Chess, once again, finds itself brightly lit up in the international spotlight. The game has been brought to the foreground, not by a movie, book or the latest Chess World Tournament, but by the very popular Netflix series, The Queen’s Gambit.

Everyone is looking at chess with new eyes. Interestingly, the main character, who is a young girl at the start of the series, at a time when on the international stage, only a handful of women are listed against the reams of male names. The important point here is that the game is facing a resurgence of interest.

The level of interest in your home may be such that you’re looking all over for a chess set – in the garage or on top of a cupboard, or maybe you’re scouring the Internet for a set of your choice. Once you lay hands on a chess set, you will need to know how to play. Learn the names of the chess pieces names and moves, discover the power of each piece and how to employ it in your game.

Join us as we take through the various pieces, the power of each and explain how to set up a chess board.

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A Quick Review

The game of chess, as known today, originated some 600 years ago from xiangqi, a Chinese game. The Chinese adopted the game, at some point during the 7th Century, when it evolved from pre-existing games which played in Persia (Iraq) and India.

Chess, in essence, is a game which is based on the military strategy of armies way back in history.

When you cast a historical eye over the game of chess, you will notice that the foot soldiers were always sent into battle first (pawns). Thus, pawns occupy the front-line on the chess board. The queen was allowed virtually free range of movement as the enemy was, intrinsically, focussed on capturing the king. The entire army would always serve at the pleasure of the monarch and, so, their ultimate function was to protect the king.

This should, essentially, explain why the game ends once the king has been ‘captured’ in a position where he has no ‘wiggle room’. The king can make no move which doesn’t result in his capture and is now in a position called ‘check-mate’ and the game is at its end.

A pawn, which reaches the eight rank, can be promoted to queen, rook, bishop or knight. A player could then have two queens on the board. However, only one king per player is allowed, as everyone serves at his behest.

The foot-soldiers (pawns) would then be followed by knights on horses, who could jump over obstacles or people (soldiers), if they needed to, or run them over.

Because of this ability, as well as the ability to cover long distances, knights are positioned close to the monarch. A king always lives in a castle, right? This is why the rooks form the outer boundary of the line-up on the first rank. Castling, where the king and a rook ‘switch places’, also allows the king a greater level of protection. Way back in history, bishops would always advise the sovereign and, thus, their position right next to the king.

All of these ‘important’ pieces are assembled behind a defensive line of pawns. Now that you know how to set up a chess board, let’s turn ourselves to chess pieces names and moves.

The line of pawns serve to protect the more valuable pieces
The pawns line up in defence of the more valuable, powerful chess pieces. Photo credit: PMillera4 on VisualHunt.com

The Lowly Pawn

The pawn, which is often considered to be dispensable, usually goes into the fray first and should make up a very important part of any players’ game plan. Many players often by moving the king’s pawn two spaces forward in a face-off with the opposition’s pawn. Pawns are deployed in this way in immensely popular gambits such as the Italian- and Spanish opening, as well as in the Sicilian Defence.

Pawns have the least mobility on a chess board, only allowed to advance two squares once, on their initial move. Thereafter, they can only progress one square at a time, moving forward in a straight line. They may move one square diagonally, to the left or right, when capturing an opposition piece.

Although the king can also only move one square at a time, it has far greater options in terms of the way it can move. The king can move one space in any direction and can move onto a square of any colour.

Important to remember is that pawns attack diagonally. If they are confronted head-on by another piece, they are blocked, unless that piece captures them or is captured. Despite their low ranking, pawns can attack any piece on the board, not only pawns.

Only one point is bestowed on the pawn … unless it can reach the opposition’s back line, the eight rank, when it can then be promoted.

You will not discount a pawn again, after reading this or making a study of some fairly popular chess strategies which rely on pawn structure, especially early in the game.

Bishop, the Adviser

When we think back to medieval times, they king had knowledgeable advisers who may have been good at strategising, but not very strong on action. Bishops in chess are very much like their historical namesakes: they advise the king, but leave the messy stuff to others.

The bishop may only move in a diagonal way has to remain on the same colour. Thus, the bishop, next to the queen, may only move on the light squares of the board, while the bishop next to the king has to remain on the dark squares. Although constricted in this way, bishops can move as far as they’d like and stop only when they capture a piece.

A bishop cannot jump over any piece in its way. This may be the reason that the Spanish opening is used with such regularity, because it opens up a pathway for both white’s queen and bishop, but not offering black the same gap (advantage).

Because of its limited potency in the game, the bishop has a points-value of three.

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The Knight

The knight refuses to be caged in and has the ability to jump over any piece in its path, of either colour.

It can also move in any direction, three squares at a time, one or two in one direction (say vertically) and the one or two left or right (horizontally), essentially in the shape of an L. A knight is a great piece to utilise to control the board’s centre.

The queen knight of black or white can take control of the board’s centre, by reaching e4 in just two moves. This square is a strategic square to occupy, as it maybe decisive in the way that the game plays out.

If you’re not sure of what e4 means, check out our article which explains chess notation.

Still, the knight is not considered a major piece, and so, like the bishop, is only accorded a value of only 3 points.

Knight and rook are more powerful than valuable
Neighbours knight and rook are not considered particularly valuable but they are powerful. Photo credit: Adabo! on Visualhunt

The Rook

Cities in medieval times were protected by massive, fortified walls. Would a king not be very vulnerable without these flanking pieces?

The answer to this question is a resounding Yes!

Contemplating the rook, we’re now looking at some significant power!

A rook can move for as many squares as you desire, vertically or horizontally, provided that it is not impeded by one of its own (colour). Through castling, the rook provides the king with an escape route by, in a sense, swopping places with the king, in a move called castling. Castling, however, can only take place under the following conditions:

  • both the king and rook must not have moved from their original positions
  • the squares between the king and the rook must be vacant
  • the king should not be in check
  • neither piece should move across squares which are under attack
  • the king cannot land on a square which is currently under threat.

Once this move has been initiated, it cannot be undone or repeated. It is through the protection the rook offers with this manoeuvre and its versatility that is worth is valued at five points.

The Queen

The Queen is truly the power behind the throne. She is the most mobile piece on the board, with the ability to move anywhere on the board – mimicking the moves of either a bishop of a rook – and to land on a square of either colour. She can, however, not move like a knight, which has unique moves and powers. She can, for instance, not jump over other pieces.

The queen is very important to the king, because she can neutralise threats from a great distance and, thus, attack and, at the same time, offer the king a great deal of protection. She is awarded nine points – more than any other piece – and should be the piece every player would want to capture.

The king doesn't have an assigned value
The king, flanked by his bishop, is not assigned a value. Photo credit: Muffet on VisualHunt.com

The King

The most important piece in the board, yes! Nevertheless, it is not the most powerful one! Although it can move in any direction, it is limited to moving at one square at a time. Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown goes one idiom, a reminder that the king is always under threat of attack. A warning that it is in danger has to be issued to state that he is in check!

The king can be corned, but the king can’t be captured. If he is trapped with no further ‘safe’ moves, the game is at an end.

The king is accorded no point value, since the game ends when he is captured and the point value won’t add any potency to the winner’s score-card. S/he has won the game, period!

If the king cannot be captured, the game ends in a draw.

We live in interesting times and so, it is exciting to see a resurgence in the popularity of chess, caused to a large degree by the success of The Queen’s Gambit. This current upswing parallels the effect that Bobby Fischer’s 1972 victory over Boris Spassky had on the world with tens of thousands of people rushing out to procure a chess set.

Has your interest been piqued?

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Trevor

Career teacher turned writer. Passionate about family, running, and the great outdoors.