The Rules of Chess

The Object

The object of the game is to attack your opponent's King in such a way that he cannot prevent you from killing it (this is called checkmate) while at the same time preventing him from doing the same to you.  The other way to lose is to run out of time.  Time limits will be explained in more detail further down this page.

The Chessboard

Chess is played on an 8x8 square board with alternating light and dark squares.  The square closest to either player's left is dark, while the square closest to either player's right is light. (Just remember, light on right - it rhymes!) The 8 columns are called files, and they are lettered a (at White's left/Black's right) to h (at White's right/Black's left).  The 8 rows are called ranks, and they are numbered 1 (closest to White) to 8 (closest to Black).

The pieces

Chess is a battle between 2 players - White and Black.  Players take turns moving until the game is over.  White always moves first.  If you were White the last time you played against a specific opponent, you must be Black next time.  Each player starts the game off with a King, a Queen, 2 Rooks, 2 Bishops, 2 Knights, and 8 Pawns.  Each type of piece has its own unique style of movement, as you will see in the following sections.

The Pawn

White Pawn

White's 8 Pawns are placed on rank 2, while Black's 8 Pawns are placed on rank 7.  The first time a Pawn moves, it may move ahead 1 or 2 spaces.  After a Pawn has moved, it can only move 1 space at a time.  Pawns may not move sideways or backwards.  When killing another piece, a Pawn must move 1 space diagonally forward.  The Pawn is the only piece that does not kill in the same way that it normally moves.

The Knight

White Knight

White's Knights start off at b1 and g1.  Black's Knights start off at b8 and g8.  The knight's movement is a bit tricky, and it is a move found only in chess or games derived from chess.  The knight must move either 2 spaces vertically and 1 space horizontally, or 2 spaces horizontally and 1 space vertically.  The knight's move can be described as being like the letter L.  A knight in a corner only has 2 squares to which it can move, while a knight in the centre has 8 squares to which it can move.  The knight is also the only piece that can "jump" over other pieces.  A Knight that starts off on a dark square will move to a light square, and vice versa.

The Bishop

White Bishop

White's Bishops start off at c1 and f1.  Black's Bishops start off at c8 and f8.  Bishops move any number of spaces diagonally - that is, the horizontal distance must equal the vertical distance of a Bishop's move.  A Bishop that starts off on light squares, therefore, will always be on light squares.  A Bishop in a corner of an uncluttered board has seven squares to which it can move, while a Bishop in the centre has 13 squares to which it can move.

The Rook

White Rook

White's Rooks start off at a1 and h1.  Black's Rooks start off at a8 and h8.  Rooks move any number of spaces horizontally or vertically - that is, either the horizontal distance or the vertical distance of a Rook's move must be zero.  Rooks can be powerful pieces if their path is not blocked by other pieces - on an uncluttered board, a Rook has 14 squares to which it can move.

The Queen

White Queen

White's Queen starts off at d1.  Black's Queen starts off at d8.  The Queen has the combined movement abilities of the Rook and the Bishop.  On an uncluttered board, a Queen in a corner has 21 squares to which it can move, while a Queen in the centre has 27 squares to which it can move.

The King

White King

White's King starts off at e1.  Black's King starts off at e8.  The King is the most important piece in the game - you must protect yours at all costs, while at the same time breaking down your opponent's defences to kill his King.  The King moves only one square at a time in any of the eight directions that a Queen can move.  When your King is attacked, it is said to be in check, and the check must be corrected so that the other player may not kill your King.  If the check can't be corrected, it is called checkmate and the game is over.  There are 3 ways you might correct a check:

A King in the corner has 3 squares to which it may move, while a King in the centre has 8 squares to which it may move.  Note that the King must be protected, especially behind a wall of your own pieces.  However, you must also be careful not to leave yourself open to a smothered mate, a checkmate in which your King can't move to safety due to his own pieces blocking him in.  When you move to attack your opponent's King, if your opponent is a novice, you should say, "check" to notify him that his King is under attack.  If you checkmate your opponent, you should say, "checkmate" to notify him that the game is over.

This is the only correct way to set up a chessboard.  Note that the White Queen is on a light square and the Black Queen is on a dark square.  Always remember, the dress matches the shoes.
Black Rook Black Knight Black Bishop Black Queen Black King Black Bishop Black Knight Black Rook
Black Pawn Black Pawn Black Pawn Black Pawn Black Pawn Black Pawn Black Pawn Black Pawn
Blank Blank Blank Blank Blank Blank Blank Blank
Blank Blank Blank Blank Blank Blank Blank Blank
Blank Blank Blank Blank Blank Blank Blank Blank
Blank Blank Blank Blank Blank Blank Blank Blank
White Pawn White Pawn White Pawn White Pawn White Pawn White Pawn White Pawn White Pawn
White Rook White Knight White Bishop White Queen White King White Bishop White Knight White Rook

Special Moves

There are three types of special moves in chess - castling, pawn promotion, and en passant.


Castling is a special move in which the King moves 2 spaces towards the Rook and the Rook jumps over the King.  Castling is the only move in which you may move 2 pieces, and can only be done if the following conditions apply:

There are 2 ways you may castle - queenside or kingside.

Pawn Promotion

Since Pawns never move sideways or backwards, they become useless once they reach the end of the board.  To reward you for your perseverance, the Pawn may be promoted to a Knight, Bishop, Rook, or Queen.  Note that a Pawn may not become a 2nd King, nor can it remain a Pawn.  The Queen is most often chosen, since it is generally the best piece, so Pawn Promotion is commonly referred to as Queening.  It is even possible to have 2 or more Queens by Pawn Promotion.  If a 2nd Queen can't be found, turning a Rook upside-down may serve as a Queen, or any other object of a suitable size and colour.

En Passant

In the olden days of chess, the rule that Pawns could move 2 spaces on their first move didn't exist.  That rule was introduced later to speed up the opening.  It would seem that this gave players the opportunity to sneak their Pawns past enemy Pawns without exposing them to danger.  But if the Pawn had been in the line of fire of another Pawn if it had moved only 1 space instead of 2, the other Pawn may still take it en passant, which means in passing.  No other piece but a Pawn may do this.  To demonstrate, set up your board as follows:

Note that if you intend to kill a Pawn en passant, you must do so immediately after the other Pawn moves.  If you wait any turns, you will lose that privilege.

The Touch-Move Rule

There are a number of strict rules regarding the touching of pieces.  Some of these rules are strictly enforced, while others are not.  You and your opponent must agree beforehand which of the following rules will be enforced.

Time Limits

If there were no time limits, the game of chess could be quite boring - players may sit in contemplation for hours before deciding on a move.  In general, the more time a player spends thinking about his move, the better the quality of his move will be.  There are 6 basic ways time limits may be enforced in a game.  In either case, the players must agree on the time limits before the game begins.  Note that each player has his own clock, which runs only while it is his turn.  If either player runs out of time, he forfeits the game.  When your turn begins, your opponent starts running your clock.  After you move, you must stop your clock and then start your opponent's clock.  If you are playing on a computer, this is done for you automatically.

  1. A specific amount of time given for each move.  This amount of time may range from 2 minutes to 3 days (this may apply to players who are playing online but due to scheduling differences can't be online at the same time).
  2. A specific amount of time in which a certain number of moves must be made, for example 20 moves in 40 minutes, or 40 moves in 30 minutes.  Once this time has been reached for either player, if that player has not yet made the specified number of moves, he forfeits the game.  If he has reached that number of moves, the clock is reset for the next specific number of moves.  In this case, time you save on one move may be carried forward to the next move.
  3. A specific amount of time in which the entire game must be played.  This format is generally used in tournaments in which games must be completed on schedule.
  4. Fischer time, a special type of clock in which you start with a specific amount of time, and then another specific amount of time is added to your clock each time you move, for example 10 minutes to start and 31 seconds added for each move.  This format is ideal for casual games in which players have about the same amount of time to think about each move if they finish within 20 moves, or if the game extends well past 99 moves.
  5. Hourglass time, in which one player's clock counts down while the other player's clock counts up.  In other words, the more time your opponent takes, the more time you can take.  The advantage of this style of clock is that the game keeps moving at a reasonable pace because neither player wants the other to have a time advantage.  The disadvantage of this style of clock is that you have about the same amount of time for every move, even though some positions require more thought than others.
  6. Hybrids of the above formats, such as 40 minutes for the first 20 moves, and 40 minutes for the rest of the game.

Ways to draw

Everybody wants to win, but there are situations where you can't win, but you still must prevent your opponent from checkmating you.  In cases where neither player is able to checkmate the other, the game is a tie, or a draw, which is far less embarrassing than losing.  In fact, many games between grandmasters result in a draw.  There are 7 ways in which this might happen.

  1. Agreement.  Both players agree on a draw, for fear of each other.
  2. Repeated position.  The same position occurs for the third time with the same player to move, and no change in castling privileges.  A player who wishes to declare a draw by repeated position must do so before he moves.  Most computer chess programs will announce a draw immediately when this situation arises, though in reality players may choose to continue playing.
  3. Stalemate.  If your King is not in check, but you have no legal moves, the game is a draw.
  4. 50-move rule.  If each player makes 50 consecutive moves without killing a piece or moving a Pawn (i.e. each player makes 50 reversible moves in succession), the next player to move may declare a draw.  Note that a King moving out of check by a Pawn is not technically reversible, but is not subject to the exceptions to this rule.  There are rare exceptions to this rule, in cases where it can be proven that a player requires more than 50 moves to checkmate his opponent.
  5. Perpetual check.  If you can prove that you can put your opponent in check forever, you may declare a draw.  However, you are not obliged to do so if you think you can win.
  6. Simultaneously running out of time.  Though your clock and your opponent's clock run exclusively of each other, if you run out of time and your opponent fails to notice this, and then your opponent also runs out of time, you may declare a draw.  If you don't notice that your opponent has run out of time until after he checkmates you, it is too late.  You may not declare a draw anymore.
  7. Exhaustion of forces.  Neither player has the pieces necessary to force checkmate.  The following situations constitute a draw:

Algebraic Notation

During official tournaments and matches, players are required to keep track of the moves they make during the game, for the purpose of analysis and backtracking, if necessary.  Since it would be far too time-consuming to write the move down as "I moved my King's Rook 3 spaces forward and checked my opponent's King", chessplayers have devised a brief notation that is universally understood.  The rules for algebraic notation are as follows:

Sealed Moves

Sometimes you will be in a situation where a game must be adjourned due to the lateness of the hour, perhaps the chess club where you are playing is closing, or you or your opponent has a very important appointment.  In this case, the player whose turn it is must decide on a move within the time specified by the time controls, write his move down on a piece of paper and seal it in an envelope, which his opponent may not open until the game recommences.  The player then stops his clock but does not start his opponent's clock.  The reason for this is so that the other player does not have substantially more time to decide on a move.  When the game is scheduled to recommence, if the player who sealed the move does not show up within the previously agreed-upon time control, he forfeits the game, unless the sealed move is checkmate.  This might happen if the player, at the time he wrote down the move, didn't realize that it would be checkmate.

Miscellaneous Rules

This section discusses rules that do not fall under any of the above categories.

That's it in a nutshell.  For a more detailed list of rules, see