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Starting position in Chess

Chess is a strategic board game for two players, with each player having a variety of pieces which move in different ways. The goal is to win by putting the opponent's king in a position where it can be captured.



Chess is believed to have been invented in India some 1500 years ago, where it was known as Chaturanga. In Persia it became known as Shatranj, and there it was picked up by the Arabs when Persia fell to the Islamic conquests. Via Arabia, the game came to Europe, where it took its current form somewhere around the 15th century. Chess became the preferred board game of royalty, and has enjoyed enormous success among all classes to this day.

Chess has many sister games (in Asia in particular), such as XiangQi and Shogi, which are also thought to have ultimately derived from Chaturanga, although here the link is less clear.

The board

Chess is played on a 8x8 square chequered board of light and dark squares. The chessboard is arranged with a light square at the right hand end of the rank nearest to each player.

There are some variants which utilise a 10x10 board, hexagonal board or are played in 3-D.


Each player controls 16 pieces of a single colour. By convention these colours are called black and white but often pieces have other colours, such as red and white, with the darker colour denoting black and the lighter colour denoting white. Ornamental sets may feature differently coloured metal, wood or stone pieces, or may represent themed opponents.

There are six types of pieces: a king, a queen, two bishops, two knights, two rooks, and eight pawns. Each type moves in a specific way, and the aim of the game is to force the enemy king's surrender, by threatening its capture ("check") without the king being able to escape. This is termed "checkmate".


The king (symbol: resp. ) is the most important of all of pieces. The objective of the game is to checkmate your opponent's king, and you lose the game if yours is mated. The king may move one square in any direction, including diagonals, but unlike any other piece, it cannot move into danger, and no other piece can move if it would put the king into danger. During the opening and middle game, it is considered advantageous to keep your king in a safe place, while during the endgame, the piece is more effective motile. Like the pawn, the king has one special move: castling (not to be confused with the rook). During this move, the King is allowed to move two spaces towards either rook, and the rook moves to the space immediately on the other side of the king. There are a number of restrictions to this move, listed below:

  1. The king may not have moved
  2. The rook may not have moved
  3. The king may not be in check
  4. The king may not pass through check
  5. The king may not land in check

Generally, these parameters do not apply too often, and it is a good idea to castle whenever possible, to keep your king safe. It is also worth noting that you may still castle if your rook is in danger or passes through danger.


The queen (symbol: resp. ) is the most mobile piece. Each player begins the game with one queen, placed in the centre of the first rank next to the king. The queen is able to move vertically, horizontally, or diagonally as many spaces as the player desires. Since the queen is the most valuable attacking piece, it shouldn't be brought into action too soon and carelessly. The queen is usually considered worth nine pawns.

Historically, the queen was not as powerful as it is today. While the game was being developed in the Middle East, it could only move one space diagonally. When the limitations on the queen were removed, the game became known as "Mad Queen's Chess," which has since fallen into disuse.


The bishop (symbol: resp. ) is a piece that moves as many squares needed diagonally in any direction. It is placed next to the king and queen at the start of the game, which some believe symbolizes the relationship of Church and State during the Middle Ages. The bishop is a fairly useful piece, effective in the opening, middlegame, and endgame, though not as powerful as the queen or the rook. A useful tactic with the bishop is the Fianchetto, in which the bishop is placed in between three pawns, giving it protection from the front and sides but still exerting an enormous influence over the board. The bishop is worth about three to three and a half pawns.

Due to the nature of how bishops move, a bishop can never leave its original square color. Thus bishops are referred to as, respectively, the dark-squared bishop and the light-squared bishop.


The knight (symbol: resp. ) is a piece that moves in a L shape, two spaces in one direction, and then 1 space at a right angle to its first move. It is the only piece that can "jump" over other pieces. The knight's unique movement makes it prominently featured in many tactics, most notably the Fork. In this, the knight is attacking two opponent's pieces at the same time. The most useful fork is that of the opponent's king and queen: because the king is in danger and must move, and the queen, despite her power, cannot kill the knight, the Queen is then captured. The Knight also led to the creation a one of the best known Chess puzzles, the Knight's tour. In this, the player must place a knight on any square of the board, and then travel to all the other squares without ever landing on the same square twice. The Knight is assigned a relative value of 3 points or pawns.


A rook (symbol: resp. ) is often referred to as a "castle" by novices. There are 4 rooks on a chess board, two to each side, and they sit in the corners. The rook may move forward and backward or left and right as many squares as desired, but may not hop over other pieces nor move diagonally. Rooks tend to be cumbersome, and a liability in the opening and middlegame, but are a great asset in the endgame, when their true power is revealed. A rook is worth more than a bishop or knight and is usually assigned five points. This is consistent with two rooks being considered worth more than a queen.


A pawn (symbol: resp. ) is the humblest chesspiece. There are a total of 16 pawns in a chess game, 8 on each side. A pawn moves forward one square, except on its first move, where it may move two. This is not always necessary, as certain openings, such as the French, or Caro-Kann, require the pawns to be advanced only one space. The pawn may capture pieces on the two squares diagonally in front of it, with one notable exception. If a black pawn is on the fourth rank, or a white pawn on the fifth, and white or black advances their pawn to a square adjacent to that pawn, the pawn being advanced may be captured as if it had only moved one space. This is termed en passant, French for "in passing". This move originates from when pawns could only move one square, and when the two-square move was introduced, it was felt a loophole should remain.

Additionally, if a player succeeds in advancing one of his pawns to his opponent's home rank, he may exchange it for any piece, usually the most powerful of them, the queen. However, it may occasionally be necessary to promote to a knight for checkmate, or a rook or bishop to avoid stalemate.


Lots are normally drawn for which colour a player may use. In a sequence of games the colours may be alternated. The player who is appointed "White" always makes the first move.


There are five ways to finish a game: winning by achieving checkmate, losing by making an illegal move, running out of time, or resigning, or by drawing.


Checkmate is the term for a situation where the king is in danger ("check"), but cannot escape.


If a player foresees that he has no chance of winning the game he may terminate it by "resigning", usually signified by knocking down his king on its side.

Out of time

In chess competitions each player has an allotted time to make his moves. If the player exceeds his time limit then he forfeits the game. In chess parlance, this is known as "losing on time". Special two-faced chess clocks are used which display the elapsed time for each player. A lever is pressed to switch the timing mechanism between the clocks after each player has completed his move.

Some electronic clocks can be set with "time delay", which means that a given number of seconds (usually five) will elapse before a timer starts counting down. This makes it more difficult to lose on time.

Illegal moves

It is possible to make a move that is illegal. For example, a player in check might fail to remove it, or a player might castle after having already moved their king. Under most tournament conditions, making such an illegal move will result in a time penalty, either by having time subtracted from your clock, or by having time added to your opponent's clock. However, in some circumstances, an illegal move can cost you the game!


Not all games end in either player winning. Many games result in a draw, which may occur on the board in different situations ("stalemate" being the most important), or by an agreement by the players. The higher the level of the players, the higher are the chances of a game ending in a draw. Beginner players tend to make blunders, which give either side a decisive advantage. On the other hand, stalemate is quite common between beginners.


Chess is an immensely complex game - it is estimated that there are more possible positions in a chess game than atoms in the Sun. Chess theory is a notoriously abstract field, and may be challenging to a beginner. Chess theory includes chess puzzles, chess openings, and endgames.


Being as popular as it is, there are many variants on chess. Some of the more notable include Bughouse and Anti-Chess.


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