Chess Basics for Beginners

The World of Chess

Chess is one of the earliest forms of strategic board games, with roots dating back to the 6th century. Since then, millions of people have learned, enjoyed, and experimented with various tactics in the game.

Netflix brought Chess to the mainstream in Queen’s Gambit. Interest in the strategic board game has grown significantly in the last several months. This feature series brought chess to the masses and made it more “cool” for people to play! 

This chess guide is for people who are new to the game. I’ll cover the basics to get you started in chess and provide fundamentals to build on! 

The chess pieces

Summary of Chess Pieces

There are 6 types of pieces on a chessboard. You’ll often hear them referred to as “material” in matches, and here’s an overview of each chess piece:

  • Pawn – This is the front line of your chess pieces. Players start with 8 pawns which can only move forward. Each pawn’s first move can go either one or two spaces forward. After this first move, you are only allowed to move the pawn one space forward. The pawns capture diagonally, with the exception of En Passant. If you advance your pawn all the way to the opposite side of the board, players are allowed to promote the pawn to any piece of their choosing, besides a king. Typically, the pawn is promoted to a queen, but will occasionally be promoted to another piece to avoid ending the game in a stalemate.
  • Knight – Knights and bishops are known as “minor pieces”. A knight in chess is unique. It’s the only piece that can jump over other pieces, which makes it especially deadly in the center of the board. The knight moves, and captures, one space forward + one space on a diagonal. Alternatively, you can think of this piece as moving two spaces in one direction and then one space adjacent to that intermediate position, forming an L shape. There are two knights on either side of the board.
  • Bishop – There are also two bishops for each side. This chess piece moves diagonally and captures along that diagonal. Both sides have a bishop which starts on a light square and a dark square. The light square bishop will only capture pieces on light squares, and the dark square bishop captures on dark squares.
  • Rook – A rook is a “major piece” in chess. Each side has two rooks, which move and capture horizontally or vertically in straight lines along the board. Rooks are only blocked by their own pieces. Otherwise, they have no limit to the distance at which they can capture an enemy piece.
  • Queen – The queen is the second “major piece” and each side has only one queen. Queens are the most powerful pieces in chess, able to move in any direction until it reaches another piece. Think of a queen like a rook combined with a bishop. A queen captures a piece on whatever square it lands on and is highly valuable in creating your attack.
  • King – The king is the most important piece in chess. If your king is unable to escape capture, known as ‘checkmate’, you will lose the game. Each side has one king which can move one space in any direction, with the exception of castling (more on castling later). The king captures on whatever square it lands on.

As you get more advanced in your chess game, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with additional terms. Fork, Skewer, Pin, and Double Attack will become staples of your chess vocabulary. For now, just understand the basics of the chess pieces before starting your chess journey!

Setting sup the chess board

The Chessboard

The chessboard is simple – an 8 x 8 grid of alternating light and dark squares. Only one piece can be on a square at any given time. 

On a chessboard, there are ‘ranks’ and ‘files’ to notate the location of each square. Files are aligned across the board, from one player to the other. Ranks run perpendicular to Files, from left to right.

File columns have letter annotations – A through H – while Rank rows have numbers, from 1 to 8. Each square on the chessboard has a combination of a number and a letter. This means you can identify the location of a piece such as B2 or F6.

To set up the chessboard, remember that the white pieces belong in Ranks 1 and 2, and the black pieces start on Ranks 7 and 8. Arrange the pawns across the 2 and 7 Ranks. White pawns are placed from A2 thru H2, and black pawns are placed on A7 thru H7.

Next, we have the rooks in the four corners of the board – A1, H1, A8, and H8. Moving toward the middle of the board in Rank 1 and Rank 8, you have knights on the side of the rook, followed by the bishop.

In the center two Files, you’ll place the king and queen. Place the king on the opposite color square as the color of the piece – white king on the dark square and black king on the light square – in File E. In chess, the queen starts in File D. 

Once you’ve set up your chessboard, you’re ready to begin play!

Basics of Chess Openings

In the early stages of the game, you’ll want to set yourself up for later turns where your pieces are in control of more space than your opponent. This means you have more squares controlled than your opponent.

Additionally, you’ll want to avoid leaving any of your pieces undefended, which could result in the other side capturing a piece for free.

Here are 5 steps to having a strong opening in chess:

  1. Gain control of the center – The center of the chessboard is vital in setting up attacks on the opposing pieces. These four squares – D4, E4, D5, and E5 – are vital to gain control of in the early part of the game. Typically, you’ll use a combination of your pawns and knights to control the center of the board.
  2. Develop minor pieces – Once you’ve established some presence in the center of the board, you should look to move your knights and bishops. In many chess openings, you’ll move at least one of your knights first, but there are some tactics that require sending out a bishop once your pawns have moved out of their way.
  3. Castle – As mentioned before, the safety of the king is critical for a strong chess strategy. When you castle your king, you move it two spaces toward one of your rooks, and the rook moves toward the center of the board, on the other side of your king. This all happens in one turn, placing your king on the C or G File depending on if you decide to castle on the kingside or queenside of the board. Consequently, your rook will end up on the D or F File, respectively. There are many rules to castling, so I’ll break that out later in this guide.
  4. Finish development – When your king is safe, then you can begin moving your major pieces. Advancing the queen should make this very strong piece more active in the game, as well as connecting your rooks on a Rank. Next, move your rooks toward the middle of the board and look for an opportunity to double up your rooks on a File for a future attacking opportunity. 
  5. Start the attack – Now is the time to look for opposing pieces to attack and trade material. In a future chess guide, we’ll look at specific attack strategies, but for now, just try to identify weaknesses in your opponent’s pieces. This means any piece where you have more attacking pieces than they have defending. Especially be on the lookout for undefended pieces that have no protection!
Winning pieces

For beginners, you’ll want to think about moving a chess piece only one time in your opening. A common mistake that new players run into is retreating a piece for multiple turns while your opponent develops her pieces. Your forward pieces should be defended by another piece to avoid this trap.

Castle Rules in Chess

You already know that castling is paramount to protecting your king, but there are many nuances to understand before you try to castle.

First, you are only able to castle if this is your king’s first move. This means if your king previously moved to avoid a check, castling is no longer an option.

Similarly, the rook that you want to castle with must not have moved yet in order to have a legal castle. This is less common an occurrence but is important to remember.

Next, you can’t have any pieces between your king and the rook that you want to castle with. You’ll notice that I suggest developing your minor pieces early in the chess openings basics. In addition to giving you more control over the board, it also frees up space to castle your king!

To compliment the first rule, your king can not castle to avoid check. Similarly, the king can not end up in check after castling. 

Finally, your king can not pass through a square that is under attack by an enemy piece. For a king-side castle, this means F1 (for white) or F8 (for black) must not be under attack by the opposing player. On the queen-side castle, C1 or C8 must not be under attack.

Keep these castle rules in mind when planning your strategy to protect the king!

A common chess opening

Basics of Chess Endgame

Winning the match is a matter of putting the opposing player in checkmate. In this position, the king is threatened by capture and the piece has no way to avoid being captured.

The chess middle game involves winning and trading pieces then culminates with fewer pieces on the board. There are some sneaky traps that allow for an early checkmate, however, it’s more likely that you would have made dozens of moves before reaching the end of the match.

In an endgame, you want to put pressure on the opponent’s king while advancing your remaining pawns toward a promotion. Try to move your own king to a square that is defended by another piece or will be difficult for your opponent to reach. 

Most chess games end in checkmate or one side resigning, but there’s also the rare occurrence of a stalemate. In a stalemate, a king is not in check – ie., under attack by another piece – but has no legal moves. This scenario means the game ends in a draw, with neither side winning or losing. 

Improving Your Game

With these chess basics in mind, you’re ready to begin playing some matches! Take time to understand how the pieces move, the key steps in a chess opening, and how to set yourself up for a win.

You can practice virtually on sites like chess.com or lichess.org, and it can benefit players to pick up a physical chessboard. This way, you can hold the pieces and feel more connected with the strategy that you envision.

Play against friends and strangers, get comfortable with the basics of chess, and then start learning more advanced techniques. Soon, you’ll be able to more easily anticipate your opponent’s moves and plan your turns further out in the game.

Any other tips for chess beginners? Leave us your recommendations in the comments section!

6 Comments
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That Guy
That Guy
3 years ago

Fire tips my dude!!! When you dropping that tic tac toe tutorial!?

Last edited 3 years ago by Def.Not.A.Bot
Two Average Gamers
Reply to  That Guy
3 years ago

Thanks guy, tic tac toe on the way some time this decade!

Frank
Frank
3 years ago

Thanks for this great write up! I am looking to really get into the game more and appreciate informative articles such as this.

Two Average Gamers
Reply to  Frank
3 years ago

Appreciate that Frank! Keep us posted about your journey!

Sean
Sean
3 years ago

Great tips, thanks for breaking it down in a simple explanation!

Two Average Gamers
Reply to  Sean
3 years ago

Thanks Sean, glad to help and we appreciate the support!

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