Playing Chess

You might be stupid. A moron. An idiot. A fool. A babbling unintelligent chimp with the IQ of a sack of hammers. But if you are a good chess player, then people will still think that you're smart. Along with nuclear physicists and brain surgeons, great chess players are seen as being among the intellectual giants of the planet. This is partly because chess involves the simultaneous use of strategy, mathematics, and risk-analysis, and partly because the game is such a bitch to learn. But fear the chessboard no more, for we will now teach you the basics of chess. No, we won't teach you enough to start scamming people in Central Park, but you'll at least be able to follow the game and make witty comments.

We're first gonna teach you how to set everything up and know how everything moves before we even mention anything about strategy. But just so that you can keep it in mind, the piece called the "king" is the most important piece. The goal of the game is to capture your opponent's king before your opponent captures yours. All of the rest is just details. Your king is all that matters. Long live the king!

1. Set up the pieces properly

A chess game involves two people sitting on opposite sides of a chessboard. A chess board looks exactly like a checkerboard. But it's not a checkerboard. It's a chessboard. If you don't use the proper terminology, we can just stop right now and you can go back to your pathetic chess-less life.

Still here? Good. First, put the board down between you and your opponent. Just for the sake of simplicity, let's name your opponent Moe. We want to start you off easy. In any case, feel free to replace the word "Moe" with "Larry," "Curly" or "Shemp," if it so suits you.

Anyway, put the chessboard between you and Moe so that the white square at the bottom is to your right. You can remember this by using the catchy phrase "Right is white."

Each player has 6 different types of chess pieces: there are 8 pawns, 2 rooks, 2 knights, 2 bishops, 1 queen, and 1 king. The pawns are the smallest pieces, and you will recognize them because (duh) there are eight of them. The rooks look like tiny little castles with jagged edges along the top. The knights look like little horse heads. The bishops are the things with little balls on the top (they look like Sesame Street's Grover looking up). The king is the tallest piece and has a cross on top. The last piece is the queen, which is the 2nd tallest piece and has a little crown around the top.


Now, one player will be the white pieces, and one will be the black pieces. The way to decide is for you to put a pawn in each hand (black in one, white in the other), switch ‘em around behind your back, and then have Moe pick a hand. Whichever color pawn Moe picks, that's the color he'll be for the game. This might seem like a useless detail, but it's actually very important. This is because whoever is white always makes the first move of the game.

So, let's say that Moe picked the hand that had a black pawn. That means that you are the white pieces. So you'll take your white pieces and set them up as such:

  1. Put your rooks on the two outside corners of the first row.
  2. Next to each rook, put a knight.
  3. Next to each knight, put a bishop.
  4. The queen goes on the first row on the same color box as the color of your pieces. So if you are the black pieces, put the queen on the remaining black, in the first row, and put the king on the remaining white square. If you are the white pieces, put the queen on the remaining white square and the king on black.
  5. Line up all your pawns on the second row.

Was that a tad confusing? Then here's a shortcut: the pieces get taller as you move inwards, and the queen goes on her own color. Your queen will always face your opponent's queen. Same thing goes for the king. In the end, assuming you are the white pieces


Before we scare you with scary chess terminology, heed our warning: chess players are weirdos. And not normal weirdos, like the people who talk to you at the bus stop, even though you are obviously not going to respond. Chess players are proud to be among the weirdest souls on earth. Case in point: you're not allowed to refer to the rows and columns on a chessboard as a "row" and a "column." You must refer to them as a "rank" and a "file." (Perhaps the vocabulary makes them feel mysterious and dangerous.) Here are two clues to remembering which is which: 1) think of a file like a single file line, which you usually think of as front-to-back, which will remind you that the files are the columns; 2) just remember that "row" and "rank" both begin with an R.

And just in case things weren't complicated enough, each rank has a number and each file has a letter, so that everybody can follow what's going on. For example, your knight is in box b1 (you have another one in h1). Moe's king is on e8. You always list the rank, then the file. If you find this difficult to remember, think of the game Battleship: you call out "B3," not "3B."


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