The History and Rules of Chess


A Brief History of the Game

The game of chess derived from the two-player Indian war game Chatarung, which dates back to 600 A.D. Chatarung eventually spread to Europe, where it developed much of the colorful imagery that we see in the game today. The rules of movement eventually changed to allow a more expedited version of play – presumptively the long-range movements of several pieces – and these new rules were promulgated and standardized as the game grew in popularity.

The Board

The game of chess is a two-player strategy board game. A standard chessboard has 64 squares of alternating light and dark shades, arranged on a grid of eight by eight. Pieces are arranged along ranks, which are numbered one through eight. They are set up in eight columns, called files, which are represented by the letters “a” through “h.”

The board is arranged with a light square at the furthest right hand end of the rank nearest each player. The queen is placed on the square of its own color and the pieces in the first rank, from outside to inside, proceed from rook, knight, bishop, king/queen (alternately).

The Pieces

The players start the game with 16 pieces each: one king, one queen, two rooks, two knights, two bishops and eight pawns. Each of the six types of pieces moves differently.

The king can move one space in any direction, assuming the space is open. The only exception is called “castling” in which an unmoved king can strategically move two squares along the first rank toward a rook, and the rook can move around the king to the last square the king has crossed. This forms a protective position behind several pawns. In order to qualify for castling certain criteria must be met:

  • A king cannot be in a “checked” condition, nor may it pass “through” a checked condition during the maneuver.
  • There must not be any pieces between the king and the rook.
  • It must be the first move of the play for the king and the rook.

A queen can move any number of squares in any rank, file or diagonal. A queen cannot pass over a piece. A rook can move any number of squares in any rank or file it is presently in. It is not allowed to leap over pieces either.

A bishop can move any number of squares diagonally, but cannot leap over pieces. A knight is the only piece that can leap over another piece. It moves in an “L” shape by either moving one square vertically and two horizontally or two squares horizontally and one square vertically, in any direction.

A pawn may move forward to an unoccupied square directly in front of it, one square at a time. The only exception to this rule is that it may move two spaces in the same file on its first move, as long as both spaces are unoccupied. A pawn may strike another piece when that piece is on a square diagonally in front of it on an adjacent file. The pawn has two unique moves:

  • The en passant is a move where one player begins movement of their pawn with the double space provision. In this case, if the pawn has passed “through” a position where the enemy pawn could have captured the pawn had it only moved one square forward, the enemy pawn may take the pawn “as it passes” and moves to the square it would have been in had the pawn moved only one space and been taken normally. This rule was added in the 15th century when the rule to allow an initial double step to pawns was introduced. It prevents a pawn from avoiding capture by “skipping” past an enemy pawn.
  • The promotion maneuver occurs when a pawn has advanced to the final rank of the board in front of it. It is then exchanged for any piece the player deems strategically beneficial. The piece may become a queen, rook, knight or bishop. Normally, the queen is chosen, due to its value and maneuverability in the game. It is allowable for one player to have more pieces of any type than the game began with (such as three knights or four queens) when a promotion occurs.

The Rules

The object of the game is to maneuver the pieces to accomplish a checkmate. A check occurs any time a king is under immediate attack by any of the opponent’s pieces. A player may not move his own player into, or through, a checked position.

A checkmate is the final move of the game and the object of both players. In a checkmate, one player has moved a piece into a position where the opposing king is under immediate attack and there is no legal move remaining which could eliminate the attack.

Players may also resign, which is another way to legally end the game. This constitutes a win for the opposing player. When games are played under time control – with the use of a game clock – it is possible for the game to end in a tie, which is also known as a draw.

You can learn much more about the history of chess, strategy suggestions and tips from the United States Chess Federation.

Additional Resources




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