Top 10 Rules of Chess

Chess Rules and Regulations

Chess is a complex and engaging game that involves a great deal of methodical thought. For centuries, players from all countries of the world have come together to play the ultimate game of strategy. Here, we will examine the top 10 rules of chess, the basics which every aspiring chess player needs to know to play well.

What are the most important rules of chess?

  1. Initial Setup
  2. Basic Movement
  3. Check and Checkmate
  4. En Passant
  5. Promoting Pawns
  6. Castling
  7. Game Timing
  8. Touching A Piece
  9. Resigning
  10. Draws

1. Initial Setup

chess initial setup

One of the most important aspects of chess is the initial setup of the pieces on the board. A chessboard consists of 64 squares alternating between two colors, traditionally known as black and white, though different boards may have different colors. To begin a chess game, each player receives sixteen pieces, which they must arrange in an exact order in the two rows of squares closest to their side of the board. The sixteen pieces include eight pawns, two knights, two bishops, two rooks, one queen, and one king. The initial setup for these pieces is as follows: with the board oriented so that each player has a white square on their lower right side, both players place their eight pawns in the second row, one to a square. In the first row, closest to them, the players place their two rooks on the outside squares and proceed inwards with their two knights and two bishops. In the final two squares, which remain in the middle of the row, each player places their king on the rightmost square and the queen on the leftmost square. An easy way to remember this placement is that the queen will always be placed on the square matching her color, black or white.

2. Basic Movement

chess basic movements

With the initial setup completed, the next most important rule of chess involves knowing how the various pieces can move. Each chess piece has particular rules regarding where they move and how many squares. Here is a brief explanation of how every piece can move in chess:

  • Pawns are only permitted to move one square per turn in a forward direction, except on their first turn, when they are allowed to move two squares, or when capturing a piece, in which they move one square diagonally forward to occupy that piece’s space. 
  • Knights move in an L-shaped pattern, moving two squares in any direction and then one square perpendicular to that direction. 
  • Bishops can only move diagonally on the board but can travel as many open squares as possible. 
  • Rooks can also move freely across the board but can only move in a straight line, vertically or horizontally. 
  • The Queen is the most versatile piece and can move as many open squares as she wishes in a horizontal, vertical, or diagonal direction. 
  • The King can move one space per turn in any direction, so long as that move does not place him in danger. The king can also move more than one space if it engages in a castling maneuver, which we will explain below. 

It is important to note that, in formal chess, a match begins with players choosing their color, either by a coin flip or by one player placing two different pawns in opposite hands and letting the other player choose which closed fist they want. Whoever plays the white chess pieces gets to move first. 

3. Check And Checkmate

Chess Check And Checkmate

The ultimate goal of a chess match is to capture the opponent’s king by “checkmating” them, so the next rule of chess we must discuss is checking and checkmating, which refers to the two scenarios of danger a king can be placed in. A “check” occurs whenever a king is directly attacked or endangered by an opponent’s piece, with no other pieces between them. For example, a king is placed in check if it is positioned directly vertical or horizontal to an enemy’s rook, directly diagonal to an enemy bishop, directly within the L-pattern of an enemy knight, directly diagonal to an advancing pawn, or within the vertical, horizontal, or diagonal path of a queen. In chess, it is illegal for a king to remain in check, so if a player checks their opponent’s king, they must say the word “Check” aloud, and the opponent must then find a way to remove the king from check on their next turn. A player can do so by legally moving their king out of check or moving another of their pieces into the path of their opponent’s piece.

Checkmating is the final goal of a chess match and involves using one’s pieces to trap an opponent’s king on the board, such that they can make no legal moves without endangering their king. A successful checkmate must be announced by the mating player, and will result in them winning the game. There are various types of checkmates in chess, including the Checkmate with Two-Rooks, the Checkmate with King and Queen, the Checkmate with King and One Rook, and many others. When a player is checkmated by their opponent, they have lost the match.

4. En Passant

Chess En Passant

The en passant rule is one of the unique rules of chess, which breaks traditional rules regarding the use and capture of pawns. As mentioned above, pawns can typically only move forward one square and can only capture a piece that is directly ahead of a diagonal to them. However, the rules of chess do allow pawns to move forward two squares as their first move, and as such, the en passant rule (French for “in passing”) exists to allow pawns who make this move to be captured in a unique way. An en passant capture can only be made by a pawn that has advanced three squares, and can only be made on an enemy pawn that has just advanced two squares as its first move. This advance places the enemy pawn directly horizontal to the player’s pawn. In order to perform the capture, the player then moves their pawn diagonally forward one square into the square behind the enemy pawn, which captures it. An en passant capture can only be performed on the turn immediately following the enemy pawn’s advancement of two spaces. If a player does not perform the capture immediately, they cannot perform it at all on their following turns, even if the enemy pawn remains beside theirs.

5. Promoting Pawns

chess promoting pawns

Promoting pawns is another vital rule of chess that every player should be aware of. According to this rule, if a player manages to advance one of their pawns completely across the board, moving it into the farthest row from its starting point, that pawn can now be “promoted” to the rank of a higher piece. Pawns can be promoted to a knight, bishop, rook, or queen, but cannot become a second king. Upon promotion, the promoted pawn gains the ability to move as freely as the piece it has been promoted to. The most common promotion is from pawn to queen, which is known as “queening the pawn.” Once a pawn has been promoted, the opposing player must make a move, unless the promotion results in a checkmate that ends the game. A player can promote as many of their pawns as they need to, provided they can successfully reach the farthest row without being captured.

6. Castling

Chess Castling

Another important maneuver one can make in chess is known as “castling.” Castling is a means of granting one’s king extra protection. Castling allows a player’s king to move more than its usual one space, either moving two spaces to the right or two spaces to the left in order to trade places with one of its rooks, located at the far ends of the player’s back row. In order to castle, the player moves their king two spaces towards the intended rook and then moves the rook two spaces (or three, for the queenside rook) towards the king, placing it on the other side of the king. There are a number of conditions that must be met for a player to perform a castling maneuver. Firstly, neither the king nor the rook being used in the castle can have moved prior to the castling. Secondly, there must be no other pieces between the king and the rook being used in the castle. Thirdly, a king cannot castle while he is in check. Finally, a king cannot castle if any of the squares it must move through would place it in check–however, a rook can castle even if doing so would move it through an attacked square.

7. Game Timing

chess game timing

In formal chess, it is common for there to be time limitations placed on players and games, which force players to contemplate and make their moves within a set timeframe. There are four different types of time controls in chess: 

  • Classical time controls, which are used for the FIDE World Championships, players have 120 minutes to complete their first 40 moves, followed by 60 minutes for the next 20 moves, and 15 minutes for the remainder of the game, with 30 seconds per move allowed after the 61st move. 
  • Rapid time controls allow players upwards of ten minutes per turn. 
  • Blitz time controls give players between three and ten minutes per turn. 
  • Bullet time controls utilize the shortest intervals for each turn. Players receive less than three minutes per turn. 

In chess, time controls are measured by a chess clock, which consists of two linked timers with start buttons. Once a player completes their turn, they hit the button on their side of the clock, which automatically starts the clock for their opponent. 

8. Touching A Piece

chess touching a piece

In formal chess matches, such as tournaments, the rules for touching a piece are among the most important in the game and must be strictly obeyed. Known as the “touch-move” rule, this requirement states that if a player touches one of their pieces while contemplating a turn, they must make a move with that piece, provided a legal move exists. This rule exists to prevent players from beginning to move a piece and then withdrawing their move if they realize that it is a bad one. If a player accidentally or intentionally violates the touch-move rule, they have one of three options. Firstly, they can say, “J’adoube” (a term meaning “adjust”), which means that they are merely adjusting the placement of a piece without moving it, though this is technically cheating. Secondly, they can resign from the game as a result of their mistake. Thirdly, they can stick with the piece they touched and attempt to make a different move that is better for their game. 

9. Resigning

Chess Resigning

In chess, it is sometimes the case that one player will achieve such a dominant advantage over the other that the losing player will realize they cannot win the game unless their opponent makes a serious error. In these cases, it is possible for a player to resign a game of chess, conceding that they have been defeated and ending the game prior to checkmate. Some chess players dislike resigning, thinking that it is always possible to win a game, but others consider continuing to play against impossible odds a breach of etiquette that unnecessarily prolongs a losing situation. Resignation is a serious matter in chess, and players should be wary of resigning unless they are utterly certain that they will lose the game. Many games of chess where one opponent has been too confident in victory have ended in draws or defeats, so resigning a game is a move that should only be made when the circumstances are clear. 

10. Draws

Chess Draws

In chess, it is often possible that two players will find themselves in a situation where neither can effectively secure victory. In these cases, a chess game can be declared a draw. In chess, either player can ask for a draw to be declared when it becomes clear that they are evenly matched, and a draw game results in half a point for each player. The FIDE recognizes five different types of draws in chess: 

  • Stalemate occurs when a player who must move has no legal moves to make, but their king is also not in check. 
  • Dead position draw, which refers to a scenario in which a player cannot legally execute a checkmate against their opponent, such as if there are insufficient pieces to do so. 
  • Mutual agreement draw, where two players both agree to end the game in a draw. 
  • Threefold repetition draw, which occurs when one player is forced into the same position at least three times in one game. 
  • The 50-move rule draw happens when both players make 50 moves without capturing any pieces or moving any pawns.