Chess Corner - Basic Moves and Rules

In the last column I discussed the goal of the game – to trap your opponent’s king while protecting your own. I also introduced some basic rules. In this column, I will go over those rules in more detail.

To play, you will need a chessboard, the 32 units (a unit is a piece or pawn), and an opponent. You and your opponent decide who uses white pieces and who uses black. White always moves first. To take a turn, you move or capture a piece. Remember: every turn you must make one move. Whenever you threaten to capture your opponent’s king, you must announce, “Check.” Your opponent must then do something to get out of check (save his king). Whenever you threaten to take your opponent’s king and he can’t get out of check, you say, “Checkmate”, and the game is over. You win!

There are two ways to win a game. The first way is checkmate. Checkmate occurs when the king is trapped and would be taken next move (taking the king is illegal in chess). The second way to win is for your opponent to knock down his king (resign). He will only do this when he sees no way to win and feels that the situation is hopeless. (Try not to resign in a game. Even if there is no hope of winning, you should still play it to the bitter end in the hope that your opponent will err.)

The game does not always end with a winner. It can also end in a draw, which is a tie. There are six ways to draw: (1) stalemate, where the player to move cannot move any of his pieces; (2) threefold repetition, where the same position (arrangement of pieces) on a chessboard has been shown three times; (3) insufficient mating material, when neither player has enough material to checkmate the other; (4) the 50-move rule, when 50 moves have been played for both sides and no pawns have been moved and no units captured; (5) perpetual check, where one person begins an endless series of checks that can’t be averted; and (6) agreement, where one player offers a draw and the other accepts. Some of these, like agreement and stalemate, are more common than others, like threefold repetition and the 50-move rule.

There is also a ‘points system’ in chess, which gives you a rough understanding of how valuable each unit is. Under this system, the pawn is the lowliest man in your army, so all of the other pieces are measured in comparison to these pawns. The knight and bishop are worth three pawns each. The rook is worth five pawns; the queen is worth nine. The king has no worth, for if you lose your king, you lose the game.

Here is how each piece moves. The queen can move any number of squares in any direction she wants, as long as she travels in a straight line. However, she cannot move to squares beyond other pieces or move onto a square with a piece on it of the same color. The queen can capture pieces by moving onto a square that already has a piece on it. Then the piece is taken off of the board. (You cannot take your own pieces, just your opponent’s.) When you set up the board, you should note that the queen, no matter what color you are, starts on her own color. (If your quuen has a white crown, a white dress, and white shoes, what color square will she start on?) The queen is the most powerful piece on the board and is useful during any part of the game.

The king can move onto any square that surrounds him. However, he cannot move onto a square with a piece of the same color already on it. The king captures just like the queen, by moving onto a square with an opposing piece on it. The king is the most important piece in the game, even though he isn’t the most powerful. If your king is trapped, you lose. If he is threatened, you have to move him. In fact, it is illegal to move your king to a place where he could be taken (captured). When there aren’t many pieces and pawns on the board, the king can come out of hiding and be used as a weapon. That is when he is the most powerful.

The bishop can move in any diagonal straight line, and can go as many squares as he likes. He cannot jump over pieces or be on the same square that another unit is on, like the rest of your army. The bishop captures by moving onto a square with an opposing piece on it. Both White and Black have one bishop starting on each color. Since these bishops only move diagonally, the bishops are forced to stay on their starting colors. This is why the bishops are really powerful together; one can move on one color while the other bishop operates on the other color. Together they can cause trouble for your opponent or even be the key to winning a game. The two bishops together are called a bishop pair. A bishop pair is strong throughout the whole game. Separated, they are not as powerful.

The rook can move horizontally or vertically as many squares as he wishes, but like the other pieces, the rook may not move beyond a square on which there is another piece. He cannot move onto a square with a friendly piece on it, but he can capture the same way as any other piece. Since the rooks start in the corners, they must wait for other pieces to move out before they can advance. This is why, in most cases, the rooks play no part in the beginning of the game. They are slightly more active in the middle of the game and are very active near the end. (Fun fact: On an empty board, you can put the rook anywhere and he will be able to move to 14 different squares. Try it!)

The knights and pawns are a little more complicated. The knights move in an “L” shape; they move two squares horizontally and one square vertically or vice versa. Like a horse, the knight can jump over pieces. In fact, the knight is the only piece that can do so. The knight cannot be on squares with friendly pieces, but he can capture the same way all the other pieces do.

Even though he is the lowliest man in your army, the pawn is probably the most complicated piece of all. On a pawn’s first move, he can move up one or two spaces. From then on, he can only move up one space. Whenever a pawn captures, he does so diagonally, either to the left or right. When a pawn captures, though, it must move forward in the process. Pawns can never move backwards. Another important thing to remember about pawns is that they may only move diagonally when capturing. When a pawn makes its way to the end of the board, it can promote. How to do this will be shown in the next column.

Next column, we’ll learn the rest of the moves and also how to keep a written record of a chess game.

The diagram above is this week’s puzzle. This was a game won by Paul Keres, who was an Estonian grandmaster. He was White and found the one winning move. Have fun!

Answer to last week’s puzzle: 1. Rd1+ Rg1 2. Rf1!! and Black has two options: 2… Rxf1+ 3. Kxf1 a5 4. bxa5 b4 5. a6 b3 6. a7 b2 7. a8/Q# (or a8/B#) or 2… a5 and it will end up the same way. The reason that 2. Rf1!! is so good is because it puts Black in zugzwang, which is German for ‘compulsion to move’. If you are in zugzwang, every legal move is bad and you would want to pass if you had the chance. This puzzle is diagram 276 from Basic Chess, by David Levins (2005).