How Chess Works

Chess Rules

It's no wonder chess can seem like a complex game. In addition to rules and regulations for each piece, there are many more dos and don'ts to learn. The more you play, the more familiar the rules will become. Here are the basics:

  • White always begins the game, so players should determine in advance who will use the white pieces.
  • Unlike checkers, no piece is allowed to jump. The only one that comes close is the knight, and he really just turns the corner.
  • Players are not allowed to skip their turn or move twice in a row.
  • The only time you may "take-back" a move is if you place your king on an unsafe square or in the path of an opponent's piece that can capture it. Your opponent must alert you to your illegal move and you can take it back.
  • If your king is under attack or in check, you must do whatever you can to save him. The options are to move the king, block the king or capture the threatening piece. If you cannot do any of these, your opponent has your king in checkmate and the game is over.
  • Pawns only move one square at a time except when they are leaving homebase on the second or seventh rank. The first move can be either one or two spaces, but only forward along the file.
  • If the king is not under attack, but moving him in any direction would put him in check, then the game ends in a draw. This is called stalemate.

For a game that's been around for centuries, it's not surprising that it also has several special rules.


  • Castling -- This move is done at the beginning of the game to get the king in a safe position. It's the only time you can move two pieces at once, and it's the only time the king can move more than one square. If you've moved pieces out into the board and there's nothing between the king and the rook in the front rank, you can move the king two squares to the side and then move the rook to the other side of the king. The rules about this special rule are: You cannot castle out of check and you cannot castle through check.
  • Pawn promotion -- If a pawn reaches the opponent's end of the board without getting captured, it receives a promotion. Pawns may be promoted to any piece, usually a queen, giving the pawn more power.
  • En passant -- This also has to do with pawn and it means "in passing." This is the trickiest of the three special rules. It allows the pawn to capture an opponent's pawn without landing on its square. This may only be done if the pawn came from homebase and moved two squares and, in the meantime, passed an enemy pawn.

[source: Andrews].