Lesson 1 – How the game of chess works

The first lesson in this chess course is intended for anyone who knows nothing at all, or very little, about the game of chess. You will learn the names of all the pieces, how to set up the chessboard, how the pieces move and what you need to do to win a game of chess. Once you’ve mastered this lesson you will be able to play a basic game of chess.

Below the video is a transcript (with diagrams).


How the game of chess works

Welcome to the game of chess!
Welcome to the game of chess!

Did you know chess is the most popular board game in the world? A recent study found that, worldwide, more than 600 million people play chess regularly. In this course I will teach you how to play chess, I will show you how the pieces move and I’ll explain what you need to do if you want to win the game.But before I continue, maybe you are wondering how chess started. Well, nobody actually knows, but there is an old legend that chess was played more than 1500 years ago when an Indian king asked his soldiers to invent a game that represented a war. The king’s idea was that, by playing this game, his soldiers wouldn’t only be strong, but they would become smart too.

The game that the king’s advisors invented would be played between two people and the person you played against would be your opponent. Each player received 16 chessmen which would be referred to as the pieces. The first team would be named white and the other team black. The purpose of the game was to capture as many as possible of your opponent’s pieces and then to eventually trap their king. As soon as you manage to trap your opponent’s king, it would be called checkmate, and you would be the winner. But, of course, it’s not easy to trap your opponent’s king because they won’t simply allow you to do so. In a moment I will show you how the chess pieces are allowed to move, but first there are a few important things you need to know about the chessboard.

There are 64 squares on a chessboard and a row of squares on a vertical line is called a file.

Files.
Files.

So this would be the a-file, the b-file, c-file, d-file, e-file, f-file, g-file and lastly the h-file.

On the other hand, a row of squares on a horizontal line is called a rank.

Ranks.
Ranks.

This would be the first rank, the 2nd rank, the 3rd rank, the 4th rank, the 5th rank, the 6th rank, the 7th rank and right at the top, the 8th rank.

Then we also get diagonals.

Diagonals.
Diagonals.

Some diagonals are long and others are short. For example, this would be a short diagonal, and this would be a long diagonal. The important thing to know about a diagonal, is that all the squares on the diagonal are the same colour. You’ve probably already noticed that some of the squares on the board are light and the others are dark. The reason for this is to help you see the diagonals clearly. Chess players usually refer to a diagonal as a light-square diagonal or a dark-square diagonal.

You can see all the squares on this diagonal are light, so it would be called a light-square diagonal

Light-square diagonal.
Light-square diagonal.

and all the squares on this diagonal are dark,

Dark-square diagonal.
Dark-square diagonal.

so it is a dark-square diagonal.

To summarize, the squares on a vertical row are called a file, the squares on a horizontal row are called a rank. The squares on a diagonal are all the same color.

Then you should also know that the 4 squares in the middle of the board are known as the centre, so if I ever refer to the centre, then you know I am talking about these 4 squares in the middle of the board.

The centre.
The centre.

Each of the 64 squares on the chessboard have their own name. If you want to know the name of a square, then you simply check the letters and numbers on the side of the board. For example, the name of this square is e4.

The name of this square is e4.
The name of this square is e4.

And the name of this square is g7.

The name of this square is g7 (not 7g).
The name of this square is g7 (not 7g).

You always say the letter first and then the number. You’ll say g7, not 7g.

Now it’s time to learn about the pieces and first of all I’ll introduce you to their names and at the same time I will also show you how to pack a chessboard at the start of the game. We start with this piece.

Each side gets two rooks.
Each side gets two rooks and you place them in the corners.

This is the rook. Sometimes he is also referred to as the castle, but it’s correct name is – the rook. You will notice that each side start the game with two rooks. One in the left-hand corner and one on the right-hand corner. It’s the same for black – one rook in each corner.

Then, next to each of the rooks, you place a knight. And of course it’s the same for black.

Next to the rooks are the knights.
Next to the rooks are the knights.

Next to each rook, you place a knight. The knight is also known as a horse, but it’s correct name in chess is – the knight.

Next to the knights you place the bishops.

Next to the knights are the bishops.
Next to the knights you place the bishops.

One on the left-hand side and one on the right-hand side, and the same for black.

On the two remaining squares you place your king and queen,

The king and queen go on the two middle squares. Queen goes on her color.
The king and queen go on the two middle squares. Queen goes on her color.

but notice that when you pack the pieces you should always place the queen on a matching square. In other words, the white queen would start the game on a light square and the black queen would start the game on a dark square.

On the row in front of the big pieces you place your 8 pawns.

In front of the big pieces you place the pawns.
In front of the big pieces you place the pawns.

Notice that the white pawns will be packed on the 2nd rank, whereas the black pawns will be placed on the 7th rank. This is not just coincidence – it’s how it should be – you should always pack the white pieces on row 1&2 and the black pieces on row 7&8.

One more thing I need to say about the chessboard is that this side of the board is referred to as the king-side

The king-side.
The king-side.

because it’s the side of the board where the kings start the game and this side is the queen-side

The queen-side.
The queen-side.

because it’s the side where the queens start. So if you hear a chess player refer to the king-side then you know they’re talking about this side of the board and if they mention the queen-side, then they are referring to this side of the board.

You now know the names of all the pieces and you know how to pack the board. The player with the white pieces always makes the first move and after that the 2 players take turns to make a move. You must make a move when it’s your turn, in other words, you’re not allowed to skip your turn.

Now we get to the most important part of this lesson – learning how the chess pieces move. We’ll start with the rook.

How the rook moves.
How the rook moves.

And to show you how the rook moves I’ll remove the other pieces from the board, except the kings, because during a game you may never remove the kings from the board. The rook can move over long distances in a straight line, up or down and left or right – as far as he wants to. If this rook wants to be on the d8-square,

The rook can go to d8 in one move.
The rook can go to d8 in one move.

then he can do so with one move. However, if he wants to be on h8,

The rook requires two moves to get to h8.
The rook requires two moves to get to h8.

that would require 2 moves. For example, on his first move he can move to d8, and then on your next turn he could move to h8. Or he could move to h4 on the first move, and then to h8 on the next turn. But here is an important rule – chess pieces may not jump over other pieces. For example, if there is a bishop on this square,

The rook cannot move to h4 now because he is not allowed to jump over another piece.
The rook cannot move to h4 now because he is not allowed to jump over another piece.

then white’s rook may not move to h4, because he is not allowed to jump over another piece. He also can’t move to this square either because there may be only one piece on a square. However, if an enemy piece occupies a square where you can move, for example if this was a black bishop,

The rook can't jump over the black bishop but, since it's an enemy piece, he may capture it.
The rook can’t jump over the black bishop but, since it’s an enemy piece, he may capture it.

then you may capture that piece. And you do so by moving your piece to that square and you remove your opponent’s piece from the board. In chess we say you capture the black bishop.

Next, we look at the bishop.

How the bishop moves.
How the bishop moves.

The bishop can also move over long distances, but only on the diagonals. If this bishop wants to move to g7 then he can do so in one move, but if he wants to be on f8 then that would require 2 moves. He could go to g7 first and then to f8 on the next move or he could go to c5 and then to f8 on the next move. Again, you may not jump over other pieces, but if an enemy piece occupies a square where you can move then you may capture it. In this case you would move your bishop to this square and remove the enemy piece from the board.

Now the queen.

How the queen moves.
How the queen moves.

The queen is the most powerful piece in your army because she can move like a rook… but she may also move like a bishop. If the queen wants to be on h8, she could do that in one move. However, if she wants to be on f7, that would require two moves. But because she can move on straight lines as well as on diagonals, there are many ways to get to f7 within two moves. She could go to d5 then f7, or she can go to a7 and then f7 or even f2 first, and then to f7. I’m sure you can see why the queen is such a powerful piece. However, as is the case with the other pieces, she is not allowed to jump over any pieces. But again, if an enemy piece occupies a square where she can move, then she can capture that piece and remove it from the board.

Now the King.

How the king moves.
How the king moves.

Even though the king is the most important piece, he is not the strongest because he may move in any direction but only one square at a time. If this king wants to be on h7, he needs 4 turns to do so. 1,2,3,4. And if an enemy piece is on a square where he can move, then he can capture that piece.

Let’s take a look at the knight.

The knight jumps in an L-shape and is the only piece that may jump over other pieces.
The knight jumps in an L-shape and is the only piece that may jump over other pieces.

The knight-move is harder to learn than the other pieces because the knight is the only piece that does not move in a straight line and it is also the only piece that may jump over his own or even over enemy pieces. The knight always jumps around a corner. An easy way to remember this movement is to think that the move looks like a capital letter L. He can make this move in any direction. He may also jump over other pieces…

The knight may jump over the pawn to capture the rook.
The knight may jump over the pawn to capture the rook.

so even if a piece is in its way, he may jump over it. But notice that if he jumps over an enemy piece, then he doesn’t capture that piece. He can only capture an enemy piece that is on the square where he wants to land. So in this example he jumps over the black pawn, but he doesn’t capture it. He does however capture the black rook since it’s on the square where he lands. It would be a good idea to pause here for a moment and think about the moves of the knight – it will help you remember the move.

Lastly, we look at how the pawn moves.

Pawns can move only forwards, only one square at a time. On their first move they can move two squares. But a pawn can’t capture straight ahead (it’s blocked), it captures diagonally, one square far.

A pawn can move only forward and only one square at a time. A pawn cannot go backward, only forward. However, any pawn that still stands on its starting square, in other words a pawn that hasn’t moved yet, may choose to move one or two squares.  The pawn on h2 may still move two squares if he wants.

The pawn on f3 already moved from its starting position – so he may move only only square. A pawn is also different to all the other pieces because he cannot capture an enemy piece that occupies a square in front of him. If an enemy piece is on the square in front of a pawn, then this pawn cannot move forward, it’s blocked. But, the pawn can also capture enemy piece – just in a unique way – he can capture diagonally – one square far.

A pawn captures diagonally, one square far.
A pawn captures diagonally, one square far.

So even though the pawn on d4 is currently blocked, if black placed a piece on e5 or on d5, then the pawn would be able to capture it. For example if the black rook moved here,

The pawn can now capture the black rook.
The pawn can now capture the black rook.

the white pawn could capture it. Now there is one more thing you need to know about a pawn.

If a pawn reaches the other side then he can promote to a big piece (queen, rook, bishop or knight).
If a pawn reaches the other side then he can promote to a big piece (queen, rook, bishop or knight).

If a pawn reaches the last rank on other side of the board then it becomes one of the large pieces. And he may choose what he wants to be. It can become a knight or a bishop or a rook or a queen but it can’t become a king, and it also can’t stay a pawn – it must become one of the big pieces. It works likes this – the pawn moves onto the last rank,

The pawn promoted to a queen.
The pawn promoted to a queen.

then you remove it from the board and place the piece of your choice on the square where the pawn promoted. In most cases the pawn will choose to become a queen because the queen is the most powerful piece. And even if you still have your queen from the start of the game, you may get another queen, because every time one of your pawns reach the other side of the board then that pawn can become a queen. In chess this special pawn move is known as promotion.

Now that you’ve almost reached the end of this lesson. let us quickly review some of the important things you’ve learned.

How the rook moves.
The rook.

The rook moves as far as he wants on a straight line, up or down, left or right, and if an enemy piece occupies a square where he can move, then he can capture that piece.

How the bishop moves.
The bishop.

The bishop moves on the diagonals, also as far as he wants.

How the queen moves.
The queen.

The queen can move like a rook and also like a bishop.

How the king moves.
The king.

The king may move in any direction but only one square at a time.

The knight jumps in an L-shape and is the only piece that may jump over other pieces.
The knight.

The knight always jumps around a corner and he may jump over his own and also over enemy pieces, but he cannot capture a piece if he jumps over it, he can only capture a piece on the square where he lands.

The pawn.

A pawn can only move straight ahead and only one square at a time, but if he is still on his starting square then he may move one or two squares, but thereafter only one square at a time. A pawn can’t capture straight. If an enemy piece is on the square right on front of your pawn, then that pawn is blocked. A pawn captures on a diagonal, one square far. And if a pawn should reach the last rank on the other side of the board, then he gets a promotion and he can choose to become a knight, bishop, rook or queen.

If a pawn reaches the other side then he can promote to a big piece (queen, rook, bishop or knight).
The pawn promotes.

I hope you enjoyed this lesson and learnt a lot from it. In the next lesson you will learn what an exchange is and why it is so important in chess and I will also show you how to make good exchanges in chess.