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How To Play Chess (Part 1): Understanding the Board and Pieces

How To Play Chess (Part 1): Understanding the Board and Pieces

Jul 25, 2017, 4:00 PM 0

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.

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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).
    • Pawn promotion, occurs when your pawn has marched all the way across the board to the 8th (or 1st) rank.
  • 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.

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