I realized something important is missing from our blog on beginner chess lessons: How to move the chess pieces!
Our Step 1 course goes into quite a bit of detail on each piece. Students practice moving it around the board, using it to capture other pieces, and getting from one place to another in the shortest possible number of moves. For now, I want to give a quick visual introduction to each one. You can use this to learn how to play yourself, to teach your child the moves, or just as a reminder!
The rook is the simplest piece, so we start with that. It can move as many squares as it wants as long as it’s moving in a straight line. The straight lines the rook moves along are called ranks (these go from side to side) and files (going up and down).
An interesting fact: It doesn’t matter where on an empty board you place a rook. It can always move to exactly 14 different squares!
You can think of the bishop as the diagonal version of the rook. It can move as many squares as it wants, as long as it’s moving along a diagonal line.
One thing that makes the bishop weaker than the rook is that it can only ever travel on squares of its own color. Sometimes I like to place a pawn on the opposite color to a bishop and ask how many moves the bishop will take to capture it. When they laugh and tell me it’s impossible, I know they understand the bishop’s movement!
If you place the bishop in the middle of an empty board, it can move to 13 different squares. Like most pieces, it becomes less mobile as it moves farther away from the center.
After learning about the rook and the bishop, the queen is fairly straightforward. She can move as many squares as she wants in a straight line, like a rook. She can also move as many squares as she wants in a diagonal line, like a bishop! Of course the queen has to choose on every move - she cannot combine the rook and bishop movements simultaneously.
I like to ask kids if they can figure out how many squares a queen can move to from the middle of the board. When they start counting, I ask them if they can figure it out without looking at the board and counting squares. 14 squares moving like a rook + 13 squares moving like a bishop = 27 squares. The queen is a force! She is the strongest piece ever since the rules of chess were changed during the renaissance.
The king has a unique role. He is the only piece that stays on the board for the entire game. When the king is being attacked, it is called a “check”. Check is like a fire alarm - it must be dealt with immediately! You are not allowed to stay in check or move into check. After learning about the queen, the way the king moves is fairly simple: One square at a time in any direction.
The knight is probably the most confusing piece. First of all, it’s the only piece that can jump over other pieces. If a piece stands in between the knight and the square it intends to move to, it’s not a problem: The knight simply jumps over it. Secondly, the knight doesn’t move in a straight line. I think of the knight move as “one, two, turn”: It goes two squares in a straight line, then turns one square to either side.
A knight in the center of the board can move to 8 different squares. You will notice that as the knight moves closer to the edge, its mobility is greatly reduced. You can think of the knight as being roughly equivalent to the bishop in value.
At last, the pawn! The pawn is the only piece that moves and captures differently. It moves one square in a straight line, but captures one square diagonally.
A couple other special things about the pawn: It is the only piece that cannot move backwards, and the only piece that can become another piece! If a pawn makes it all the way to the other side of the board, it can promote into any other piece other than the king.
The pawn is also capable of another form of capture, known as the “en passant” capture, but we leave this for the end of our Step 1 course. At the start, the basics are enough rules to keep track of!