Imagine this: You are the King of your clan and 4 tiles across is your opponent and his/her clan. The battlefield is 64 tiles (8 by 8). The goal is to defeat your opponent’s King, which is also called “Checkmating”. Though this game dates back to the 7th century , it is still a popular board game that requires strategic thinking and move-predictions. If you want to learn to play Chess, then this article is just for you!
The Origins of Chess
Before diving into how the game is played, let’s take a look at the history of Chess. Contrary to its namesake, Western Chess actually originated from India. Back then, it was not called Chess but Chaturanga, which is “4 divisions” in Sanskrit, one of the oldest languages in the world. In this case, the “4 divisions” refers to the 4 types of Chess pieces that are in the game. They are the Infantry, which refers to the Pawn, the Cavalry, which refers to the Knight, the Elephantry, which refers to the Bishop and finally, the Chariotry, which refers to the Rook.
Eventually, the game was picked up by the Persians. In fact, it was at that point that the words “Check” and “Checkmate” came about. This is because when a piece was attacking the King, the player would shout “Shah”, which means King, and when the player won the game, the player would shout “Shāh Māt!” which means that the King is helpless.
However, the first official game of Chess took place in London, England, where the first ever tournament, London 1851 took place. Since then, there have been a plethora of matches that take place almost on a daily basis. Some Chess tournaments include the *Federation Internationale Des Echecs (FIDE) World Chess Championship, where the top Chess players battle for the title such as Chinese player, Ding Li Ren, Norwegian player, Magnus Carlsen, American player Hikaru Nakamura and many more. There is also an online PogChamps Chess tournament, where players compete against each other in an online format. This means that they have a virtual Chess board on a computer where they can also see their opponents Chess pieces. Such competitions either use proprietary Chess apps, Chess.com or Lichess.com.
*FIDE is the organization that overlooks and manages International Chess tournaments.
Layout of the Game
In Chess, there are 4 main pieces, which are the Pawns, Knights, Bishops and Rooks. Along with these 4 pieces are the King and Queen. However, it should be noted that there are many variations of the Chess layout such as Chess960, where the positions of the Chess pieces are randomly placed and Atomic Chess, where if any piece attacks another piece, the surrounding pieces “explode” or disappear. the typical layout looks like this:
As you can see, it is an 8-by-8 layout, where each tile is assigned a color and a coordinate. For example, the White Rook on the bottom left of the board is located in a1. However, the Black Rook on the top right of the board is on h8. Hence, the longitude of the board is represented by numbers from 1-8 while the latitude of the board is represented by alphabets from A-G. With that in mind, can you identify the coordinates of the black King?
Yes, it is located on e8. While the 8 pawns are placed in rows 2 and 7.
Did you know that depending on the color of the Queen, the Queen will be placed on the tile of the same color? For example, the white Queen and King will be placed on the 2 tiles in the middle of Row 1. However, since the Queen is white color, it will be placed on the white tile while the King will be placed on the black adjacent tile. The same can be done for the brown/black pieces as well. It is a pattern that can be especially useful when setting up the Chess board for the first time.
Directly next to the King and Queen are the Bishops, followed by the Knights and finally the Rooks.
The Different Pieces
- The Pawn
When the game begins the white pieces move first. This is because, in the past, the color black was considered a lucky color. Hence, the white pieces moved first as a form of compensation. The player can either move their pawns or their Knights. When moving a pawn for the first time, the pawn can move either 1 or 2 tiles forward. Afterwards, that same pawn can only move 1 tile at a time. When attacking pieces, the pawn can only attack pieces which are diagonally in front of it.
In this move, the white pawn can attack the black pawn since the black pawn is diagonal to the white Pawn.
However, there is an exception. This move is known as En Passant. In order for the player to En Passant, the following conditions are required:
- The opponent’s pawn moved 2 tiles previously.
- The opponent’s pawn ends up next to your pawn.
If the move fulfills these requirements, then you can attack the pawn.
Finally, if the pawn manages to get to the other side of the board and reaches the last tile, then the pawn can be promoted to a piece of your choice, which can be Queen, Knight, Bishop or Rook.
- The Rook
The rook can move horizontally or vertically. Besides that, there is no limit to the number of tiles the Rook can travel in 1 move. Hence, with the Rook, you can move it across the entire board in 1 move. However, if there is a piece blocking its path, you can either attack the piece or move the piece elsewhere if it is one of your pieces.
Besides that, there are 2 special moves that the Rook can do. One of them is known as a “Long Castle” while the other is called a “Short Castle”. However, this move can only be done once per player in the game and the player can only choose 1 of the 2 moves. These 2 moves involve switching the position of the king and any 1 of the Rooks. However, in order to carry out this move, the following factors need to be fulfilled:
- The Rook and King have not moved in the previous moves
- There is no piece blocking the path between the King and the Rook
- There is no piece of the opposing team that is blocking the path, such that the King cannot move. For example, if a White Bishop is diagonally attacking b1, the King cannot move as the King will be in the line of a “Check”, making the move illegal.
In these 2 pictures, it can be seen that the player has done the “Short Castling” move, which allows him to advance his Rook. The strategy of advancing one’s pieces is also called “developing”.
In this move, we can see that this player has done the “Long Castling” move such that it strategically aligns the Rook with the Queen, preparing the White pieces for an attack.
However, in this move, the King cannot “Castle” as there is a black Queen that is attacking c1, where the King would hypothetically move if it could “Castle”.
- The Bishop
Unlike the Rook, the Bishop can only move diagonally across the board to any tile unless there is a piece blocking its path. For example, in the following photos, the Bishop is at c4. However, in the next move, it moves diagonally across the board to reach f7. It should also be noted that each player is given 2 Bishops that can travel diagonally on a specific color. For example, in the beginning, a player will get 1 Bishop that can travel only on Brown/Black tiles while another Bishop can travel on the White tiles.
- The Knight
As compared to other pieces, the Knight’s movement is rather unusual. Instead of moving diagonally, horizontally or vertically, the Knight moves 1 square ahead and then 1 square diagonally across that tile. The image below shows the legal tiles where the Knight can move to (represented by a translucent dot). Besides that, the Knight is the only piece that is able to jump past other pieces. For example, if there is a pawn diagonally in front of your knight, the Knight can simply jump past it to a new position.
- The Queen
The most powerful piece of the game, the Queen is a combination of both the Rook and the Bishop, meaning that it has the ability to go diagonally across the board to any tile or horizontally and vertically across. However, it is not able to jump past pieces. With these advantages in mind, Queens are commonly used to “Checkmate” the opposing King and win the game. In fact, a player can become even more powerful when they promote their pawn to a 2nd Queen! On top of that, there is no limit to how many Pawns one can promote to Queen. For me, when I play against bots on Chess.com (yes, there are bots you can play against!) I like to promote as many pawns to queens to make it more enjoyable.
- The King
Though the most important piece in the game, the King’s movements are severely limited. This is because the King can only move 1 tile diagonally, horizontally or vertically in 1 move with the exception of “Castling” as shown in the photo below.
Besides understanding the pieces, here are some other terminology you might encounter when you learn the game:
1. Popular Openings
“Openings” refers to the way the player starts the game. There are many ways to start a game using different Chess pieces and such moves are strategic in the sense that the movement can:
- Threaten to attack a piece
- Take more control of different areas of the the board
- Threaten to “Checkmate” the King
The following 3 are common types of openings that players use in Chess:
- The “London System”
- The “Sicilian Defence”
- The “Caro Kann Defence”
2. The London System
An opening that is exclusive to the white pieces, the London System was first derived in the London tournament of 1922. During that time, this move was often used by players such as Cuban player José Raúl Capablanca, Russian and French player Alexander Alekhine and Polish player Akiba Rubinstein. The London System involves playing the following moves:
- Pushing the Pawn in front of the Queen (also known as Queen’s Pawn) to d4 from d2.
- Pushing the black/brown-tiled Bishop from c1 to f4.
- Moving the Knight from g1 to f3.
The advantage of this opening is that it allows the player to gain more control of the center of the board, giving the player more opportunities to attack pieces and increase their chances of winning the game.
An example of the “London System” in action
3. The Sicilian Defence
The Sicilian Defence was first analyzed by Italian chess player Giulio Poleria in 1594. A highly regarded opening both in the past and present, famous players such as Alessandrio Salvio, an Italian chess player and Pietro Carrera, who was also Italian, analyzed this opening. However, what is surprising is the fact that it was only given the name, “Sicilian Defence” in 1813 by English master Jacob Henry Sarratt as reference to the Italian manuscript by Giulio Poleria. The Sicilian Defence involves playing the following moves:
- White Pawn is pushed 2 tiles from e2 to e4.
- The black Pawn is pushed from c7 to c5.
This opening is advantageous as it allows for the development of the Bishop and Queen, meaning that the player using the White pieces can have more control of the game.
4. The Caro Kann Defence
The name Caro Kann was derived from the names of the two chess players who analyzed this move in 1886, who were English player Horatio Caro and Austrian player Marcus Kann. In fact, with the use of the Caro Kann Defence , Marcus Kann managed to score a splendid 24-move win against Jacques Mieses, who was of German-English origin. This move involves the following moves:
- White Pawn moves from e2 to e4
- Black Pawn moves from c7 to c6
This move is advantageous to the Black pieces as it is a more ‘solid’ move that allows the player to have a stronger Pawn structure, increasing the Black’s chances of winning the game.
Given how wide and far chess has come, there is no doubt that there have been some form of controversies. The most recent controversy involved Norwegian Chess Grandmaster Magnus Carlsen and American Chess Grandmaster Hans Niemann. In September 2022, Magnus and Niemann competed against each other in the Sinquefield Cup. Losing his third match against Niemann, Magnus dropped out, leading spectators to believe that Magnus thought Niemann had cheated. And in the next match against Niemann, Magnus resigned after his first move against Niemann, which was surprising. After the fifth round, Niemann gave an interview where he addressed viewers on the cheating allegations. He confessed that he had cheated in chess before but did not cheat in the matches against Magnus. However, Magnus claimed Niemann’s behavior during the match was suspicious . Magnus also had earlier suspicions of him. Eventually, Niemann’s Chess.com account was suspended pending further allegations and after deep analysis of his previous matches both online and physically, the investigators found inconsistencies in his gameplay and found him guilty of cheating during the matches against Magnus.
More information on Chess and the platforms you can compete
There are many renditions of the game. For example, there is a chess match with a one-minute timing. This means that each player will be given one minute. Thus, the timer will run until the player makes a move and pause when the same person makes a move. Afterwards, the opponent’s timer will start to tick as he or she needs to make a move. This continues until one of the players runs out of time, making him or her the loser. However, one can still win by checkmate even if none have run out of time. This is known as “bullet” Chess.
There are also other variations such as “lightning” chess with a 3 minute time-limit and “Rapid” chess, which can range from 15 minutes to 30 minutes. That’s not the end!
There are also various forms of the chess game. For example, there is “Atomic” Chess. In this format, when a player makes a move, the other pieces surrounding that piece in its new position will ‘explode’. There is also “Chess960, where the pieces will be randomly placed, making the usage of openings, such as the ones mentioned above, near impossible.
If you also want to play online against other players or against a bot, the following 2 applications are popular:
In online formats, each player is assigned an Elo Rating, which measures your relative strength compared to other players on the website. However, in order for it to be officially recognised on the world stage, you will need to register yourself with FIDE.
An image of the various Bots that one can place against on Chess.com. There are many bots of different Elo ratings or difficulties. Every month, a new set of bots is included that are related to the recent trends. However, at the end of the month these bots will be replaced with new ones.
An image of the bot offered in LiChess. It should be noted that the bot is based on “Stockfish” , a well-known chess bot. This bot has 8 levels of difficulty on LiChess.
These apps offer puzzles that can be done daily. In these puzzles, you will be provided with a random layout of a game and you have to find the best moves that can be done by either Black or White to win the game, hence improving your game analysis.
When using LiChess, there is no subscription required and you can solve as many puzzles as you want. However, with Chess.com, you can only solve a certain number of puzzles on a daily basis. If you would like to complete more puzzles and unlock more bots, a subscription is required.
Want to have a game of chess with your schoolmates? The school also organizes inter-house chess competitions early in the year as well as the inter-class chess competitions, which are usually after the final exams. Don’t forget to look out for them!