How to play chess?

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Hello. No matter if you are 8 years old, 30 or 65 years old, you can learn how to play this awesome game. The rules are pretty straight forward, but the amount of possibilities is too big for a human brain to fully explore it. And that is part of the beauty of the game, that it doesn’t matter how long you play it, you will not run out of possibilities to discover. After reading this post, you will know chess rules, vocabulary and chess notation. You will know basic facts and tactics. I will talk a little bit about many topics, instead of focusing on one in depth. Let’s learn the basics first!

Rules and Basics

Each player gets 8 Pawns ♟♟♟♟♟♟♟♟, 2 Knights , 2 Bishops , 2 Rooks , Queen , and a King . Players take turns and can move and capture opponent’s pieces. The first player to give checkmate to the opponent wins the game.

Let’s see the starting position and learn the rules of moving each of the pieces. There are quite a lot of unique mechanics for such a low number of different pieces.

Chess Starting Board.jpg

♞ Knights:

Knights can jump over other pieces and are the only ones with this ability. They move in “L” shape, 2 squares forward and one to the side, in any direction. If there is an opposing piece on the square it gets captured. When a knight stands on a white square it can only attack black squares and when it stands on a black square it can only attack white. We will use that knowledge later on when we will be talking about forks.

Knight Moves
Possible knight moves and captures.

♝ Bishops:

Bishops move and capture diagonally and their range is unlimited. Their movement is blocked by other pieces. Bishops can only move on one color, so they are usually named by the colors. You have a light-squared bishop and a dark-squared bishop.

Chess Bishop Moves

♜ Rooks:

Rooks moves and captures on the horizontal and vertical axis without range limit. They can move around the board quickly in the late game, when there are fewer pawns blocking their way. Rook is used to castle, but we will cover that in the part about the king, because it requires both king and a rook.

Chess Rook Moves.jpg

♛ Queen:

Queen moves like a Bishop and a Rook at the same time and that makes it the most powerful piece.

Chess Queen Moves.jpg

♟ Pawns:

Pawns start at second and seventh row(rank). They can move one square forward if it is empty. They can move 2 squares forward instead from their starting position and both squares in front of them must be empty to do that. If you decide to go forward with a pawn, there is no going back. Pawns don’t move backwards. You can capture another piece with a pawn, if it is one square on the forward right or left to it. On following image there are white pawns with their moves options marked with arrows.

pawns

En Passant

En Passant is another possible pawn capture. Pawns can capture other pawns that advanced 2 squares as if they advanced only one square. They can do that only on the following move.

en passant

Promoting

Whenever a pawn reaches the last row (opponent’s back rank) it is instantly promoted. It means that it is replaced by another piece. You may choose if it is promoted to a Queen, Rook, Bishop or Knight. In different situations you may need different pieces, but it is most common to promote to a Queen, as it is the most powerful piece.

There is a board full of possible pawn moves and captures. Note, that the “A” pawn, that is the one on the left column (file) is blocked by a bishop and cannot move at all.

Chess Pawn Moves

♚ King:

King’s regular move is just one square in any direction. King can’t go on a square that is attacked by the other player.

Chess King Moves

King is different from other pieces, because he can’t be captured. Whenever an opponent attacks the king, meaning your king is on one of the squares some of the opposing pieces could move in the next turn, your king is in check. You are forced to react to the check. You can move your king to a square which isn’t under attack, block the attack with another piece or capture the piece that is attacking your king. If none of this is possible, you lose the game and it’s checkmate. The goal of the game is to give a checkmate to the opposing king.

Castling

King isn’t very mobile and he needs protection. That’s why he has a special move, called castling. Let’s look at this position and then how the short castled and long castled look.

Chess Castle Before.jpg
King is ready to castle
Chess Castle Short.jpg
Short castle. King moves 2 squares right and the rook 2 squares to the left.
Chess Castle Long.jpg
Long castle. King moves 2 squares to the left and the rook 3 squares to the right.

There is quite a bit of rules of castling. It is important to remember them, as some beginner players miss some of them.

Castling rules, IMPORTANT!

  • Squares between your king and rook must be empty.
  • This also has the be your first king move of the game and the first move for that particular rook.
  • Your king can’t be currently in check.
  • You can’t castle through a square that is currently under attack from an opponent.
  • It doesn’t matter if the rook is currently under attack or not.
  • Your king and your rook have to be on your first rank.
cant castle
Black bishop prevents white from castling!

Checkmates

Let’s take a look at these example checkmates. King has nowhere to go, the opposing pieces cannot be killed and blocked.

Checkmate 2.jpg
Black king is checkmated, as he is under check and has nowhere to go!
Checkmate 3
That’s a tight spot for the black king. He dies surrounded by his own people!
Checkmate 1
What’s going on there? Looks like white king can’t capture the black queen, she is protected by the bishop! That is a checkmate.

Drawn games

Not every chess game ends with a victory and defeat. Some games end peacefully in a draw. There are several ways in which a draw can occur. Of course, players can just agree to a draw, but there are other ways to draw the game.

Stelemate – no legal moves

If a player can’t make another move, because all of his pieces are completely blocked, the game ends with a draw.

stelemate.jpg
White to move and… there are no moves! White is completely blocked. Game ends with a stalemate draw.

Threefold repetition

If a game state (position of all of the pieces and all possible moves) repeats for the third time, any of the players may announce a draw. So if the position repeats, but you can’t castle anymore because you moved your king and then moved it back, it is considered different game state and it doesn’t count.  It is important to note, that on a OTB (over the board) game, you have to claim the draw on your move. So before you make a move that leads to the 3rd occurrence of the position or after an opponent made such move, you announce a draw claim with 3-fold repetition.

50 moves without progress

If there was no pawn moves and no captures in the previous 50 moves, the game ends with a draw if a player claims a draw.

Insufficient material

If there is no possibility of checkmate, because there are not enough pieces on a board, game ends with a draw. For example, one player has only his king and the other has a king and a knight. There are no possible moves that lead to a checkmate, so it is a draw.

 

Kingside, Queenside, Center

Kingside is the half side of the board with the king (circled in the picture). The other half is the queenside (grayed out).

Kingside, Queenside

4 central squares are usually referred to as center and 16 central squares as big center.

Chess Big Center

Point value of the pieces

It is good to know if a trade is beneficial to you, like if you capture opposing rook with your bishop and that bishop is captured, is it any good? Generally it is, according to these point values.

  • ♟ Pawn is worth 1 point
  • ♞ Knight is worth 3 points
  • ♝ Bishop is worth 3.2 points
  • ♜ Rook is worth 5 points
  • ♛ Queen is worth 9 points
  • ♚ King is priceless, but you could say he is worth a 1000 points.

These point values are helpful, but they don’t tell a full story. It all depends on the position of all pieces on the board if something is worth trading. A far advanced pawn that is close to promoting may be worth more than a pawn far back. A bishop that is defending a king can be worth more than a rook, because after a trade, a king may be left exposed to attacks. In most cased though, exchanging your knight or bishop for opposing rook gives you an advantage and players will say: “You are an exchange up”.

Launching formidable attacks

Lets talk for a bit about tactics, strategy and combinations. There are many strong and common patterns that you can use to your advantage.

Pin

A pinned piece is a piece that cannot move not because it’s blocked, but because it’s blocking an attack on a piece that is worth more points. If a piece is pinned to a king, it can’t move at all, because you can’t leave your king in a check.  In the example below, the two king side knights are pinned. If they move, the bishops can capture the queens.

pins.png
Very common pinned knight.

Skewer

An attack with a long range piece: bishop, rook or a queen on two pieces in one direction of attack.

Let’s look at some examples: A bishop attacks a rook, but if that rook moves, it attacks another one. That’s a skewer.

skewer.png

Here is another example – an absolute skewer (on a king). After white moves the rook to B1, black has no choice, but to move his king and allow white to capture his queen.

skewer1.png

Fork

Fork is when you attack multiple pieces with one piece. In the example below, I played as black and spotted a fork – knight move that attacks both the king and a rook. After that move, my opponent resigned, because he would lose his rook.

Fork

And here is another fork from my game, this time I was white and also won the game by forking 3 pieces with a knight.

Fork1

And here is an example of a black queen forking a king and a knight. King has to run away from the attack, leaving the knight without protection.

Fork3.png

Zuckswang

In chess, you can’t pass to your opponent without moving. If it’s your turn, you have to make a move. Sometimes you can be in a situation, that every move you can make, makes your position worse. That is a zuckswang.

Zwichenzug (move in between)

You have an obvious recapture, like in the example below, queen could take the rook right away, but by inserting a check before the capture (making an in-between move) you can capture both rooks.

in_between

Hanging piece

A piece that is unprotected and can be captured is called a hanging piece. In the example below black moves his rook, not noticing his pawn on C5 is hanging. It is captured for free with the very next queen move. Note that if white captured the pawn with his pawn, he would hang his bishop, leaving it free to capture by the black queen.

hangingpanw.jpg
Hanging pawn on C5

Deflection

Deflection is when you force a piece away from the defence of a valuable piece. In the example below, white could take the black queen right away, but after deflecting the king away (in this case it is also a sacrifice of a bishop), white can capture the queen and still keep his rook.

deflection

Back rank mate

Back rank mate is made with a rook or a queen invading the first or eighth rank. In the example below, black was not careful and moved his rook to attack white’s pawn, leaving his back rank without sufficient protection. Now white can mate him in two moves.

backrank.jpg

Discovered attacks

Discovered attack is when you move a piece away to open an attack of a long range piece. Here is an example of a discovered check. Pawn moves forward and opens the diagonal for a queen. Queen attacks the king with a discovered check.

discovered attack

Difference between tactics and strategy

A plan for a whole game is a strategy. For example, you can have an offensive strategy, push the pawns as quickly as you can and go for the king. Or a defensive strategy where you protect your pieces all the time and wait for an opponent to make a mistake. Or maybe you just want to control the most territory possible…

Tactics are short term. For example skewers, forks or deflections are tactics.

Time controls

Most of chess games are played with a chess clock. Each player has a certain amount of time after which he or she loses or draws the game. Draws happen when there is no possibility that player opponent could mate the player that run out of time.

There are several different time limits methodologies used in real life tournaments and online ones. There are ones where you have only some time for the game and this is it,
there are time controls with increments, where you gain time with each move
and also there are delays, where you don’t lose time for the delay after each move.

There are very fast game time controls like:

  • Ultrabullet – fastest control there is. Games shorter than 15 seconds
  • Hyperbullet – 30 seconds for a player or less
  • Lightning – fixed amount of time for each move.
  • Armageddon – Drawing odds for one player, meaning they win even if they draw and more time for the other player.
  • Bullet – around 2 minutes per game.
  • Blitz – around 5 minutes
  • Rapid – 15 minutes or so

And slower ones called Classical and Correspondence.

The exact timing restrictions on each of those game control classes varies with organisations and chess websites.

Classical games played in the world championship for example, start with 100 minutes for each player. For each move players get 30 seconds increment. On move 40, there is additional 50 minutes added to the clock and additional 15 minutes on move 60.

Managing time

You have only so much time, so it is important to spend it well. To save time, you may follow a set of rules to quickly find moves that are good enough and save time to think about complicated positions. Example rules: Firstly develop your pieces. Protect unprotected pieces. Attack unprotected pieces. Control the center in the early game. Make a flight square for your king. Find a fork. Find a pin. Spot hanging pieces…  and so on.

In faster time controls it is important to do premoves (on Internet games), that means to make a move during an opponent’s turn. After he or she moves, your move is made automatically. You have to be careful when using premoves, but even if you do it just for recaptures, you will save a second here and there.

Don’t rush if you have a lot of time, even if your opponent makes moves very quickly. Spend at least a couple of seconds to see if you are not blundering anything.

Don’t dwell too long, as it is better to have a little bit worse position with a chance of winning, than to lose on time.

Chess notation

For easier communication about games, there is a standardised way of notating chess games. There are in fact several of them, so I will show you how they work in general and you will understand any of these notations. If you want to share a game with someone or play a game of chess on Messenger, it is good to know how to read and write in chess language. Moves are described with the move number, piece and square coordinates.  Let’s look at some examples

1.e4

1.e4 means white went with their pawn to the E4 square on move one. Pawns are most common, so to shorten the notation, p for pawn is omitted.

1…e5

Black replied with e5. It is important to notice, it is move one for black so it is written with 1 and to be clear periods are added to indicate this is black’s first move.

PGN stands for Portable Game Notation and it used widely. That first moves described above can be written as 1. e4 e5 using PGN. The game continues with 2. Nf3 Nf6 and we already can see how piece moves are noted. What piece is N? N is for kNights, K is for Kings, B for Bishops, Q for Queens, R for Rooks. We use uppercase for the piece name and lower case for the files (columns) names.

Sometimes you may see x in the notation and it means takes. For example Nxe5 would mean that knight captured something on e5.

There could be 2 knights that can go on a square, so Nf3 can mean that knight from g1 wants to go there or knight from for example d2. In that case, we can write Ngf3 to indicate that we want to move the knight from g1. You could also use g1-f3 notation, for example. In some literature you may find KN and QN for King’s Knight and Queen’s Knight but it’s not very common.

If two of your pawns can make the same capture you can say that b takes c or d takes c. There is only one square a pawn is attacking in a file so people will understand you even if you omit the rank number in that case.

Castling is noted as O-O for short castle and O-O-O for castling long.

A check is indicated by +, as in Nf7+, checkmate is indicated by # at the end, for example Qh7#.

This is a PGN for the quickest mate possible:

1. f4 e5
2. g4 Qh4#

There can also be included some additional information about the game, like players’ names, time control, city, etc. And the PGN file can have comments from someone analysing the game put in {braces}.

Opening explorer database

On various websites you can find something called opening explorer or chess opening database, something like that. There are millions of games with statistic information. You can for example open a grand master database and see all games played by the best chess players. It is a good resource to look for opening strategies. You can learn which moves and openings are most common and see percentage chance of winning with different responses to that moves. And when you struggle in a particular opening, you can find answers to your problems here.book

Chess Engines

A chess engine is a computer program that plays chess. I will describe chess engines closer in a post about programming and artificial intelligence. There are engines stronger than any human, so often they are used as tools for analysing games. Keep in mind that using one during a game is forbidden by chess websites, so use it only after a game. Strong and popular engines are for example Stockfish, Komodo, Alpha Zero.

Winning lost positions

It is important not to give up too early. Sometimes, despite loosing a piece or just having bad position, you still can make some good plays.

It takes one bad move to completely negate forty good ones.

You just don’t know if your opponent doesn’t miss something important in the position. That’s why good players advise not to give up in a losing position, but instead try to complicate the position to give your opponent more chances of missing something or try to make a sneaky attack. One good fork on the opponent’s king and queen can completely change the outcome of the game.

“Be resourceful”
~Grandmaster Garry Kasparov

It is important to make the best use of what material you have, no matter how much you have.

When I’m losing and I know this position isn’t great I try to make threats. Sometimes it works and opponents’ don’t know how to stop an attack or they over defend one side of the board, leaving other side completely vulnerable.

Rating points – Elo and Glicko

Ranking points work on mathematical principles. Elo system was introduced by Arpad Elo to measure players’ skills. Although invented for chess, now it is used in various online games and also in measuring various human characteristics. There are newer systems like Glicko, used by popular chess websites. We can learn quite a lot about a player just from the amount of points he gets. People want to maximize their score, because the more points you have,  the stronger you are.

According to maths, in the Elo system, if you have 100 more points than your opponent there is a 64% chance you will win with him/her. 400 points of difference will give you 91% chance of winning.

How do you get points and how they are calculated?

You get points for winning games and lose points for losing a game. You can also lose points for drawing with lower rated player and gain them with drawing with a higher rated player. There are no additional points for winning tournaments or participating in events. The winner gets points from the player who lost and the amount is determined by the difference in their rating points. For example, a high rated player will get close to 0 points from a player 1000 points lower than him. If that lower rated player would win the game, which is very unlikely, he will get a lot of points for that. The actual change will be dependent on factors like how new to the system the player is and what are the policies of the website/organization where the match takes place. Newer players will have a bigger change in the rating points per game.

FIDE rating

FIDE (World Chess Federation) provides official rating points for players around the world. FIDE releases top 100 players list every month.

Chess titles

When you are playing the game on the Internet, you may see that some of the players have suffixes to their nicks. What does it mean to be FM or GM? What are these abbreviations? These are titles for exceptional, very strong players. You may be granted titles for making norms which basically means for winning games in big tournaments. Chess titles are granted for the lifetime. Here is a list of chess titles:

  • CM – Candidate Master
  • FM – FIDE Master
  • NM – National Master
  • IM – International Master
  • GM – Grandmaster

Chess titles have their equivalent for women, for example, there is WIM – Women International Master, Women National Master and so on.

Most grandmasters have 2500+ FIDE rating points, most IMs are between 2400-2500. There are also categories 1, 2, 3, 4 for lower rated players.

Simul chess

Simultaneous games are usually played against a strong player. One strong player challenges multiple people at the same time. Simultaneous exhibitions hold sometimes even 30 people playing against one opponent.  The strong player goes from board to board and makes moves very quickly. There is usually additional time for the player, but he still has to be very fast.

Evergreen games

Evergreen games or classic games are the most interesting games in chess history. These are popular games that usually show new ideas, complicated attacks, deep sacrifices and outstanding moves. Studying and analysing such games is a good learning experience.

Immortals are the most memorable games ever. “Immortal Game” was played in 1851 between Anderssen and Kieseritzky. There is “Immortal Draw” game and also immortals called by players’ names, as “Kasparov’s Immortal” or “Petrov’s Immortal” or countries like “Polish Immortal”. All these games are worth looking into and are super interesting.

Fun variants

For starters, it is great to play classical chess, but there are also some cool variants that you can check out. Variants are basically chess with modified rules. It can be different board size, different pieces starting position or another win conditions. Below are the most popular variants.

Chess 960

There are 960 different starting positions. Pawns are where they normally are, but pieces positions on the back rank are randomized. It is 960 times harder to have the perfect opening knowledge, so players don’t have remembered openings in their heads. Instead, they rely on strategy and tactics.

Creazyhouse

Whenever you capture an opponents piece, it goes to your drop pool. It changes color to your color and you can put it on the board. Rules of putting pieces on the board are pretty simple: on your move, instead of actually moving a piece, you can choose one from your pool and put it on the board. You can block checks with it, check and checkmate your opponent, but you cannot promote a pawn in this way. Pawn drops on the first rank and on the eighth rank are forbidden by rules. Any other drops are allowed. In this variant, when you promote and the promoted piece is captured, it is demoted back to a pawn when going to the drop pool. When playing this variant you can often see people exchanging a bishop for an f pawn and longer than usual forcing sequences. You can block attacks with dropping a piece in front of an attacking rook for example and there are more pieces on the board than in classic game, so the power of the rooks is diminished. Mostly closed files make rooks much weaker. A piece that increases its power in Creazyhouse, is definitely the knight, because you cannot block a knight’s attack and it can be put anywhere on the board!

Bughouse

This variant is for 2 pairs of people and is played on 2 chess boards. One player in a team plays as white and the other plays as black. Similar to Creazyhouse players can also put pieces on the board instead of moving a piece, but the pieces you can “drop” are pieces captured by your teammate. This way you and your teammate need to cooperate and for example, make some trades when your ally needs a particular piece for an attack or defence.

3-check

First person to give three checks to the opposing king wins. This variant is very dynamic, there are a lot of sacrifices that can win the game on the spot. You need to adjust your openings to be more closed and not to leave holes for a random bishop check for example. Heavy pieces (Rooks and Queens) usually after landing a check, can quickly make another one if they are not captured, so they are even more dangerous. Regular checkmate still ends the game, so not every game ends with a 3-check.

King of the hill

First person to enter the Center (4 central squares) with their King, wins. If you go out with your king to the center too quickly you can get checkmated by the opponent or all the central squared will be controlled by him/her with their pawn and pieces. If you go too late, the opponent will outpace you and get to the center quicker.

Racing kings

This one is pretty unique. Checking is not allowed and both players start from the bottom of the board and try to reach the top of the board, the finish line.
racing.png

3 players chess

This one can be played on a special board. It feels weird at first, because straight lines aren’t straight and the movement can be surprising. It is not as fair, because 2 people can gang up on one player and requires some political skills.
1024px-Chess_for_Three_-_Hexagonal_Board

4 player chess

This variant is pretty interesting. There are very long diagonals and files and you can be attacked from multiple sides at once. It is important to remember about the order of players as people can join others’ attacks.Four-handed_chess.png

Positional variants

You can start a game from any position you want, so players make pretty interesting and bizarre ones. For example, here is The Horde variant. Chess Horde

Thanks!

Thanks for reading! I hope you learned a thing or two. Chess is a great game and there is a lot more to cover, so I will write some more in the future. But until then, remember to protect your king!

Below is a special chess puzzle. One of my favorites. You play as white and need to mate the black king in two moves. Any move more than that and it isn’t a valid solution to the puzzle. I even went to a chess class and showed all the people there this very puzzle. They expected to see an easy puzzle, because how hard can a mate in two be? After 15 minutes I gave them the answer, as nobody figured it out. And I will say just to clarify, white pawns move up and black pawns move down. There are so many interactions packed in just 2 moves, it’s really impressive. That’s why I don’t believe when new chess players say, “I can see 10 moves into the future!” to that I can simply reply: “I bet you can’t even see 2 moves forward.”puzzlemate2.png

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