How to play chess for beginners

How to play chess for beginners

If you are a fan of the movie adaptations of J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter series then you have seen a pretty good representation of what chess is. Chess has been used in movies, books and many other forms of entertainment to stand for a puzzle, a battle of wits and a show of mental superiority. There is also a fun side to the game. You see people play in parks, restaurants, at home and some in competitions as well. Despite having been standardized a few centuries ago, its origins are believed to be from India around the 7th century. The game has developed to a worldwide phenomenon ever since.

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Now if you do not know how to play chess, it is easy to assume that maybe it was not meant for you. In this article, we will give you a detailed guide on how to play chess for beginners, from the meaning of the inscriptions on the sides of some boards to some of the openings to look out for when you are playing with a professional in a timed game.

Things to know before the game

Here are some of the important facts to take note of before moving the first piece on he chess board.

1. Understanding the board arrangement

A chess board is a square with 64 smaller squares in it on an 8x8 grid. The board has to be checked in some form of color blocking such that every alternating square has the same color and the squares in between are a different color. The most popular colors used are black and white. The board is usually numbered from 1-8 on the sides (referred to as ranks) with one being closest to the white player and indexed from a-h (the files) from the left side to the right. Each player starts the game with a total of 16 pieces.

You have the following pieces on the board; one king, one queen, two bishops, two knights and two rooks and eight pawns. In some literature the rook is called a castle. If you see the piece you will get why. The 8 pawns all go on the second column. The other 8 pieces are arranged as follows; the two rooks are on the bottom row (the one closest to you) on the left most and right most. The knights go next to the rooks on either side on the next square followed by the bishops. The two remaining spots are for the king and queen. The black king goes on the white square and the white king o the black square. The queen takes the remaining square, also of the opposite color to it. You will definitely have an easier time looking at a diagram of the board when you learn how to play chess.

2. Movement of the pieces

The best colors for learning chess are black and white and thus the respective players are called black and white. So, what are the rules of chess? Well, the first move is made by the white player, the successive moves are made alternating between black and white each playing only one legal move at a time except. Each piece can only move in a specific way in a given direction. You cannot pass when it is your turn and you must make one legal move on each turn. If you are unable to move the game ends. Here is a breakdown of the allowed moves for each piece.


The essence of playing chess is to trap your opponent’s king making the king the most important piece on the board. The king can only move one step in any direction making it one of the least powerful pieces, just above the pawns. The only situation a king can move more than one square is when castling, more on this later in the article.


The queen is the most powerful piece on the chessboard. It can move in any direction, forward, backward, left, right and diagonally for as many squares as possible without leaping over any pieces.


The rooks are on the farthest corners of the chess board. They can move straight forward and to the sides for as many steps as possible without going over another piece. The cannot move diagonally. The rook is the second piece needed to do a castling.


The two bishops you get can move in any diagonal direction. They cannot skip over any player.


The knight is the only piece that is allowed to leap over other players, yours or your opponent’s alike. It can only move in L-shaped moves. Two steps forward or backward and one to the side or two steps in either side and one step forward or backwards. The allows for some more threatening moves when attacking.


Pawns are allowed to move forward in a straight line one step at a time. They can only capture an opponent in the adjacent square diagonally in front of it on either side by moving to the square with the opponent’s piece. The pawn can move two squares if it is its first move. Can pawns move backwards in chess? The answer is, they cannot, they can only ever move forward.

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3. Special Moves

These are some of the pro moves that you may make to challenge your opponent greatly.


You can only play this move once in a game so be sure to save it until it is absolutely necessary. When castling, you move your king two squares towards either of your rooks and move the rook to the last square you king passed. Castling is meant to protect the king from imminent attack. Castling cannot be done if;

1. Your king is under attack

2. The king has to pass through any squares currently under attack

3. Any of the steps by the king put it in check

The two pieces must not have moved prior to the castling and the spaces between them should not be occupied. These rules do not apply to the rook.

En Passant

The pawns can move two steps ahead on their first moves. This is only the case if moving one step ahead does not allow them to be captured. If by moving one step forward they would be captured by an opponent’s pawn and the player decides to move the pawn two steps forward and thus avoids capture, the en passant move can be played. It essentially allows the opponent’s pawn to capture your pawn that has moved two steps forward avoiding capture that would have happened if you only moved it one square forward. It must be played before any other move is made otherwise it cannot be played. The en passant can only be played if the threatening piece is also a pawn.


During a game of chess, you may lose a number of key pieces such as the queen, a knight, bishop or a rook. These losses may disadvantage you strategically. There is a way around this, promotion. Using your pawns, you can reach your opponent’s back-line. Once a pawn has reached the farthest point on the board then you must exchange it with another piece. The most common piece brought back is the queen, but any of the other “powers” can be used too.


The check is a move that puts the opponent’s king or yours under attack. The response to this is any legal move that takes the king away from the threat. It can involve moving a piece to the space in between the king and the attacking piece or moving the king away from the position or by capturing the attacking piece. This move is necessary for a win.

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4. Ending a chess game

The rules of chess define various scenarios for ending a game of chess. Some of these rules mean not winning the game outright while some mean losing because of tournament rules. Chess board rules only allow for two possible outcomes from a game of chess, a checkmate or a stalemate. There are however many varied ways a game can end.

1. Win

Here are some of the ways a player can be declared a winner in a game of chess.

  • Checkmate

This is when the king is put in check and there are no legal moves available to free it.

  • Resignation

In advanced competition, a player may resign in case they find themselves in a position which they do not have the power to win and the opponent is about to checkmate. It is respectable to resign in competitions if the circumstance forces it.

  • Forfeiting

If any player violates the rules of chess or the tournament rules they lose by forfeit. Tournament rules are set by the tournament organizers and agreed upon by competitors. They may include not picking calls or texts or being late to a game.

  • Win on time

In a timed game, if the opponent’s clock runs out before a checkmate, they lose. This rule holds despite either player’s whose time runs out is in a better position to enforce a checkmate.

2. Draw

A draw is when there is no checkmate and can involve any of the following scenarios;

  • Stalemate

This is when the king is not in check but both players have no remaining legal moves. Note that any move by the king that puts it in check is an illegal move.

  • By agreement

This is not really a rule, more of an exercise in your freedom to do as you please. The two players, at any point in the game can decide to both end the match as a draw. This agreement can be reached even without playing a single move.

  • Repetition

If either of the two players repeats the same move more than thrice to avoid being disadvantaged strategically, the players can agree to end the match as a stalemate. The same rule is enforced in competitions by the game monitors when the same move is played five times.

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  • Insufficient material/pieces

When you start out playing chess it is possible to find both you and your opponent do not have enough pieces on the board to successfully subdue your opponent’s king via checkmate. This can be when you only have two pieces each for example the king and one of the powers. In this case, it is acceptable to agree to a stalemate.

  • Timed competitions

In timed chess games, the allowable duration for a game varies depending on rules set for the competition. The times are what you decide upon. Each player gets a set amount of time, for example you can agree to play for 20 minutes each. When you make your move, you start the opponent’s timer by stopping your own, when they make their move they stop their timer and start yours simultaneously. Whoever runs out of time before a checkmate loses.

Learning how to play chess in time-controlled matches improves speed and sharpness. You will only get good at chess by playing as many times as possible against better opponents than yourself so play as much chess as you possibly can.

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