The Game of Chess

Basic Moves and Rules

The rules of Chess are very strict and there isn't really any room for change, but there are ways you can lighten them up a little so they work better for you at home. There are the hard-line Chess players who will stick to tournament rules, so just be aware of whom you're playing with and how you both want to use the rules. You don't want to get into any arguments when the game is underway, so be clear with each other before the match begins.

For example, in professional tournaments, if you touch a piece that can be legally moved, you must move it. This rule is often ignored in casual games or home matches. When I played Chess, we usually used the rule that you can touch the piece, but you cannot move it and return it to its old position. If you move the piece, the play must be carried through. Be clear on these kinds of rules before the game begins. We don't want anyone getting riled up at the beginning of the game. That should come later, when your King is in check!

You may never move a piece into a square already occupied by another one of your pieces. However, you may move into your opponent's square by capturing one of his pieces.

Most plays begin by moving the Pawns. The Pawns advance upon each other in an effort to capture each other and make way for the advancement of other key pieces to make their moves.

These Chess moves will take some time getting to know.

Tournament Moves: Playing with the Pros

Here are some basic moves to get you started:

Castling: This is an important move because it affords the King the necessary protection and places the Rook in a position to do some serious battling. Castling is usually done early in the game and savvy players will do their best to prevent their opponent from castling their own King. This play is usually the first battle you'll experience in a game of Chess between two knowledgeable opponents. Castling occurs when you move your King two squares from one of your Rooks and then move that Rook to the opposite side of the King. You cannot use this maneuver if your King or your Rook has already made a first move. That is why this play is usually made near the beginning of the game. The King cannot castle out of or into check and there can be no other piece between the Rook and the King when castling.

En passant: The play en passant, which is French for “in passing,” allows a player to capture an opponent's Pawn en passant. This is usually done to prevent a player from using the “two squares first” rule for Pawns. You don't want your opponent's pawns to pass you without a chance to capture. The play is made when your Pawn (the one that was passed) removes your opponent's Pawn (the one that moved two squares) from the board. This maneuver is optional and is useful if there's a reason you don't want your opponent's Pawn to move ahead of your own.

Check and Checkmate

If your King is trapped so it cannot move in any direction without capture, your opponent declares “checkmate” and you've lost the game. A King can never move into “check”—meaning it can never move onto a square where it can be captured by an opponent's piece. If a King is not in check, and no other move is possible, then the game is called a “stalemate” or a tie.

In casual games, it is common for one player to call “check” or “checkmate.” In fact, I remember playing Chess games where if you didn't call it, the game is declared a tie. But in tournament conditions, it is considered rude and illegal to speak aloud, let alone call out when your opponent's King is in jeopardy. Tournaments are usually played in a roomful of people, and if a player speaks aloud (especially to utter such a threatening word to the ears of other Chess players) he may be penalized by the Tournament Director. Calling “check” or “checkmate” is rude in the Chess world because it assumes that the other player isn't paying enough attention to notice that his or her King is in danger. The correct etiquette is to let your opponent discover the danger on his or her own.

Three Strikes

In professional tournaments, there is no need for the one player to explain the rules to the other. If you've made it as far as a tournament, it's understood that you both know the rules. Explanations of rules can only be spoken aloud by the Tournament Director. If one player takes it upon himself to explain the rules, it is considered interference and he or she can be penalized.

If the player in check doesn't realize the danger and then proceeds to make an illegal move (for example, not moving the King out of danger), the opponent should point out that an illegal move was made and the player in check will usually realize what's happening.

The Tournament Director (TD) acts as a kind of referee. At home, when disputes arise, a third party can be called in to moderate. If you do call in a third party, make sure that person knows how to play the game.


Stalemates do not happen that often in Chess matches, but there are a few exceptions. Most matches will be played until the King is taken, but even the pros have been known to confront this rarity.

Here are a few examples of a game being declared a stalemate (or tie):

  • If a King is not in check and no other move is possible
  • If 50 moves are made without the advance of a Pawn
  • If the same position (recurring plays) occurs three times

Let's Get Going

Now that you know the basic rules (and even some of the etiquette) of the game, you're ready for your first match. Find a worthy opponent (or maybe someone in the learning stages like you) and start making your moves. You will figure out strategies as the game moves along. All you need to know are the basic moves of the pieces, and you can get started.

High Score

Just remember: The white player in Chess always moves first. You can determine who is white and black by flipping a coin.

If you're playing at home, you may want to go over the standard rules with your opponent just so that you're both clear on whether this is a casual or tournament-style game. It's probably best to play casually unless you have a third party on hand who can act as the TD. After the first move is made, each player must alternate turns. No turn can ever be skipped or passed.

Chess Notation

If you decide you like the game enough and want to try and get really good at it, you should study up on game playing tactics. There are many of them. To do the necessary studying, you will have to know a little bit about Chess notation.

When studying the games, you will notice that all the plays are described in a coded language. One of the most popular forms of Chess notation is the Algebraic System. This system identifies each square on the chessboard by number and letter. Each column or file is labeled with a letter (ranging a to h from left to right) and each row is labeled with a number (going from one to eight up the rows when the white corner is on your bottom right). So you identify the players on the board according to where they sit in the grid. For example, at the start of the game, once the board is all set up, your Rooks sit on a1 and h1 accordingly. You will need to know this system if you want to study previous matches or follow matches played on the Internet. There are so many interactive Chess matches on the Web, and if you follow these games closely, you will eventually learn more about tactics. Notation can get very complicated, but here are some basic examples that will be helpful to you as you study:

Basic symbols in notation:

  • K King
  • Q Queen
  • R Rook
  • B Bishop
  • N Knight
  • + check
  • ++ checkmate
  • x capture (This symbol is often omitted when recording the capture of Pawns. For example, cxd5 means the Pawn on c4 captured the piece on d5. Sometimes this is shortened to cxd or even to just cd.)

More on: Games

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Family Games © 2002 by BookEnds, LLC. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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