Chess: Pieces

Apr 15, 2010, 3:19 PM |

I'm creating this for a couple of my friends and others that are new to chess.

This is just to cover the basics of each piece. As well, with facts on each of the pieces there will be a video that explains it visually.

1. Pawns

The pawn is the most numerous and (in most circumstances) the weakest piece in the game of chess, representing infantry, or more particularly armed peasants or pikemen. Each player begins the game with eight pawns, one on each square of the second rank from the view of the player.

Movement: Pawns are unusual in movement and use. Unlike all the other pieces, pawns may not move backwards. Normally a pawn moves by advancing a single square, but the first time each pawn is moved from its initial position, it has the option to advance two squares. Pawns may not use the initial two-square advance to jump over an occupied square, or to capture. Any piece directly in front of a pawn, friend or foe, blocks its advance.

Capturing: Unlike other pieces, the pawn does not capture in the same way as it moves. A pawn captures diagonally, one square forward and to the left or right.

Promotion: A pawn that advances all the way to the opposite side of the board (the opposing player's first rank) is promoted to another piece of that player's choice of a queen, rook, bishop, or knight of the same color. The pawn is immediately (before the opposing player's next move) replaced by the new piece. The choice of promotion is not limited to captured pieces. It is both legal and possible for one player to simultaneously have as many as ten knights, ten bishops, ten rooks or nine queens.

Strategy: The pawn structure(or the way a player sets up his/her pawns) mostly determines the strategic flavor of a game. While other pieces can usually be regrouped more favorably if they are temporarily badly placed, a poorly placed pawn cannot retreat to a more favorable position. Because pawns capture diagonally and can be blocked from moving straight forward, opposing pawns often become locked in diagonal pawn chains of two or more pawns of each color, where each player controls squares of one color.

Isolated Pawn: Pawns on adjacent files can support each other in attack and defense. A pawn which has no friendly pawns in adjacent files is an isolated pawn. The square in front of an isolated pawn may become an enduring weakness.

Passed Pawn: A pawn which cannot be blocked or captured by enemy pawns in its advance to promotion is a passed pawn.

Double Pawn: After a capture with a pawn, a player may end up with two pawns on the same file, called doubled pawns. Doubled pawns are substantially weaker than pawns which are side by side, because they cannot defend each other, and the front pawn blocks the advance of the back one.

2. Knight

The knight is a piece in the game of chess, representing a knight (armoured cavalry). It is normally represented by a horse's head, leading some to refer to it informally as a "horse". Each player starts with two knights, which start on the rank closest to the player.

Movement/Capturing: The knight move is unusual among chess pieces. When it moves, it can move two squares horizontally and one square vertically, or two squares vertically and one square horizontally. The complete move therefore looks like the letter 'L'. Unlike all other standard chess pieces, the knight can 'jump over' all other pawns and pieces (of either color) to its destination square. It captures an enemy piece by moving into its square. The knight's ability to 'jump over' other pieces means it is at its most powerful in closed positions. The move is one of the longest-surviving moves in chess, having remained unchanged since before the seventh century AD. Because of this it also appears in most chess-related national games. The knight moves alternately to white and black squares.

Strategy: The knight is the only piece that can be in position to attack a king, queen, bishop, or rook without being reciprocally attacked by that piece. The knight is thus especially well-suited for executing a fork (a tactic that uses one piece to attack two or more of the opponent's pieces at the same time).

3. Bishop

A bishop is a piece in the board game of chess. Each player begins the game with two bishops. One starts between the king's knight and the king, the other between the queen's knight and the queen.

Movement/Capturing:The bishop has no restrictions in distance for each move, but is limited to diagonal movement. Bishops, like all other pieces except the Knight, cannot jump over other pieces. A bishop captures by occupying the square on which an enemy piece sits.

The bishops may be differentiated according to which wing they begin on, i.e. the king's bishop and queen's bishop. As a consequence of its diagonal movement, each bishop always remains on either the white or black squares, and so it is also common to refer to them as light-squared or dark-squared bishops.

Good and Bad Bishop: A player with only one bishop should generally place his pawns on squares of the color that the bishop cannot move to. This allows the player to control squares of both colors, allows the bishop to move freely among the pawns, and helps fix enemy pawns on squares on which they can be attacked by the bishop. Such a bishop is often referred to as a "good" bishop.

Conversely, a bishop which is impeded by friendly pawns is often referred to as a "bad bishop" (or sometimes, disparagingly, a "tall pawn"). However, a "bad" bishop need not always be a weakness, especially if it is outside its own pawn chains.

Fianchetto: A bishop may be fianchettoed, for example after moving the g2 pawn to g3 and the bishop on f1 to g2. This can form a strong defense for the castled  king on g1 and the bishop can often exert strong pressure on the long diagonal. A fianchettoed bishop should generally not be given up lightly, since the resulting holes in the pawn formation may prove to be serious weaknesses, particularly if the king has castled on that side of the board.

4. Rook

A rook is a piece in the strategy board game of chess. The piece has been called the castle, tower, marquess, rector, and comes, and is still sometimes popularly (but not under official chess terminology) called a "castle". Using the rook in a specialized double-movement with the king is still referred to as castling. Each player starts with two rooks, one in each of the corners nearest his own side.

Movement/Capturing: The rook moves horizontally or vertically, forward or back, through any number of unoccupied squares. Like other pieces, it captures by occupying the square on which an enemy piece stands. The rook also participates, along with the king, in a special move called castling.

Strategy: In the opening, the rooks are undefended by other pieces, so it is usually desirable to connect one's rooks on the first rank by castling and clearing all pieces except the king and rooks from the first rank. In that position, the rooks protect each other, and can easily move to threaten the most favorable files.

A common goal with a rook is to place it on the first rank of an open file, i.e. one unobstructed by pawns of either player, or a half-open file, i.e. one unobstructed by friendly pawns. From this position, the rook is relatively unexposed to risk but can control every square on the file. If one file is particularly important, a player may advance one rook on it, and move the other behind, doubling the rooks.

A rook on the seventh rank (the opponent's second rank) is usually very powerful, as it threatens the opponent's unadvanced pawns and puts pressure in the enemy king. A rook on the seventh rank is sufficient compensation for a pawn. In this position, the rook on the seventh rank enables White to draw, despite being a pawn down.

Two rooks on the seventh rank are often enough to force victory, or at least a draw by perpetual check. These rooks are sometimes colloquially referred to as "pigs on the seventh", because they often threaten to "eat" the opponent's pieces or pawns.

Rooks are most powerful towards the end of a game (i.e. the endgame), where they can move unobstructed by pawns and control large numbers of squares. They are somewhat clumsy at restraining enemy pawns from advancing towards promotion, unless they can occupy the file behind the advancing pawn. By the same token, a rook best supports a friendly pawn towards promotion from behind it in the same file.

5. Queen

The queen is the most powerful piece in the game of chess and can move in any direction. Each player starts the game with one queen, placed in the middle of their first rank next to their king. The white queen starts on a white square, and the black queen on a black square, thus the mnemonic "queen gets her color" or "queen on color".

Moving/Capturing: The reason the queen is more powerful than a combination of a rook and bishop, even though they control the same number of squares, is twofold. First, the queen is a more mobile unit than the rook and bishop, as the entire power of the queen can be transferred to another location in one move while transferring the entire firepower of a rook and bishop requires two moves. Second, the queen is not hampered by the bishop's inability to control squares of the opposite color to the square on which it stands on. A factor in favor of the rook and bishop is that they can attack (or defend) a square twice, while a queen can only do so once, but experience has shown that this factor is usually less significant than the points which favor the queen.

The queen is at her most powerful when the board is open, when the enemy king is not well-defended, or when there are loose (i.e. undefended) pieces in the enemy camp. Because of her long range and ability to move in more than one direction, the queen is well-equipped to execute forks. Compared to other long range pieces (i.e. rooks and bishops) the queen is less restricted and more powerful also in closed positions.

Strategy: Beginners often develop the queen as soon as possible, in the hopes of plundering the enemy position and possibly even delivering an early checkmateScholar's mate. This strategy is disadvantageous against experienced players. With no other pieces developed, an attack by the queen alone can be easily repelled.

Moreover, because the queen is too valuable to exchange for a lesser piece, the defender can often gain time and space by threatening an exposed queen and forcing her to retreat. Nonetheless, the Scandinavian Defense, which in the main line features queen moves by Black on the second and third moves, is considered sound and has been played at world championship level. Even the Parham Attack (1.e4 e5 2.Qh5!?), which is widely considered a chess opening suitable only for beginners.

6. King

In chess, the King is the most important piece. The object of the game is to trap the opponent's king so that its capture is unavoidable (checkmate). If a player's king is threatened with capture, it is said to be in check, and the player must move so as to remove the threat of capture. If it cannot escape capture on the next move, the king is said to be in checkmate, and the player which owns that king loses the game. Although it is the most important piece, it is one of the weakest pieces in the game (until the endgame).

Movement/Capturing: White starts with the king on the first rank to the right of the queen. Black starts with the king directly across from the white king. With the squares labeled as in algebraic notation, the white king starts on e1 and the black king on e8.

A king can move one empty or enemy-occupied square in any direction (horizontally, vertically, or diagonally) unless such a move would place the king in check. As a result, the opposing kings may never occupy adjacent squares, but the king can give discovered check by unmasking a bishop, rook, or queen. The king is also involved in the special move of castling. As with all pieces except the pawn, it captures by moving onto a square occupied by an enemy piece.

Castling: In conjunction with a rook, the king may make a special move called castling, in which the king moves two squares toward one of its rooks and then the rook is placed on the other side of the king. Castling consists of moving the king two squares on its first rank toward either one of the original rooks, then moving the rook onto the square over which the king crossed.

Castling is allowed only when neither the king nor the castling rook has previously moved, when no squares between them are occupied, when the king is not in check, and when the king will not move across or end its movement on a square that is under enemy control.


If a player's move places the opponent's king under attack, that king is said to be in check, and the player in check is required to immediately remedy the situation. There are three possible methods to remove the king from check:

  1. Moving the king to an adjacent non-threatened square
  2. Interposing a piece between the king in check and the attacking piece in order to break the line of threat (not possible when the attacking piece is a knight, or when in double check).
  3. Capturing the attacking piece (not possible in double check, unless the king captures)

If none of these three options are possible, the player's king has been checkmated and the player loses the game.

Stalemate: A stalemate occurs when, for the player with the move:

  1. The player has no legal moves, and
  2. The player's king is not in check

If this happens, the king is said to have been stalemated and the game ends in a draw. A player who has very little or no chance of winning will often try to entice the opponent to inadvertently place the player's king in stalemate in order to avoid a loss.

Hope this has helped all that who read this wanting to know about chess.

The credit to the one that made these videos is by thechesswebsite, which more of his videos going over gambits, traps, openings, etc. can be found on his YouTube channel: