After you learn how to set up a chessboard, the next step in your chess adventure is understanding how the chess pieces move. Knowing how the chess pieces move is not as challenging as many people think.
Yes, chess is a complex game, but the complexity comes from putting many simple components together. The good news is you start with the simple elements of what makes a chess game, and later you get to choose how complex you want to make the game.
Little by little, you learn more about this game we love and then put it together in your unique way. Do not rush these first steps, and take as long as you need.
If you need a refresher on setting up a chessboard, we have a handy guide already prepared for you.
How Each of the Chess Piece Moves
When learning how the chess pieces move, we will continue working through the pieces from the outside in - rooks, knights, bishops, queen, and king.
Every piece in chess has a unique way of moving. The king and pawn also have special moves only they can perform.
Pawn - except for its first move, the pawn moves one square forward. On its first move, the pawn can move two squares forward.
Be careful when advancing your pawn two squares because it can become a victim of the en passant rule.
The en passant rule states that if a pawn advances two squares past an opponent’s pawn on the fifth rank, the opponent may capture it as if it had moved one square.
The white pawn on c5 keeps Black from advancing with either …b5 or …d5 because the pawn will get captured en passant.
However, if you are going to capture en passant, you must make the capture on the very next move. Capturing in chess is not forced, and you can make another move.
Although a pawn moves forward in a straight line, it captures on a diagonal. If you are playing with white and place a pawn on d4, it can capture a piece on e5 and c5.
When a pawn makes it to the opposite side of the board (the eighth rank), you can promote it to a knight, bishop, rook, or queen.
Rook - the rook moves in a straight line forward or sideways across unoccupied squares. They also play an important role in a special king move called castling.
The rook can cover any number of unoccupied squares with each move.
Knight - the knight, is the only piece that can jump over another piece. This ability to jump over a piece makes the knight the only piece you can move at the start of the game without moving a pawn.
The knight moves in any direction in an L-shape - two squares forward, sideways, or backward and one to the side. For example, at the start of the game, the knight on g1 can move to f3 or h3. Two squares forward places it on the third rank, and the files next to it are the “f” and “h” files.
You will notice that a knight always moves to a square that is the opposite color to the one it stands on. In our example, g1 is a dark square, and f3 and h3 are light squares.
The knight cannot go to e2 at the start of the game because a white pawn occupies that square.
Of all the pieces, the knight is regarded as the trickiest piece because of how it moves.
Bishop - the bishop moves on a diagonal and is restricted to the color of its starting square. This restriction means the bishop on c1 can only move diagonally on the dark squares, and the bishop on f1 must stay on the light squares.
Yes, this means that each bishop on its own can only move on half the squares of the board and cannot attack pieces that are on other color squares.
That is why you will hear chess players talk about keeping both bishops and mention “the bishop pair advantage.” The two bishops together cover all the squares on the board.
Like the rook, the bishop can move across any number of unoccupied squares with each move.
Queen - the queen can move across any number of unoccupied squares in any direction. The queen can move diagonally and in a straight line, combining the movement of the rook and bishop.
This ability to move in all directions makes the queen a powerful piece on attack and defense. The queen can protect and attack a lot of squares with each move.
King - like the queen, the king can move in any direction but only one square. Even if the square is unoccupied, the king cannot move across a square attacked by an opponent’s piece.
There is one special move when the king can move two squares, and that is called castling.
How to Get Your King to Safety With Castling
Castling involves your king and a rook. When it comes to castling, some specific conditions apply:
● The king and rook must not have moved from their starting squares.
● There can be no pieces occupying the squares between them.
● You cannot castle if your opponent has a piece attacking any of the squares between the king and the rook.
● If your king is in check, you cannot castle to escape the attack.
When castling, always move your king two squares towards the rook. Then place the rook on the opposite side of the king.
If you move the rook first, your opponent can claim your move is over when you release the rook. By moving your king two squares in the direction of the rook first, you show a clear intent to castle since it is the only time a king can move two squares.
Keep in mind that you can castle to either side of the board, and if you have moved one of your rooks, you can castle with the other.
Position before castling
Position after castling
Here white castled towards the closest rook to the king, known as “castling short” or “short castle.” When you castle queenside, it is “castling long” or “long castle.”
What It Means to Capture a Piece
Except for the knight, chess pieces can only move across open squares. When a square is occupied by another piece, you cannot go further.
However, you can capture it if it is one of your opponent’s pieces and not their king. When you capture a piece, you remove it from the board and place your piece on that square.
In this position, the rook on a1 can capture the pawn on a3.
Take a look at the position after the rook captures the pawn.
The king cannot get captured because when it comes under attack, placed in check, the threat must get dealt with before any other move. When the king cannot evade capture, the game ends in checkmate.
There are three ways for the king to escape check:
● Capture the piece attacking the king.
● Block the check by placing another piece between the king and its attacker.
● The king moves to a square where it is no longer attacked.
Black played …Rf8 and placed the white king in check. White can deal with the threat by moving the king out of check to the “g” or e-file, blocking the attack by moving the knight to f3, or capturing the rook with Bxf8 (the best option since the rook is more valuable than the bishop).
Congratulations on learning how the pieces move. Combined with your knowledge of how to set up the chessboard, you are almost ready to play your first game.
Before you rush off to win your first game, be sure to learn the value of the pieces.