Here is information for beginner and novice chess players.
On this page I have posted information that beginner and novice chess players will find useful. I have included basic rules of chess and some tournament rules. I have also included some basic strategy and tips.
Chess is an ancient war game that has its origins in India and Spain. The very first chess opening was recorded by a Spanish monk named Ruy (pronounced Roo-ee) Lopez. The opening that he recorded is now named after him. A complete history of chess is outside of the scope of this page, but a Google search on chess history should give you satisfactory results.
Basic Setup of the Chess Board
Pictured below is a diagram of what the starting position looks like. You will notice that white is in the lower right hand corner. Whether you play the Black or White pieces, white is always in the lower right hand corner. I have seen several people who thought that they were good at chess set the board up backwards! The pieces consist of two sets of 16 each. The pieces come in 2 colors, one dark and the other light. The dark colored pieces are referred to as the Black pieces and the light colored pieces are referred to as the White pieces. By international rule the White pieces always moves first. The Queen will always go on her own color and the King will be on the opposite color. The bishops go next to the King and Queen so each player will have one on the dark squares and one on the light squares. These are referred to as the dark and light-squared bishops respectively. The one on the Kingside is also called the King’s Bishop and the one on the Queenside is referred to as the Queen’s Bishop. Ruben Fine stated that the bishops are placed next to the King and Queen to signify that the church sanctions marriage. Next to the bishops are the knights and these are referred to as the King’s Knight and the Queen’s Knight. Next to the knights are the rooks. These pieces look like little castles and some beginners will call them castles. The proper name for these pieces is the rooks. However, when you move the King over two squares and then the Rook beside it, that maneuver is called castling. In front of these pieces are pawns. This completes your basic setup of the board.
How Pieces Move
As stated above White moves first. Each player takes turns moving one piece or pawn at a time. You may not skip your turn! Each pawn can move one or two squares forward on its first move only. After its first move that pawn may advance only one square at a time. Pictured below is what the board would look like if each player moved only his pawns two squares forward on each turn. You will never see a position like this one in tournament play.
A more likely position is one where each player moves his pawns alternating between one move and two. This is what I call the “Stone Wall” and is pictured below. This is what is referred to as a closed position and tends to be drawish.
Although pawns move forward one or two squares on the first move only, after that they advance forward one square at a time only. Pawns always advance forward until they run into another piece. After that they cannot advance until that blocking piece is taken out of their ways. However, pawn always capture on a diagonal. Pictured below are diagrams that show the board before and after a pawn capture.
There is also a special kind of capturing known as capturing en passant. The diagram above shows that White has a pawn on his fifth rank. Black can now capture this pawn with his Queen. If instead of recapturing this pawn Black plays the pawn on either side of this White pawn forward one square then White can capture that pawn on the diagonal as usual. If Black plays one of these two pawns forward two squares White can still capture it en passant on that move only. The two diagrams below show the board before White captures en passant and afterwards.
The knights move in what can be called and L-shaped pattern. The knights move two squares in either a sideways, forward or backward motion and then one square to either side of that. Pictured below is a sample of how the knights can move. The Knight is the only piece that can jump over his own men. In the diagram below White’s knights are better placed then Black’s because they are in the Center of the board. In the Center the knights can move to 8 squares (if they are not already occupied by his own pieces) and they only have 4 squares to move to on the edge of the board. Also, you want to play for control of the Center and thus need to place your knights where they can help in this control.
The Bishops move along diagonals only and thus are always on whatever color that they started with. Pawns must be moved out of the way in order for the bishops to move. Generally, it is better to move the knights first and then the bishops. The diagrams below show the board both before and after a Bishop move. Notice how both players have developed their pieces towards controlling the Center. The position after the Bishop move starts what is know as the Ruy Lopez opening.
Bishops not only move along diagonals but also capture opposing pieces on that same diagonal. A Bishop cannot move past or capture his own men that are blocking a diagonal. The diagrams below show the board both before and after a Bishop capture.
In the diagram above Black is threatening to capture the White Bishop with his pawn on a6. White decides to capture the Black Knight with his Bishop rather than to lose it to a pawn or move it elsewhere. In the diagram below Black can now recapture with the pawns on the Knight file or the Queen file.
In the diagram above it is now Black’s turn to move. We will have Black capture towards the Center to keep a strong presence there.
Now white can play a special kind of King move known as castling. This is done by moving the King over two squares and the Rook to the other side of it. See the diagram below for the position after White castles.
There are special rules about castling that you need to know. First, the King cannot castle until all of the blocking pieces are out of his way. In the above position Black cannot castle yet because his King’s Bishop and King’s Knight are in his way. The position below gives an example of Black castling to the Queenside. Notice that Black’s King moved over two squares and the Rook beside it, just like in Kingside castling. I have seen beginners move the King over 3 squares when castling Queenside and that is not legal! Second, if the King moves prior to castling then it is not allowed to castle at all for the rest of the game. Third, the King is not allowed to castle into check. out of check or through check. Check is when the King is being attacked by an opposing piece. If in check the King must move or have one of his men capture the attacking piece. Another option is to interpose one of your pieces between the checking piece and your King. If the King cannot get out of check then the King is checkmated and that player loses the game. You are never allowed to skip a turn to move in chess!
The rooks move along ranks and files and cannot move past their own men. In the diagram above both of White’s rooks can move over one square each. Black’s Queen’s Rook can move over one square but the King’s Rook cannot move yet because it is blocked in by its own men. A rank is the same thing as a row and a file is the same thing as a column. The ranks are numbered one through eight and the files are named a through h. In the diagram above the White Queen’s Rook is sitting on a1 and White’s King’s Rook is sitting on f1. The Black King’s Rook is sitting on h8.
The Queen can move any number of squares along a rank, file or diagonal as long as the square she moves to is not blocked by a piece. She cannot move over her own men. The Queen captures the same way that she moves. In the above diagram the White Queen can move to e1, e2, d2, and d3. The rest of her squares are blocked by her own men. The Black Queen can move to e8, e6, f6, g5, h4, d6, c5, b4, and a3. Some of those squares mentioned above are bad ones for the Black Queen because she can be captured on those squares.
The King can move only one square in any direction as long as the square he is moving to is not occupied by one of his own pieces. The King captures the same way that he moves. The only time that the King can move two squares at once is when castling. The King is not allowed to move into check.
The Relative Values of the Pieces
Many authors of chess books give the relative values of chess pieces. Some don’t clearly explain why they do this. You do not win a chess game on points like you do in football or basketball. The points are only to let you know if you are winning or losing on material. Normally, you don’t want to trade a piece that is worth 5 points for one that is worth 3. That would put you down material. However, in some positions, you will sacrifice material to gain a positional advantage or an attack. These exceptions are covered elsewhere on this site. The table below gives the relative values of the chess pieces. The King is given unlimited value because if you lose the King the game is over. Under the normal rules of chess the King is never captured or traded. Capturing the King is often used as proof that your opponent made an illegal move.
Several years ago I had some friends that seemed to be good chess players in a relaxed club or coffee house setting. However, once they got into a tournament they choked and lost every game. Tournaments do have some rules that don’t apply to friendly games. The main thing to remember is that all chess tournaments have a “touch move” rule. The rule is simply this, if you touch a piece with the intent of moving it you must move that piece if it is legal to do so. If that piece has no legal move then you may move another piece instead. If you move a piece to a square that is not legal to move to then you must move that piece to another square that is legal for that turn. You are allowed to adjust your pieces on their squares but must notify your opponent of this first. Also, you must adjust your pieces only when it is your turn to move. It is quite rude to be touching pieces while your opponent is thinking over his move!
The US Chess Federation (USCF) and the international chess federation (FIDE) have slightly different rules for tournament and match play, so I will focus on where they agree. Both have the “touch move” rule. Both require the use of chess clocks which can be either digital or analog. Both require you to record all moves of the game and you must have a complete score sheet to claim a draw by the 50 move rule or by repetition of position rule. The preferred clock is a digital one that allows for a time delay on each move. The usual is a five second delay before the timer starts deducting from your time. The idea is to keep someone that moves instantly from losing on time forfeit in a sudden death time control.
The 50 move rule is simply this. If both players go 50 moves without moving a pawn or capturing a piece then the game is a draw. In order for a player to claim this draw he must have a complete score sheet to prove the number of moves to the tournament director.
The repetition of position rule is as follows. If the position on the board is repeated at least 3 times, with the same player to move each time then the player whose turn it is to move can claim the draw. Again, a complete score sheet is needed to prove the repetition of position to the tournament director. If you need to borrow your opponent’s score sheet to correct your own then you must do so when it is your turn to move.
How to Win
You win when your opponent resigns or concedes. The usual way to resign is to tip your King on his side. Some people just say, “I resign”. When my opponent sticks his or her hand out to shake without saying anything I immediately ask him or her if he or she is resigning. I don’t want to be tricked into agreeing to a draw.
Another way to win is to checkmate your opponent. This occurs when you have attacked your opponent’s King (placed his King into check) and he has no way out of check. The King is never allowed to move into check! If your King is in check and the only squares that it can move to are also in check, and you cannot capture the checking piece or interpose a blocking piece, then you are in checkmate and the game is over. You lose!
The last way to win is to have your opponent exceed the time control. When your opponent’s flag falls on the chess clock, or the digital clock indicates that his time has expired, you can then claim the win on time. If both players run out of time before someone calls the flags then the game is a draw. Additional information on the rules can be found at the USCF’s Beginners Page.
Drawing a Chess Game
I recently found out that the FIDE has some rules on which positions are automatic draws. The main thing is that if both players lack sufficient material to checkmate his or her opponent, then the game is an automatic draw. A lone King versus a lone King is a draw. A King and a Knight or a King and a Bishop versus a lone King is also a draw. A King and a Knight versus a King and Knight is also a draw. However, to my surprise, a King and a Bishop versus a King and a Bishop is a draw only if the bishops are on the same colored squares. If both bishops are on dark squares or both are on light squares then it is a draw. If the bishops are on opposite colors it is not an automatic draw because it is theoretically possible for someone to be dumb enough to run his King into a corner and then block his only escape square with his own Bishop.
The proper way to offer or ask for a draw is to make your move first and then press the button on your clock starting your opponent’s time. Then you ask for the draw. Your opponent can take all of the time that he or she has on his or her clock to think about his or her answer. To keep asking while your opponent is thinking over his or her answer is rude. To ask for a draw on every move or several moves in a row is also rude and will get a warning from me in any tournament that I run!
Tips for Success in Rated Chess Tournaments
Playing chess when you are tired, hungry or in a bad mood will usually hurt your ability to play chess well. I have personally seen some chess masters win while playing drunk or stoned but I do not advise you doing this! Staying in good shape can help your ability to concentrate. Boby Fisher used to weight train when preparing for a chess tournament. Getting enough sleep before a chess tournament and between rounds of events that run more than one day is also important.
When playing a game that has a sudden death time control, for example a Game in 60 minutes time control, when either player has less than five minutes left on his or her clock then neither player is required to write the moves down (keep score). If you still have plenty of time left on your clock then you may want to continue writing your moves down so that you have a more complete record of the game for later use. Once you are no longer required to keep score you may have another person keep score for you if you want to.
When two players are paired against each other and both of them are due the same color that round, then the higher ranked player will get whatever color he or she is due. If a 1500 rated player has 2 points and his 1700 rated opponent has 1.5 points then the 1500 rated player is the higer ranked player and will get the color he is due.
When the game is done both players are responsible for posting the results onto the pairing sheet. If the results are not posted by the time that the tournament director (TD) is ready to pair the next round the TD will usually forfeit both players! This is called a double forfeit and both players lose that game!
Beginners will often try a Fools Mate or Scholar’s Mate on opponents who are experienced players. This is a bad idea for 2 reasons: 1) you are usually playing your Queen out too early in these openings and thus making your Queen a target and ; 2) you are insulting your opponent by trying cheap tactics on him or her. Insulting your opponent is a really good way to ensure that he or she will try very hard to beat you! Also, playing a totally lost position out all the way to checkmate because you are hoping that your opponent will blunder is also an insult to a higher rated player. Yes, you may get a stalemate if your opponent is careless or over confident, but you pay a price in fatigue by playing out lost positions. Playing out lost positions makes sense only if: 1) it is the last round of the event and you are not holding up someone else’s prize money; 2) you desperately need a draw to get a prize; 3) you have plenty of time to rest before you have to play your next round: or 4) your opponent is in serious time trouble and thus is very likely to blunder.
Mike Serovey, MA, MISM