Chess Pieces and How They Move

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Basic Moves

Almost everyone has a general idea of what chess is, even if they don't know how to play. Common questions for both beginners and non-players alike include "What chess pieces can jump?" (knights), "What pieces can become a queen?" (pawns), "What pieces only move diagonally?" (bishops), "What chess piece is next to the knight?" (bishop on one side, and rook on the other), and so forth. Beginners want to know what chess pieces can move where, and how to get them there without losing the game.

Each side starts out with 16 pieces, consisting of 8 pawns, 2 rooks, 2 knights, 2 bishops, and a king and a queen, all in the same color.

One important thing to note, as it is one of the most commonly asked question in regard to playing chess: Who goes first? White always goes first in chess.

In this section, we will cover each individual chess piece, how it moves and captures your opponent's pieces, and tips and tricks that apply specifically to that piece. If you have a good grasp on individual pieces but don't know how to set up the board or where each chess piece starts, you may want to head over to our board setup section.

 Chess Pawn

The pawn chess piece is often the most overlooked of all of the chess pieces. The piece itself is very simple. On most chess sets, the pawn chess piece is the smallest piece on the board. Each player begins a chess game with eight pawns, standing in front of their other eight chess pieces.

How A Pawn Chess Piece Moves

Pawns are both simple and complex in their movements. The pawn piece has the fewest options of any chess piece on the board in where it can move and it can only move forward until it reaches the other side of the board. Here are a few things to know about how a pawn chess piece moves:

  • Pawn chess pieces can only directly forward one square, with two exceptions.
  • Pawns can move directly forward two squares on their first move only.
  • Pawns can move diagonally forward when capturing an opponent's chess piece.
  • Once a pawn chess piece reaches the other side of the chess board, the player may "trade" the pawn in for any other chess piece if they choose, except another king.

How a Pawn Moves

Pawn Names & Terms

Not all pawns are created equal. Each pawn is named after the piece behind it. For example, the two outer pawns are called "Rook Pawns", while the pawns in front of the King and Queen at the start of a game are called "King Pawn" and "Queen Pawn" respectively. In addition, pawns on each side of the board are named. This is to help clarify which pawn is which, when referring to a Bishop Pawn, Knight Pawn or Rook Pawn. The pawns on the Queen's side of the board are called Queen side and the pawns on the King's side of the board are called King side. For example, at the start of the game, the pawn on the far left side would be called the QR-pawn (Queen Rook Pawn). The pawn second from the right at the start of the game would be called the KN-pawn (King Knight Pawn). Often, pawns are referenced as opposition. Your opponent's pawn directly across the board from your own pawn is called the "Counterpawn". Each pawn on your board begins the game with its own counterpawn. At the start of the game, all pawns are considered "unfree", or not able to reach the opposite side of the board because of its counterpawn. Once its counterpawn has been captured, the pawn is then considered "half-free". Each pawn on the board also has opposing pawns called "sentries". Sentries are the opponent's pawn chess pieces that sit directly across from it, but are to the left and right by one square. These pawns are the pieces your opponent could use to capture your pawn. While sentries can make it difficult for your pawn to cross the board, their obstruction of your piece is not absolute. Each of your own pawn chess pieces has "helpers". These are its neighboring pawn pieces that can be used to help the pawn chess piece cross the board. When trying to reach the other side of a board, a pawn piece is known as a "candidate". In most cases, your candidate piece would advance first, followed by its helper pieces, trying to ensure its safety. Once the sentries of a pawn piece have been captured, the pawn is now considered "free". This means it no longer has any opposing pawns in its path to reaching the other side of the board.

The Pawn Ram

When two pawns meet at squares directly in front of each other, they are considered part of a "ram". In basic terms, a ram occurs when two pawn pieces are blocking each other's movements across the board. When helper pawns get involved, a ram can be broken, allowing the pawn chess piece to move forward. Avoiding rams is important when attacking an opponent as it eliminates your ability to use the pawn in the attack. Pawns can be very useful tools as you play the game of chess. Gaining a more in-depth understanding of how to use pawns in chess is crucial to becoming a better chess player. Here are some great books we recommend for studying pawn play in chess:

 

 Rook Chess Piece

The straight piece. That's the easiest way to describe the rook chess piece. In traditional sets, the piece looks kind of like a castle tower and begins each chess game as the outside corner pieces. Each player has two rook pieces to begin.

How A Rook Chess Piece Moves

The rooks are the most simple-moving chess pieces on the board. Their movements are only straight, moving forward, backward or side to side. At any point in the game, the piece can move in any direction that is straight ahead, behind or to the side. Here are a few things to know about how the Rook chess piece moves:

  • The rook piece can move forward, backward, left or right at any time.
  • The rook piece can move anywhere from 1 to 7 squares in any direction, so long as it is not obstructed by any other piece.

How a Rook Moves

Castling

The rook piece is the only piece on the board that can participate in a "castling" move with the King piece. This is a move where the King piece and the rook piece work together, allowing the player to move two pieces at the same time. We'll discuss castling later.

 

 

Knight Chess Piece

When it comes to your chess set, the Knight chess piece is often the defining piece in the set. This piece offers the most chance for variety and uniqueness in a chess set and it is often the piece with the most detail. When it comes to the game of chess, the Knight chess piece is often the favorite piece and most unpredictable piece in the game. Many a game has been ended because of the make-or-break tactics with the Knight.

How A Knight Chess Piece Moves

The Knight chess piece moves in a very mysterious way. Unlike Rooks, Bishops or Queens, the Knight is limited in the number of squares it can move across. In fact, its movement is a very specific movement. The piece moves in a shape similar to the uppercase "L". Here are the specifics:

  • The Knight piece can move forward, backward, left or right two squares and must then move one square in either perpendicular direction.
  • The Knight piece can only move to one of up to eight positions on the board.
  • The Knight piece can move to any position not already inhabited by another piece of the same color.
  • The Knight piece can skip over any other pieces to reach its destination position.

How a Knight Moves

Basic Tactics

Most experts prefer their Knight pieces to be "close to the action". Because of their strange movement, they can often cover weaknesses that other pieces leave. Knight pieces are also best employed near the center of the board and they are often one of the first pieces to reach the center area of the board. The Knight also has a unique ability to attack another piece without risking being attacked by the same piece (aside from other Knights, of course).

 Bishop Chess Piece

The Bishop chess piece is easily the most forgotten piece of all the chess pieces. From the beginners' perspective, the piece cannot do a whole lot to help out your game, considering each piece can only cover half of the board at a time and is quite vulnerable to attacks from straight on. But the bishop does have his place in the game of chess. In most chess sets, the piece is very traditional. It is a tall, slender piece with a pointed tip that has a strange cut made into it. Usually, the design doesn't change much, unlike the Knight piece, which has a lot of flair in its design.

How A Bishop Chess Piece Moves

The bishop chess piece is stuck moving in diagonals. Each player starts out with two bishop pieces, each one residing on its own color of square. Between both pieces, you can cover the entire board, but one piece can only cover one half of the board, only the colors of squares it started the game on.

  • The bishop can move in any direction diagonally, so long as it is not obstructed by another piece.
  • The bishop piece cannot move past any piece that is obstructing its path.
  • The bishop can take any other piece on the board that is within its bounds of movement.

How a Bishop Moves

Basic Tactics

Bishops are usually considered stronger pieces toward the end of the game. Often, though, the pawns make it difficult to use the bishop piece during the early parts of the game. The bishop is considered excellent in defending a castled King, though and can be used to help pin pieces into areas of the board. Most experts would agree, though, that giving up a Bishop is better than giving up a Rook.

 Queen Chess Piece

Considered the most dangerous and versatile piece on the board, the Queen chess piece is also one of the most important. Unless you are an expert chess player, losing your queen piece can easily be the final blow before falling to your opponent. Most players are willing to sacrifice just about any other piece on the board in order to save their queen. So why is the queen so important?

How A Queen Chess Piece Moves

The queen chess piece is like a combination of the Rook and Bishop chess pieces. Each player starts out with one queen piece (although any pawn that makes it to the other side of the board can be traded in for another queen, which is why some chess sets come with extra queens).  The queen can move forward or diagonal in any direction. Here are a few notes:

  • The queen can move in any direction on a straight or diagonal path.
  • The queen cannot "jump" over any piece on the board, so its movements are restricted to any direction of unoccupied squares.
  • The queen can be used to capture any of your opponent's pieces on the board.

How a Queen Moves

Basic Tactics

Most players try to keep their queen defended because of its ability to move. It is a very useful piece in any chess game and is often involved in endgame strategy. Experts try to get the queen piece toward the center of the board as soon as possible in order to help defend that space and gain an advantage over their opponent. The queen can be used in a variety of defensive strategies and works well to defend the King no matter where the King is on the board, so long as the queen is nearby. The most dangerous piece to a queen is the opponent's knight pieces. The queen may not be able to attack a knight piece directly that is attacking the queen, so players try to be wary of their opponent's knight pieces. Advanced players may be more likely to sacrifice their queen in an attempt to win a game, though this is quite rare.

 King Chess Piece

The last piece to discuss on the chess board is the King piece. This piece is the game winner. Once your king is check-mated, the game is over, and your opponent wins, regardless of the score. The King chess piece is the piece you must protect the most and you cannot live without. Many experienced players, though may find themselves utilizing their king in an attempt to gain an advantage over an opponent, something weaker chess players are very leery of doing. No matter how you choose to use your King piece, he must stay alive at all costs.

How A King Chess Piece Moves

King chess pieces are somewhat limited in their movement. They cannot go riding across the chess board as quickly as most other pieces and they are easier to contain than most chess pieces from an opponent's perspective. Here are a few rules to note:

  • The king piece can move one single square in any direction.
  • The king cannot move onto a square that is currently occupied by a piece from its own team.
  • The king piece cannot move to any square that puts them into a "check" position.
  • The king piece can participate in a move known as "castling", where the piece can move up to three squares while exchanging places with a rook chess piece.

How a King Moves

Basic Tactics

Safety first, is the motto most chess players abide by when moving and using their king piece. Experienced players can use their king piece to help set traps and capture opposing pieces, though the King is rarely the aggressive piece in this situation. Most players try to keep their king piece in one of their two corners where there are fewer directions from which an attack can come. Often, castling with a rook piece early in the game gets the King piece to the corner faster, keeping the piece safer from attacks.