Chess is a game for exactly two players. Traditionally, both would be human players, but computer technology has given us the option to compete against ‘bots’ (computer robots). We’ll talk more about the advantages of AI bot play in our next section on game improvement.
Setting Up the Chess Board
A chess board is made up of an 8×8 grid; 64 squares alternating in color from dark to light. There are 32 game pieces you’ll need to place on the board. Half of them – the light colored ones – belong to Player 1. The other half – the dark colored ones – belong to Player 2.
Each player will set up their pieces as follows, left to right, with the “back row” being the line closest to him/her, and the “front row” being the line directly in front of the back row (see diagram below).
Back Row: Rook – Knight – Bishop – Queen – King – Bishop – Horse – Rook
Front Row: Pawn – Pawn – Pawn – Pawn – Pawn – Pawn – Pawn – Pawn
Chess is a turn-based game. Traditionally, the player in control of the light colored pieces is Player 1, and will go first. Player 2, controlling the dark colored pieces, goes second. The two take turns from there on out until one player wins. Which brings us to…
Legal Game Piece Movements
Every game piece – remember there are six different types – is capable of moving in a different manner. Pawns are the most restrictive, and Queens the most liberal. Legal movements are as follows:
A pawn can be moved straight forward one or two spaces the first time it moves from it’s original position. After this initial move, a pawn may only move forward one space. However, a pawn cannot attack any opponent’s piece with a forward movement. The pawn may only attack by moving at a 45-degree angle, one space forward and to the left, or forward and to the right. This angular movement can only be made while attacking.
The rook can only move in straight lines, forward, backward, left or right. It can move any number of spaces in a straight line, so long as it’s path is not blocked by any other game piece. The rook may attack any opponent piece by making a legal move and landing on the position of the opponent’s piece.
The knight must move in blocks of three spaces at a time. The spaces must make an “L” shape, meaning he can move two spaces in one direction, then one space in another, or one space in one direction, then two spaces in another. Each movement must be horizontal or vertical, not at an angle. The horse can jump over other game pieces to make his move.
The bishop moves similar to the rook, except that it can only move diagonally across the board. It cannot move vertically or horizontally. The bishop may move any number of spaces, so long as it is in a straight line (cannot turn to another angle) and is unimpeded (cannot jump ally pieces).
The king is able to move in any direction, horizontal, vertical, or diagonal, but may only move one space at a time.
The queen is the most valuable of all chess pieces. She is able to move in any direction, and any number of spaces at a time, but only in a straight line (cannot change direction in the same play). Think of it as having the power to move the same as every other game piece except the knight.
Special Moves in Chess
There are three special movement rules to be aware of. They include the ability to Promote a Pawn, a Rook/King exchange known as Castling, and the least known among them, En Passant.
If you are able to move a pawn all the way to the other end of the game board, the pawn is promoted to any other game piece of your choosing, except a king. You can promote the pawn to a rook, knight, bishop or queen. You may even promote a pawn to queen when you still have a queen on the board (naughty king!) There is no limit to the number of additional high-ranking game pieces you can have on the board.
Castling is a special move designed to enhance protection surrounding the king. It is the only move in the game in which two pieces – the king and rook – can be moved in a single play.
There are three conditions that must be met in order to perform a Castling. 1) Neither the king or rook have been moved from their original position during the game. 2) All squares between the king and rook must be empty. 3) The king is not currently be in check, and would not pass over or move into a space that would put him in check.
If all these conditions are met, the player can proceed. The king will move two spots towards the rook. The rook will then move inwards, jumping over the king to land beside him on the opposite side (see diagram below).
This is the most commonly underplayed rule in chess, little known by beginners. En Passant means “in passing”, and allows one pawn to attack another while it’s passing, so long as certain conditions are met. 1) The passing pawn (opponent) must be moving two spaces forward (first move). 2) The pawn must land adjacent to your pawn, flanking it on the left or right.
The idea is that you can attack this pawn in passing because, while it is making its move, it must pass through a position that would allow you, the enemy pawn, to attack it diagonally. Thus, once this pawn is adjacent to yours, you may move diagonally ahead of the pawn, and in doing so, capture it (as shown in the image right). Note that you do not have to capture the pawn if you do not want to, and that the option is only available at this moment, as your next move. If you do not capture the pawn at that time, the option is gone.
Object of the Game
The object of chess is to eliminate your opponent’s king. To do so, you’ll move about the board, eliminating other chess pieces to create a pathway to the enemy king. To attack an enemy piece, you must make a legal move to land on its position (see Legal Game Piece Movements above). When you land on an enemy piece, you capture it. All captured pieces are set to the side of the board, out of play.
At the same time, you’ll need to play a good defensive game to ensure the enemy does not reach your own king.
Any game piece – even a pawn – is capable of attacking the king. However, in the spirit of mercy, the king is never truly captured. Instead, anytime the king is in danger of capture, the attacker will declare “Check”. This means that, on the attacker’s next move, the king will be taken.
When in Check…
The opponent’s next move must defend the king to prevent him from being captured. There are three ways to do this. 1) Move the king to another position, out of harms way. 2) Move another game piece to impede the path of the attacking enemy. 3) Attack the threatening game piece, eliminating the threat.
If there is no eligible move that will save the king from being captured, the attacking player will instead declare “Checkmate”.
When in Checkmate…
You lose. Checkmate is a declaration by the attacker that the opponent’s king cannot be saved, and is in imminent threat of capture. The opponent may take a moment to observe the board, making sure there is no way to save the king. If that’s the case, the game is over. The player whose king is in checkmate will lay his king over on the board, surrendering the game.