can jump over other pieces. They move in an "L" shaped pattern. That is, two squares horizontally or vertically and then one square perpendicular to that. For example, a knight may move two spaces horizontally and one space vertically, and vice versa.
    • The knight cannot be blocked, and only captures pieces that it lands on. In other words, you can "jump" over all the pieces blocking the knight, and capture a piece as you land.
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    Place your bishops next to your knights. In notation, they're referred to as "B." They start on c1, f1, c8, f8.
    • How do they move? Bishops may move any number of vacant squares in any diagonal direction. Like rooks, they may capture an opponent's piece within its path.
    • The bishop can only proceed, land, and capture diagonally on the same color squares as it starts on before the game.
    • Just like rooks, if your piece is in their path, they must stop before it. If it's your opponent's piece, you may land on that spot, making a capture.
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    Place the Queen in the center on her color. The positions for black and white are mirrored. If you're white, your Queen will be on your 4th square from the left. If you're black, she'll be on the 5th spot from your left. This is, technically, d1, d8. d1 is a white square (for the white Queen); d8 is a black square (for the black Queen).
    • How do they move? Queens can be thought of as the rook and bishop combined -- the most powerful piece on the board. Queens can move any number of vacant squares diagonally, horizontally, or vertically.
    • Attacking with a Queen is the same as with rooks and bishops. That is, you take an opponent's piece that lies within its path by moving to that piece's spot.
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    Place your King in the last empty spot in that row. This piece is notated as "K" and starts on e1, e8.
    • How do they move? Kings can move exactly one space in any direction and can attack any piece except the opponent's King and Queen (it cannot go near it or else it would result in check).
    • Kings are not offensive pieces. This is the piece you want to protect with the others.
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    Place your pawns in the row in front of your other pieces. Pawns are denoted by the absence of a letter and take up the eight spots in front, forming a shield to your larger pieces.
    • How do they move? Well, they normally only move forward one space. However, the first time it is moved, it may move forward one or two spaces.
    • If another piece is in front of it, the pawn may not move or capture that piece.
    • Pawns may only attack a target if the target is one space diagonally forward from the pawn (i.e. up one square and one square to the right or left).
    • There is a special move that is sometimes encountered, called en passant (in passing). (See below).
    • Pawn promotion, detailed below, occurs when your pawn has marched all the way across the board to the 8th (or 1st) rank.
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    If you'd like, learn the rank and file system. This is not necessary, but makes it easier to visualize moves and talk about moves, especially in chess literature and on websites. Also, when your opponent wasn't paying attention and says, "Where did you go?", you can respond with "Rook to a4 (Ra4)." Here's how it works:
    • The files are the columns; they go up and down. From left to right, they are a-h. They are based on white's side.
    • The ranks are the rows; they are horizontal. From bottom to top, they are 1-8. All of white's main pieces start at the 1 position (1st rank); black's main pieces start at the 8 position (8th rank).
    • It is an excellent learning habit to notate your game, writing down the square you and your opponent moved to on a sheet of paper. You can only do so if you know your files and ranks.

Part 2
Knowing How to Win

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    Understand the object of the game and how it's achieved. To win, you need to checkmate your opponent's King. This means to get his King in a position where he will be captured no matter what -- he cannot move and no other piece can protect him. Checkmate — that is, the end of the game — can happen in three moves or it can happen in 300. Most longer games are different.
    • The secondary goal is to get rid of all your opponent's pieces (thus making checkmate easier). You capture pieces by landing on the square they occupy.
    • This is all going on while you're protecting your own King, obviously.
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    Know how to put your opponent's King in "check." This is like checkmate-lite. That means the on next move you could've captured him, but he can still flee or another piece can move to defend him. The game isn't won, but it certainly looks like it's in your favor.
    • When this happens, be sure to verbally say "Check." Your opponent must then do one of the following:
      • Avoid the check by moving their King to any vacant square not attacked by another piece.
      • Block the check by placing any piece between your piece and their king.
      • Capture your piece that is putting the king in check with any of their pieces (including the king himself).
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    Know that you can not put yourself in check. In other words, you cannot make a move that exposes your King to capture on the next turn. This means you cannot move your King into an area an opponent's piece can move to the next turn. You also cannot unblock your King from attack, that is, move a piece that would expose your King to direct attack.

Part 3
Playing the Game

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    Set up the chess board. Use the positions described in the first section on a 64-square, 8x8 board. If you don't have one, guess what? With wikiHow, you can make your own.
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    Start the game. The player with white pieces begins the game by moving one piece as described above. Turn then passes to black. Regardless of the moves, players always take turns. There is no doubling up or skipping.
    • If this is your first game, choose who gets white by a flip of a coin or, if both players are good sports, whoever is the weaker player. Generally speaking, white has a slight advantage.[1]
    • If it's not your first game, the player who lost the previous game should play white.
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    Capture an opponent's piece by moving a piece into an occupied square. The captured piece is then removed from the board and does not return for the remainder of the game.
    • If we're getting serious, a player has to move a piece once he's touched it. If he only wants to adjust it, he must announce "adjust" before he places his hand on the piece.[2]
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    Continue play with each player moving one piece per turn until the game ends. Making a move is compulsory; it is not legal to "pass", even when having to move is detrimental. Play continues until a King is checkmated or a draw occurs. Draws can occur in five scenarios:[2]
    • Stalemate (The king is not in check but cannot move anywhere, and there are no other pieces left)
    • Insufficient material (The pieces on the board cannot checkmate at all, so no side will win nor lose)
    • Threefold repetition (A position has been repeated three times, such as players moving pieces back and forth)
    • Fifty-move rule (Fifty moves have occurred since the last piece capture or pawn move)
    • Agreement (Players reach a consensus and agree to a draw)
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    End the game with a checkmate. Apart from a stalemate, checkmate must happen to end the game -- where either your King or your opponent's King cannot be rescued. Whoever accomplishes checkmate should say "Checkmate!" to ensure both players are aware the game is over. Let's explore the concept of "check" and "checkmate" a bit more:
    • Do one of the following to get out of check (your King is only threatened):
      • Take the piece threatening your king. You can do this with another piece or take it with your King directly (if the piece is not protected).
      • Move your King out of the range of the attacking piece.
      • Block the piece threatening your king with another piece.
    • If you cannot get your King out of check, this is a checkmate and the game ends with your opponent winning. If their King is in checkmate, you've won.

Part 4
Utilizing Strategy

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    Know the relative value of each piece:
    • Pawn - 1 point
    • Knight - 3 points
    • Bishop - 3.5 points
    • Rook - 5 points
    • Queen - 9 points
    • When assessing the current status in the game, compare the total point value of all the captured pieces on each side. It is quickest to pair like pieces (bishop for bishop) and so forth. Then, the left over pieces will show who has the current disadvantage and by how much.
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    Understand the individual strengths of each piece and best practices for positioning. Generally, pieces are the strongest in the center of the board where they command the most real estate.
    • Pawns are strongest together, such as in chains (diagonal lines of pawns). Try not to break this formation unless there is a clear, overriding advantage to be had by doing so.
    • Knights are weakest near the edge of the board.
      • The maximum number of spaces a knight can control is eight. If the knight is next to the edge of the board, the number of spaces is cut in half to four. Likewise, if the knight is positioned in the row or column one away from the board edge, the knight's power is reduced to 75% of maximum - it controls six spaces.
      • You may not miss the power of the knight right away but if you move a knight near the edge of the board, you will often find yourself wasting a move to re-position the knight closer to the action which is usually near the center of the board.
    • Bishops are strongest on the long diagonals (major diagonals) where they command the most space. It is really not necessary that the bishops be positioned right in the middle of the board where they are absolutely the strongest in terms of the number of spaces controlled.
      • Realize that the bishop's power can be throttled by the opponent placing a protected piece along a diagonal controlled by your bishop. On the other hand, that piece is pinned in that position if the piece it is protecting is of high value.
    • Rooks are most powerful on open files. Position rooks on columns that contain none of your pawns. Rooks are also most powerful when controlling the 7th rank for white (2nd rank for black), but only if the opposing King is on its starting rank.
    • Queens have the most power when commanding the center of the board. On the other hand, they are in the most danger there as well. It is often good strategy to keep the queen one move away from this position and to not shield or block the queen's might excessively with your own pieces.
    • Kings should always be protected. They are best shielded by lower value pieces.
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    Aim to control the center of the board. As deduced from the optimal piece positionings detailed above, pieces near the center of the board are at their most powerful. Usually, the game is a fight for control of the center and, when you're in the center, your opponent has far fewer "good" places to choose from. You have power that can expand in either direction -- he'll be relegated to the side, constantly putting him on the defensive.
    • Pawns can help with this. While your more powerful pieces are attacking, a pawn or two can maintain control in the center. See? They are useful.
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    Have a strong opening. This will likely determine the rest of the game. A weak opening automatically puts you at a disadvantage for the rest of the game. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
    • Usually, you'll be best off opening with the d or e pawn (4th or 5th). That opens up the center of the board.
    • Make only a couple of pawn moves at the start. You want to get your more powerful pieces out as soon as possible.
    • Get your knights out and then your bishops. Knights range is limited. It often takes several hops to get them into the fray. (Bishops, rooks, and queens can swoop the entire length of the board, whereas the lowly pawn must trudge space by space.) Sometimes, it is less obvious what effect moving a knight might have, so their attack is often stealthiest.
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    Use all of your pieces. If your rook is sitting back there in the corner, you are wasting powerful ammo. The beauty of chess is that no one piece can win the game -- you need a team of pieces to bombard your opponent's King. So capture each piece- including your opponent's king!
    • This is especially important if you're playing a skilled player. It's pretty easy to thwart one piece; it's possible to thwart two, but it's incredibly hard to get out of a three-spot.
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    Never forget to protect your King. Yes, it's important to capture pieces. Yes, it's important to checkmate your opponent's King. But at the end of the day, if your King is unprotected, you'll get checkmated, the game will be over, and that offense you were running will be entirely useless. So while you're strategizing in the front, remember what's going on in the back!
    • Chess is so fun because you have to think about half a dozen things at once. You have to protect your King while your other pieces are planning two moves in advance. You have to predict where your opponent is going to all the while reading what they're doing now and not letting your own get captured. Once you get the hang of it, you'll be able to do all of these things at once without batting an eye.
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    Always think a couple of moves ahead. If your opponent made a move, there's a reason why. He's setting something up. He's eying a potential attack. What is he doing? What is he aiming for? Try your best to read this so you can circumnavigate his actions and thwart his plan.
    • Same goes for you, you know. Maybe you can't capture a pawn on this move, but what move can you make now to set yourself up in your next move, or maybe the move after that? This isn't your normal board game -- every move you make now affects the moves you make in the future.
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    Never give up pieces needlessly. When your opponent makes a move and doesn't take one of your pieces, take a second to scan the board. Is he in a position to take one of your pieces? If so, don't allow it! Move that piece out of the way or to threaten another piece of your opponent's. Or, what's better, capture that threatening piece yourself! Never just let a piece go.
    • Unless it's all part of strategy, of course. If you're using a piece as bait to draw your opponent to a specific area of the board, totally let that piece go. As long as you're planning something more devious yourself!
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    Try for a speedy checkmate. Did you know you can checkmate your opponent in as little as two moves? There's very specific instructions for a win in two, three, and four moves and, of course, all will leave your opponent scratching his or her head. If you're curious, here's a few wikiHow articles to read up on:

Part 5
Knowing the Special Moves

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    Use the "en passant" rule for pawns. En passant (from French: "in [the pawn's] passing") is a special capture made by a pawn. It happens immediately after a player moves a pawn two squares forward from its starting position, and an opposing pawn could have captured it if it had only moved one square forward. In this situation, the opposing pawn may, on the immediately subsequent move, capture the pawn as if taking it "as it passes" through the first square.
    • The resulting position would then be the same as if the pawn had only moved one square forward and the opposing pawn had captured normally. En passant must be done on the very next turn, or the right to do so is lost. - It is "now or never."
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    Promote your pawns. If a pawn reaches the 8th rank (or 1st rank if you are black), or the other side of the board, it can be promoted to a knight, bishop, rook, or Queen. It cannot stay as a pawn or be promoted to another King. Quite obviously, this is very, very good if you can manage it.
    • To indicate pawn promotion in chess notation, write the square that it moves to (e.g., c8). Then you put an equals sign (e.g., c8=). Then put the abbreviation for the piece that you want it to promote it to (e.g., c8=R).
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    Use castling for rooks and Kings that have not moved from their original position. This is used to get your King out of the center, where it is most vulnerable. To castle, you move your King two squares to the left or right, then your rook jumps from the corner square over the King to the next square. You cannot castle if:
    • There are pieces between the King and rook.
    • The King is in check, or it will have to go through check or into check to castle.
    • The King or rook has already moved in the game.
    • The rook is not on the same rank as the King (prevents castling with a promoted pawn).


  • The Queen is the important attacker because it has both the powers of the bishop and rook. It can move horizontally, vertically and diagonally. So watch your Queen and don't let her get captured without taking at least as much point value in return.
  • When the opponent moves a piece; see if any of your pieces are in danger.
  • Practice every day so that you can get better.
  • The best, and really only, way to learn and improve your game is to play. Against others, or even against yourself.
  • The pawn (soldier) can move two spaces forward only at the start (for its first move).
  • Think in two modes - attack or defend.
  • The pawns are the least valuable unit. However, don't be careless about them because they are important defenders, and each pawn can be promoted if it reaches the enemy's back row.
  • Announcing "check" when you attack the enemy King is not required under the rules, but is a courtesy in casual games.
  • You cannot move your pawn back. It only moves forward and diagonally, when attacking.

Things You'll Need

  • Chess board and pieces
  • Opponent or computer

Article Info

Categories: Chess