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How to Start Playing Chess – The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide

Welcome to the most comprehensive guide and list of resources on how to start playing chess that you will find anywhere. In this guide, you will learn everything about:

  • the rules of chess
  • chess pieces and how they work
  • chessboard layout
  • basic concepts of the game
  • tips to win more games
  • and where to continue your learning

Chess has been on the map of strategic games as early as the sixth century. It challenges the mind in ways that are constructive and stimulating.

With the game’s current rising popularity, it’s understandable that you are interested in learning chess. The problem is – how do you know where to start? It all looks so overwhelming and complicated.

We’re here to tell you that chess is way simpler than it sounds and way more enjoyable than it appears. If you’re a newbie and you’re wondering how you can start playing chess, you’re at exactly the right place.

Let’s get started!

How to start playing chess? The ultimate beginner's guide to chess.

Note & Disclaimer: Chess.com has created all the videos we will be showing in this post. We do not own any of the video content here.

Your First Steps

Everyone has to start somewhere. You should first learn the basics and understand how the game works.

Step #1 – Become Familiar with the Chessboard

For many, the chessboard is unfamiliar territory. You can’t play if you don’t understand the board.

The chessboard consists of sixty-four squares of alternating colors – black (or dark) and white (or light). The squares form eight rows (ranks) and eight columns (files).

Each square on the board is labeled with a unique pair of a letter and a number. We refer to vertical files by letters (a, b, c, d, e, f, g, and h), and we call horizontal ranks by numbers (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8).

Chessboard with ranks and files.

So, how do we recognize different squares? We identify each of them by their unique file letter and rank number (a4, c7, g2, etc.).

Let’s learn how to set up the chessboard now.

Step #2 – Set Up Properly

When you start playing chess, the first basic to remember is that the chessboard is an incredibly systematic battlefield.

When we place the chessboard on the table, the square on both players’ bottom right side should be white. Then we arrange the pieces.

Chess pieces.

Every piece has a designated position, and it is the same every time. Here is how to arrange the pieces:

  • Pawns occupy the second and seventh ranks on each side completely.
  • Place the rooks in the corners.
  • Next to the rooks, you should put your knights.
  • Bishops stand next to the knights.
  • The queen always goes on her matching colored square. The black queen goes on the black square and vice versa.
  • Now you just place the king on the only remaining square.
Chessboard with set pieces.

Congratulations, you’ve done it! Although a bit tricky, remembering these positions as you learn to play chess is crucial.

All of the pieces are integral to the game, and we’ll be addressing each one in the next section.

Step #3 – Know Your Pieces

As you probably know by now, there is a total of six chess pieces. They navigate around the chessboard in specific directions.

It’s crucial to know that pieces can’t move through other pieces (except for knights who can jump over them). You also can’t move to squares occupied by another one of your pieces. You can capture your opponent’s pieces, however, and take their place. We hope you will be doing that successfully soon!

Pawns are the pieces with the least amount of power in their hands. They can only move one square at a time. Only on their first move in the game pawns can move two squares. They can also only move forward, but they capture diagonally.

Pawns movement in chess.

The king is the most crucial piece in the game, and it can move on all sides in its immediate slots. However, it can move only one square at a time too.

The queen is the most powerful piece on the board as it has free movement in any straight direction.

King and queen movement in chess.

Rooks are major pieces on the board. Their movement is straight and sideways.

Bishops are pieces that move diagonally. You have a dark-squared and a light-squared bishop.

Rook and bishop movement in chess.

Knights are unique in their ability to bounce over another piece in their diagonal and sideways movements. The knight goes two squares in one direction and then one square in another. The easiest way to remember this is that the knight moves in an “L” shape.

Knight movement in chess.

Step #4 – Learn About Points and Worth

Every piece on the chessboard is worth a specific set of points. This point system automatically reflects their role and power within the game and the patterns they can cover.

As mentioned before, pawns lie pretty low on the list in terms of power, so they are only worth one point. A bishop is worth three points being in a minor category, accompanied in the same value by the knight.

The rook is worth five points, and the other major piece known as the queen is worth nine points. Despite being the most vital chess piece, the king is worth a total of 3.5 points, which speaks to its actual power in the game.

To summarize, here is a short overview of the pieces’ worth:

  • pawn – 1 point
  • bishop & knight – 3 points
  • rook – 5 points
  • queen – 9 points
  • king – 3.5 points

Memorizing the points will not directly help you start playing chess, but it’s good to understand your pieces’ worth.

Step #5 – Understand the General Rules of Chess

White always moves first. Players alternate in moving their pieces, one at a time. You always have to make a move when it’s your turn.

When someone threatens a king with a capture, we call it a check. When this happens, the player whose king is in check has to make a move that gets the king out or protects him by blocking with another piece.

The main aim of a chess game is to checkmate the king. Checkmate refers to putting the opponent’s king in a position with no legal moves remaining. Here is how that looks:

The checkmate is not the only way to win. You can also win if your opponent resigns. Once someone thinks that they are in a hopeless losing position and checkmate is in sight, they can resign.

The game can also end in a draw. We achieve a draw mostly by one of the following:

1) The players agree to a draw.

2) The players have repeated the same move three times in a row. We call this a draw by repetition.

3) We reach a dead position. It means that nobody can win the game with the pieces they have. These are the possible combinations that result in a dead position: 

  • king vs. king
  • king vs. king & bishop
  • king vs. king & knight
  • king & bishop vs. king & bishop (if the bishops are the same colored ones)

4) One of the players has no legal moves but is not in check. This position is called a stalemate. Here is how it works:

When you remember these rules, you are ready to start playing chess! There are, of course, other minor things that are not important for beginners. You can check those out in this Wikipedia article on the rules of chess.

Step #6 – Know About the Special Moves

We have covered all the general rules you should know. However, there are three more things you need to understand not to get surprised in the game. 

Special Move #1 – Castling

Castling is the only move in chess that enables you to move two pieces simultaneously – the king and a rook! How does it work?

Your king moves two squares towards a rook, and the rook then goes on the other side of the king. 

There is a catch, though. You can only castle if:

  • Neither the king nor the rook has moved already.
  • There are no pieces between them.
  • Your king wouldn’t move “through” a check by castling. This rule means that the king can’t pass through a square that an opponent’s piece currently attacks.
  • Your king isn’t in check.

Here is another great video showing how castling works:

Special Move #2 – En Passant

En passant is the crazy rule that causes the most confusion to everyone when they start playing chess! Don’t be surprised by it.

It happens when you move your pawn two squares on its first move. If you end up on the square next to your opponent’s pawn, you have “skipped” a square where they can capture you.

However, due to the en passant rule, they can capture your pawn as if it has only moved one square. Crazy stuff! They can only do this on their very next move, though.

Take a look at en passant in action:

Special Move #3 – Pawn Promotion

This move is simple but very powerful. If you get your pawn to the eighth rank, you can promote it to a queen, rook, bishop, or knight. 

You do not have to stick to pieces that your opponent has captured. Your pawn can become a second queen, a third rook, or whatever you wish it to be. 

Again, this short video will show you how pawn promotion works:

Step #7 – Take Hold of Basic Chess Strategy

One thing that might surprise you as you start playing chess is that there is virtually an infinite number of combinations possible on the chessboard.

Thus, it is clear that there is no specific strategy that you can stick to when learning the game. Rather, the outcome pretty much depends on your moves and those of your opponent.

However, we can give you a few useful pointers.

Tip #1 – Fight for the Centre

At the start of the game, always try to make your first move with the pawn. It is best to grab hold of the center by moving your e-pawn or d-pawn two squares on your first move.

Tip #2 – Develop Your Pieces

Developing the pieces refers to bringing your stronger pieces into play. After you take the center with your pawn, work on getting your knights and bishops out as soon as possible.

A useful tip to help you here is to move each piece only once in the game’s opening phase. Don’t make too many moves with the same piece.

Tip #3 – Don’t Make Too Many Pawn Moves in the Beginning

A general guideline is that making too many pawn moves at the start is not good. However, most beginners make this mistake.

As we said, developing your stronger pieces early in the game will be much more beneficial.

Tip #4 – Castle Early

Get your king as safe as possible by castling before you try to go for the attack. Preparation is key in chess, and this is your way of avoiding a fast loss by leaving your king out in the open.

Tip #5 – Think About Your Opponent’s Moves

If you don’t understand the intention behind your opponent’s moves, you will never react properly. Always ask yourself this:

If my opponent had an additional move now, what would they play?

This great tip will save you a lot of headaches and blundered pieces.

Tip #6 – Don’t Give Away Your Pieces for Free

The most common mistake for players of almost all levels is giving away pieces for free. It doesn’t happen intentionally, but we sometimes lose track of our pieces and forget that they are misplaced or undefended.

Losing your piece for nothing is called blundering. If you plan on improving in chess, you have to keep blundering to a minimum.

Even the greatest players blunder sometimes. However, the less it happens – the better for you.

Tip #7 – Have a Clear Game Plan

If you have no idea how you are going to win a game, chances are – you won’t win it. Developing a successful game plan and transitioning from the opening phase to a great endgame is vital for winning.

However, this skill is something that you will be improving and mastering for as long as you play chess. It’s still crucial to keep it in mind, even if you are just starting.

Step #8 – Play Lots of Games

Two people playing a game of chess.

There is no better way to improve at chess than to play a lot of games. Luckily, there are many ways to do this. You can play with your friends, family members, go to the local park and find a chess table, or you can play online.

The last option offers the most flexibility since you can practice even if you are on your own. There is always someone across the globe waiting for an opponent!

Where to Play Online

Here are our top three picks of websites you can use to play chess:

  1. Chess.com – you can play for free, but there is a premium version as well. They also have a lot of learning tools – puzzles, lessons, and drills.
  2. Lichess – Lichess is a completely free platform for playing and learning everything about chess.
  3. Chess24 – Chess24 is a growing platform for playing chess, watching tournaments, and learning the game.

There are also dozens of other great options out there besides these three. Feel free to explore and find your place in the online world of chess.

Step #9 – Start Actively Learning to Improve

You may be truly interested in improving, and you decided to start playing chess to become very skilled in it. In that case, you will have to spend a lot of time studying the game.

The world of chess is limitless, and it is extremely confusing when you are just a beginner. We understand the struggle and want to help you out.

Here you will find the most useful list of resources for learning chess that will be more than enough to get you started!

Connect with Other Players

Learning Platforms

Best Youtube Channels for Learning Chess

Your Turn

Now we would like to hear from you:

Which section of our guide did you find the most useful? Let us know by leaving a comment below right now.

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