Chess Rules

The Rules of Chess

The Chess Pieces

The great game of chess has two opposing sides, light colored and dark colored. The two sides are briefly called White and Black. White always goes first. 

For starters, let's go over how many pieces there are in chess, plus the chess piece names.

Each player has 16 pieces:chess pieces

  • 1 King
  • 1 Queen
  • 2 Rooks (or Castles)
  • 2 Bishops
  • 2 Knights
  • 8 Pawns

Would you like a beautiful printed copy of the Chess Rules booklet shown above?

You can request a free copy of The Rules of Chess with any order from Chess House. When learning how to play chess, it's best to practice on this Starter Chess Set. If you go premium, here's the Quality Club Set on Flex Pad that people rate highest.

The Game

The pieces stand on the board until they are captured. Each piece is on its own square, and moves from one square to another.

How Does a Chess Game End?

  • the King of one side is captured, or
  • the contestants agree to a draw issue.

How the Chess Pieces Move

  • The King moves from its square to a neighboring square,
  • the Rook can move in its line or row,
  • the Bishop moves diagonally,
  • the Queen may move like a Rook or a Bishop,
  • the Knight jumps in making the shortest move that is not a straight one, and
  • the Pawn moves one square straight ahead.

But the above moves are only permitted if the square the piece lands on is empty or occupied by a hostile piece.

Times when two pieces move at the same time:

  • When a hostile piece is "captured," (i.e. removed from the board),
  • In "Castling,"
  • Or in "Queening" a pawn.

Moreover, the motion of a Rook, Bishop or Queen stops when they strike an occupied square.

Image of Chess Board Setup


Thus, a Bishop on c1 may go to any square in the diagonal c1, d2, e3, f4, g5, h6 unless one of these squares is occupied;

if e3 is occupied, f4, g5, and h6 are obstructed and the Bishop may not be moved there.

The Rook, Bishop or Queen, however, can "capture" the obstruction, provided it is a hostile piece, by putting the moving piece on the square occupied by the obstruction and removing the latter into the box.

Also, the other pieces, King, Knight and Pawn, may capture hostile men. The King or the Knight, whenever they have the right to move to the square held by a hostile man, the Pawn, however, but not with a diagonal move forward to a neighboring square.

All pieces are subject to capture except the King. Its life is sacred; the player must defend it, it perishes only when no possible resource can save it from capture.

"Checkmate" occurs when a player cannot save his King from capture. When this occurs, the game is over.

The rules listed above are not complete, and are too brief, but they give a vivid impression of the Chess struggle. We shall now explain the chess rules in detail and at length in order to illuminate the various logical consequences that come in to play.

Chess Board Setup

Let's go over how to set up a chess board.


8 Pawns go in second to last row:

Pawns Setup


2 Rooks (Castles) go in the corner:

Image of Rooks setup


2 Knights (not Horses) sit next to Rooks:

Knights Setup


2 Bishops go next to the Knights:

bishop setup


Light Queen sits on a light square:

Image of light queen


Dark Queen sits on a dark square:

Image of dark queen


One square left open for the King:

Image of Kings


The back row should now look like a roof; short to tall.

Image of chess boards setup roof

How the King Moves

The King chess piece may move to any square satisfying the following conditions:

1. A neighbor to the square it occupies.

2. Not occupied by a man of its own party.

3. Not threatened by any hostile piece.

And may violate the first rule only once during the game, namely, in Castling. Otherwise, never.

CastlinG in Chess

In Castling, the King is moved TWO squares to the Right or Left. Also, the Rook closest to where the King has moved is then placed upon the square which the King jumped over. But this move is NOT permitted when:

1. The King is in "Check" (i.e. threatened with capture),

2. The King or Rook has already made a move,

3. The move of the Rook is obstructed, or

4. The King or Rook after Castling would be exposed to capture.

Here is a visual of what was just described:

The White King placed on c2 has only ONE possible move, to b2. It may go there because:

  1. that square is neighbor to c2,
  2. it is not occupied by a man of its own party but a hostile one,
  3. the square b2 is not menaced by any enemy - neither the Black King nor the Black Rook, nor the Black Pawn are presently able to capture a piece on b2.

On the other hand, the White King could make no other move:

  • it cannot move to b1 or d1, on account of the Black Rook,
  • nor to b3 or d3, on account of the Black Pawn,
  • nor to d2 because of the White Pawn standing there,
  • not to c1, where two slayers would await it,
  • nor to c3, which is menaced by Bishop b2 and obstructed by a White Pawn.

It cannot move to other squares because they are not neighbors to its present residence.

The reader may also note that in the above position the Black King has only one possible move, to g7.

On Black's move, his King is "Checked" because it is threatened by the White Queen. The King cannot capture the Queen since g7 is threatened by Pawn f6; the King can go nowhere else because the White Queen threatens its place of refuge; the White Queen cannot be captured by any Black piece. The King can therefore not be saved, the "Check " is a "Mate," "Checkmate"; Black has lost the game.

The two Kings and the four Rooks still stand where they stood at the beginning of the game. Let us suppose that, up until now, none of these pieces has moved. White, if he has the move, can Castle with Rook h1 by placing it on fl and simultaneously jumping with King to g1; or he can Castle with Rook a1 by placing it on d1 and jumping with King to c1. Black, if it is his turn to move, can Castle with Rook as, whereby King and Rook occupy the squares c8, d8 respectively. But he cannot Castle with Rook h8, because the White Queen would attack the Rook after Castling and therefore Castling is illegal.

In practice the player will be well advised always to move the K first and then his R when making this move.

How the Rook (Castle) Moves

The Rook at c2 has the following possible moves: to b2, d2, e2, f2 and capture of g2.

It cannot go to c1 or c3 because it is under obligation to guard its King against the White Rook g2.

The Rook c4 can go to a4 or b4 or d4 or capture e4 but cannot capture f4 because Rook e4 is an obstruction; it may also go to c8, c7, c6, c5 or c3 but not to c2 or c1 owing to the obstruction of Rook c2.

The Rook e4 has only two squares open to it, d4 and c4, and the Rook g2 no less than 12 squares, any square of the "g" file and all but two squares of the second row: h2, f2, e2, d2, c2, g1, g3, g4, g5, g6, g7, g8.

The name "Castle" is rarely if ever used in modern chess literature for this piece.


How the Bishop Moves

In this position three Bishops are on the board, c3, c4, f6; also three Rooks, c1, d2, f7, and of course the two Kings - the Kings never being captured - on a1 and g8.

Since the Bishops move diagonally, Bishop c3 can capture f6, and vice versa. But the Bishop c3 cannot capture Rook d2 because the Bishop is forced to protect its King against Bishop f6 by obstruction.

The Bishop c4 can capture Rook f7; this piece is immobile since it is pinned by the Bishop c4.

The number of squares to which in the above position the Bishops might move, is therefore found to be for c4 = 10 (a2, b3, d5, e6, f7, b5, a6 d3, e2, f1); for f6 = 9 (h8, g7, e5, d4, c3, e7, d8, g5, h4); for c3 = 4 (b2, d4, e5, f6).

How the Queen Moves

In this position two Queens, a Rook, a Bishop and the two Kings are on the board. The Black Queen a4 which can move like a Rook or like a Bishop has the following moves at its disposal: to b4, c4, d4, capture on e4, a1, a2, a3, a5, a6, a7, a5, b5. c6, d7, b3, capture of c2.

The White Queen, however, has a very limited range because it is "pinned" by the Rook e8. If the pin would be released it could go to h7 and there, supported by the Bishop c2, Checkmate the King. As it is, the Queen must either capture the Rook e5 or suffer capture by that piece.

How the Knight Moves

Here are four Knights on the board, and a Rook and a Bishop and the two Kings. Two of the Knights are immobile: Knight e2 on account of the Bishop h5 and the Knight g7 because of the Rook g3. They must protect their Kings.

The Knight f5 can move to one of the following squares : e7, d6, d4, e3, g3 (whereby it captures the Rook) h4, h6. The shortest jump on the Chessboard is, namely, to take two squares (in the air) in a line or row and one square perpendicularly. That movement gives Knight f5 eight possibilities, but in the above position, one of these, on the square g7, is taken away by the obstruction of a Knight partisan to Knight f5. The Knight f6 has eight possible moves: it threatens the hostile King, "gives Check," or "Checks," and the King will have to fly, for instance, to f7, in order to save himself.

How the Pawn Moves

Here you see 16 Pawns (all that were in the box), and two Rooks, one Bishop, one Knight, and two Kings. At the beginning of the game the White Pawns are placed on the second row and the Black Pawns on the seventh row; then they move or capture ahead toward the enemy, the White Pawns from below upwards, and the Black Pawns in the opposite direction.

For instance, Pawn d4 may capture e5 and conversely, because the Pawns, though moving ahead in their file, capture obliquely, always advancing towards the enemy.

The above position shows three immobile Pawns, "blocked" Pawns: g3, g4, and f7. Pawn g3 is blocked by g4 because the Pawn does not capture straight ahead but diagonally.

The position shows nine Pawns standing on the squares where they stood at the start of the game: a2, b2 e2, f2, h2, a7, b7, c7, f7; they have not moved yet; the other seven Pawns have advanced during the progress of the game. The Pawn d4 has two possible moves: to advance to d5 or to capture e5. The Pawn c3 has only one possible move: to advance to c4.

About four centuries ago, the rule was introduced that Pawns in their initial position and which are not blocked may advance one or two steps according to the plan of the player. This rule made the game more lively, and therefore the Chess world accepted it over time. For instance, Pawn a2 may advance to a3 or to a4 in one move.

With this rule a difficulty arose. Its object was to accelerate the pace of the Chess events and to add to their variety, but sometimes it betrayed the obvious rights of the opponent.

To illustrate this point, look at the two Pawns f2 and g4. The Pawn g4 stands on guard over f3. If f2 advances to f3, g4 can capture it; thus it had been for many centuries; after the introduction of the new rule, Pawn f2 could evade Pawn g4 by advancing at once to f4 and could then molest Black unpunished. Naturally, the Pawn g4 on guard felt deceived, when the hostile Pawn crept through the advance posts.

There were scenes of hot dispute. It could not be the meaning of the innovation to make the advancing Pawn immune. And finally justice was victorious: the Pawn standing on guard was acceded the right of capture, just as if the Pawn trying to slip through had advanced one step only; but the Pawn on guard cannot defer this movement but must execute it without loss of time as an immediate reply to the attempted advance. If, for instance, in the above position White moves f2-f4 Black may answer g4 captures f3, thus executing his original intention of capturing the Pawn on f3. This species of capture is named "capture in passing" or, with the French expression capture "en passant". If the Pawn, after f2-f4, is not immediately captured by g4 "in passing," it stays unmolested on f4 and has thereafter to contend only with the hostile Pawns of the f and e files.

The Pawns only advancing ahead arrive, in advancing row by row finally to the eighth row where according to the rule they would come to a barrier and would be immobile. Should this signify their death? Should they now become useless after having done their duty and fought their way through the ranks of the enemy? That would not be in keeping with justice. Since in a struggle it is honorable to draw upon oneself the fire of the enemy and to do him harm, the Pawn advancing to the last row is rewarded by becoming an "officer" in its army; it is changed for a Queen, Rook, Bishop or Knight, according to the will of the player; it is promoted to a higher rank since officers have much more mobility and value than Pawns.

If it is White's turn to move here, he may advance Pawn e7 to e8, change it for a Queen and call Mate. If it is Black's turn to move, he can advance f2 to f1, demand a Knight and Checkmate White.

Pawn Promotion

Pawns are the only piece in chess that may promote.

Promotion occurs when the Pawn reaches the opposite side of the board (1st rank for black, 8th rank for white).

In the same turn, the Pawn is removed from the board and is replaced with an extra piece of the promoting player’s choice [see figure 10.1 & 10.2 below], (Queen, Rook, Bishop, or Knight) even if these pieces are already on the board.

This concludes the player’s turn.

Image of pawn promotion

Further Videos