If you want to learn how to play chess, you first must dispel the common misconception that chess is a difficult game to learn. On the contrary, it is a very simple game and you can learn how to play chess easily. Any reasonably intelligent child of five or six can learn it. At higher levels, of course, chess is indeed a complicated undertaking.
The chess board is set up in this way. Each side has a king and queen in the middle, flanked by two bishops, two knights, and two rooks, with eight pawns on the second row. White makes the first move, and the players alternate thereafter. Moving first confers a slight advantage. In setting up the board, note that whichever side you are playing, the square in your right hand corner is always a white one. Note also that the queen starts out on a square of her own color, while the king is on a square opposite his color. The rest of the pieces should present no problem.
If you want to learn how to play chess you must first know the basics. Here are the essential moves and rules for each piece:
1. No piece can move into a square occupied by one of its own forces.
2. Except for the knight, no piece can leap over or past any of its own or the enemy’s pieces.
3. Captures are optional (unlike checkers), and are made by displacing enemy pieces. You move your piece into the square and remove the enemy man from the board.
4. The ultimate object of the game is the enforced capture of the enemy king. When this cannot be prevented, it is called checkmate, and the game is over.
5. An attack on the king is called check. The rules require that the player whose king is attacked must get out of the check immediately. He can do this by moving his king, by capturing the attacking piece, or by interposing one of his own pieces in the line of fire. If he has no legal way of doing any of these things, it is checkmate.
The queen, rook, and bishop need no further explanation. The king is limited to certain restrictions attendant upon check. Thus he cannot move into any square controlled by an enemy piece, as it would obviously be illegal to move into check. Also, he cannot occupy any square immediately adjacent to the enemy king, as that would be placing himself under attack.
The knight’s move is the most difficult to fathom at first, but it really isn’t hard once you get used to it. Note that he always lands on a square of a different color from that on which he started. Unlike any other piece, the knight can leap over either of his own or enemy forces, though, of course, he still cannot land on any square occupied by one of his own men. Note that when a knight inflicts a check, the enemy must either move his king or capture the knight; there is no way to interpose another piece in the line of fire, since the knight can leap over pieces.
The pawn has a peculiarity in that it captures by moving one square diagonally, making it the only piece which does not capture the same way it moves. Also, if a pawn ever reaches the last row, it immediately becomes whatever you want it to be (usually a queen).
If you want to learn how to play chess you must know how pieces move.
The king moves one square at any direction horizontally, vertically, or diagonally.
The queen moves any number of squares in any direction horizontally, vertically, or diagonally.
The rook (sometimes also called the castle) moves any number of squares horizontally or vertically.
The knight moves in a leap which can best be described as one square straight (either horizontally or vertically) followed by one square diagonally. He can go forward, backward or to either side.
The bishop moves any number of squares, but only diagonally. This piece thus remains throughout the game on squares of one color only.
The pawn can move ahead only. On each pawn’s first move is the option of moving either one or two squares. After that it can advance only one square at a time.
When players of vastly different abilities meet, the better one may sometimes be able to checkmate his opponent quickly, or at least gain some decisive advantage such as winning the queen. When the foes are of fairly equal strength, however, the game is likely to progress along even lines for quite a while.
In the latter case it becomes important to know how to proceed, how to build up your position, how to plan for attack and defense, and eventually, how to strike when conditions warrant it.
Mobility and space are two of the key words in playing chess. Actually, they go hand in hand, for obviously the player who controls more space is going to have more maneuvering room for his pieces. Thus in nearly all cases it is safe to say that, if the material is even, the side with the greater space and mobility has the superior position. How, then, do we acquire such superiority?
The answer to this question involves opening play, for it is in the early moves that the pattern of a game is established.
Here are a few fundamental rules for opening play:
1. Fight from the very beginning for control of the central squares, for whoever holds sway in this area of the board is almost certain to have the advantage.
2. As far as possible, move each piece only once during the opening stage. Find the most suitable square available (i.e. one bearing on the center), put the piece there, then leave it alone while you develop the rest of your forces in similar fashion.
3. Do not make too many pawn moves in the opening. Basically, the idea is to get your pieces into action, moving only one or two pawns as necessary to open up some lines.
4. Castle early. This move gets your king tucked away into a safer area in the corner, and also brings a rook to a more useful square.
5. Develop your minor pieces (knights and bishops) before the major ones (rooks and queen). Specifically, do not bring your queen out too early. Its great value makes it too easily harassed by the enemy’s minor pieces, since it must usually retreat from any such attack to avoid an unfavorable exchange.
If you follow these principles when playing chess, you should be able to get good positions in the openings with regularity. Remember, though, that every rule in chess has its exceptions. Sometimes you may have to move a certain piece more than once in the opening. Sometimes extra pawn moves will be in order. Occasionally a position might develop in which you shouldn’t castle, or where you should bring your queen into action early.
All of these things depend upon the individual position, but they are still the exceptions. The best advice on how to play chess is to follow the basic principles unless you see a definite reason for not doing so. It is a question of assessing the position, deciding whether you should be attacking or defending, formulating a plan accordingly, and then carrying it out.
As you try to carry out your plan, your opponent will of course attempt to frustrate your efforts. One way he will do this is by tactical threats aimed at winning material, or even forcing checkmate. You can’t very well ignore such threats, and in addition you should always be on the lookout for similar possibilities for yourself.
So your plan must be flexible, but you should always have one. A player with an idea of what he is trying to do will almost always beat a foe who is just aimlessly pushing the wood around.
The proper handling of the queen is essential if you want to learn how to play chess successfully. This, after all, is the most powerful piece on the board. Unless you make full use of these powers, you are likely to find yourself at the mercy of an enemy who did not make the same mistake.