chess board set up

Learn How to Play Chess: The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide

Beginner, History By Feb 17, 2023 51 Comments

Chess is a classic board game that is played by two players on a square board consisting of 64 squares of alternating colors. The goal of the game is to put your opponent’s king in a position where it cannot escape capture, which is called “checkmate.” Here’s how to play:

1. Set up the chessboard

The board should be set up with a white square in the lower right corner. Each player starts with 16 pieces: one king, one queen, two rooks, two knights, two bishops, and eight pawns. The pieces are placed on the board as follows:

  • The rooks go on the corners.
  • The knights go next to the rooks.
  • The bishops go next to the knights.
  • The queen goes on her own color, so a white queen goes on a white square and a black queen goes on a black square.
  • The king goes on the remaining square next to the queen.
  • The pawns are placed on the second row for each player.

Here’s a visual representation of the starting position of the pieces on the board:

2. Learn the pieces

Each piece moves in a different way, so it’s important to understand how each one works. Here’s a brief overview:

  • Pawns can move one or two squares forward on their first move and one square forward on subsequent moves. They can capture an opponent’s piece by moving diagonally one square forward.
  • Rooks can move any number of squares horizontally or vertically.
  • Knights move in an L-shape: two squares in one direction and then one square at a right angle.
  • Bishops move any number of squares diagonally.
  • The queen can move any number of squares horizontally, vertically, or diagonally.
  • The king can move one square in any direction.

3. Start the game

White goes first. Each player takes turns moving their pieces until one player is in checkmate, or the game ends in a draw.

Can you skip a move or pass your turn?

In the standard rules of chess, you cannot pass your move. A player is required to make a legal move with one of their pieces on their turn, even if the move is not desirable or is disadvantageous.

4. Capture pieces

If one of your pieces lands on a square occupied by your opponent’s piece, you capture their piece and remove it from the board.

5. Check and checkmate

If you put your opponent’s king in a position where it is under attack (i.e. in “check”), they must get out of check on their next move. If they can’t get out of check, then they are in checkmate and the game is over.

6. Special moves

There are a few special moves in chess that you should be aware of, such as castling, en passant, and promotion. You can learn more about these moves as you gain more experience playing the game.


Castling is a move that allows the king to be moved two squares towards a rook on the same row, and then the rook is moved to the square over which the king crossed. This is the only move in chess where two pieces are moved in the same turn. Castling can only occur if:

  • The king and rook involved in the move have not yet moved in the game.
  • There are no pieces between the king and the rook involved in the move.
  • The king is not in check, and it doesn’t move through or land on a square that is under attack by an enemy piece.

En Passant

En Passant is a move that can only be made by a pawn. It can occur when a pawn moves two squares on its first move and lands adjacent to an enemy pawn on its fifth rank. The enemy pawn can then capture the first pawn “en passant” (in passing) by moving diagonally to the square the first pawn crossed over.


If a pawn reaches the opponent’s back rank (eighth rank) it can be promoted to a more powerful piece: queen, rook, bishop, or knight. The pawn is replaced by the chosen piece, and the promotion is complete.

It’s important to note that these special moves have specific rules and conditions that must be met before they can be used. It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with these moves and practice them before using them in a game.

Can a pawn promote to a king?

No, a pawn cannot promote to a king in chess. When a pawn reaches the opposite end of the board (the eighth rank for White and the first rank for Black), it can be promoted to a queen, rook, bishop, or knight, but not a king.

Promotion is a special rule in chess that allows a pawn to be exchanged for a more powerful piece when it reaches the end of the board. The player can choose any piece except a king to promote the pawn, and the newly promoted piece is placed on the square that the pawn reached.

Promotion is a powerful tactic in chess, as it can lead to a sudden increase in the player’s material strength and help to secure a win or draw.

7. Draw

A draw occurs when neither player can checkmate the opponent’s king or when both players agree to a tie. A draw can also occur when there are not enough pieces on the board to force a checkmate, or when the same position is repeated three times (this is called a “threefold repetition”). Another situation that results in a draw is when 50 moves are played by each player without a capture or pawn move.

When does a game of chess end?

The game ends when one of the players achieves a checkmate, which means that the opponent’s king is under attack and cannot escape capture. The game also ends when a player resigns, which means that they voluntarily give up and concede the game to the opponent.

Additionally, the game can end in a draw as I explained above. In some cases, the game may be interrupted by external factors such as a player’s violation of the rules, a dispute or disagreement, or a technical problem, and the game can be declared void or replayed.

What is a Stalemate?

Stalemate is a situation in chess where the player who is on the move has no legal moves available and their king is not in check. When a player’s king is not in check, but they cannot make a legal move with any of their pieces, the game is immediately declared a draw due to stalemate.

Stalemate can occur when a player has no moves available to them because their pieces are blocked or trapped, or because their king is confined to a small area of the board with no escape. It is often considered a defensive resource in the endgame, as it can allow a player with a significant material disadvantage to salvage a draw if they can maneuver their pieces into a position where their opponent’s king is stalemated.

Stalemate is different from checkmate, which is a situation where a player’s king is in check and cannot escape capture on the next move, resulting in the end of the game. In stalemate, the game is drawn, but in checkmate, the game is won by the player who has given the checkmate.

That’s a brief overview of how to play chess. It’s a game that takes time to master, so don’t worry if you don’t understand all the nuances right away. The best way to learn is to practice and play with someone who is more experienced than you.

A brief history of chess

The origins of chess are not entirely clear, but the game is believed to have originated in India or Persia (modern-day Iran) around the 6th century AD. The early form of chess was called “chaturanga” and it featured pieces representing the four branches of the Indian military: elephants, horses, chariots, and foot soldiers.

The game spread to the Muslim world and underwent significant changes, including the addition of the queen, which made the game more dynamic and strategic. The game then traveled to Europe through the Byzantine Empire and the Islamic world, where it continued to evolve and gain popularity.

In Europe, the game evolved into the form we know today, with the queen becoming the most powerful piece on the board and the pieces taking on their modern form. The first known modern chess game was played in Spain in 1475.

Over time, chess became more than just a game, and it was seen as a symbol of strategic thinking and intellectual prowess. It became a popular pastime among nobility and was played in courts across Europe. The rules of the game were standardized in the 19th century, and today, chess is played by millions of people around the world and is recognized as a sport by the International Olympic Committee.


Hi there, I'm Sabina, a passionate chess player and author. I've been playing chess for over a decade and have participated in several national and international tournaments. As a woman who loves chess, I feel it's important to encourage and support other women who are interested in the game. That's why I love to write articles that focus on topics such as chess strategy, tactics, and psychology, as well as on the challenges and opportunities of being a female chess player. When I'm not playing chess or writing, I enjoy hiking, cooking, and spending time with my family. I'm excited to share my knowledge and experience with you, and I hope to inspire more women to get involved in the chess community.


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