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How to Play Chess

May 30th, 2013 Games

Out of all board games, chess may be one of the oldest and more enduring. Although some sources dispute this story, The United States Chess Federation states that chess originated in India under the name Chatarung around the time of 600 AD. About 400 years later, it caught on with Europeans, who altered the rules to make it a more fast-paced strategic contest. Benjamin Franklin is credited as one of the earliest American advocates of chess. In 1750, he wrote an essay titled "On The Morals of Chess," which cited foresight, circumspection and caution as the three main pillars of his playing strategy.

But all the foresight, circumspection and caution in the world won't make you a great chess player if you don't know the basics. So let's start with how the pieces move.

Pawns At the start of every game of chess, both players have eight pawns - arranged in a line in front of the other, more versatile pieces. During their first turn, pawns can move one or two blocks forward. After that, they can only move ahead one block at a time. They can only capture opponent's pieces that are placed one diagonal block in front of them. Pawns aren't allowed to move backward, but if a pawn manages to travel to the other end of the board without being captured, the player can turn that pawn into whatever piece they choose. Most people opt to turn their victorious pawns in to queens, the most powerful pieces on the chessboard.

Knights The rules for moving these pieces - often carved to resemble horses - are the most unique of all the tools in a chess player's arsenal. Knights can move backward and forward, but must always move in a three-block "L" shape - for example, two blocks forward, one to either side. They can only capture opponent's pieces at the end of their "L." Many players choose to start the game by making an offensive play with their knights.

Bishops and Rooks It's probably simpler to understand how bishops and rooks move than any other chess pieces - but it could take years to learn how to use them effectively. Rooks can move as far as the player wants, in any direction, as long as it's in a horizontal or diagonal straight line. Bishops are similar, except they must move diagonally.

Queens Many players attack with their queens early in the game, which can be an effective strategy, although it's not especially cautious. Queens are basically combinations of rooks and bishops - they can move as far as the player wants in a straight line or diagonally. While the most offensively versatile pieces on the board, queens are still only the second most important of all chess pieces.

Kings When the king is in danger of being captured - and there's no way to get him to safety - the situation is known as "checkmate" and the player whose king is threatened has lost the game. If a king is in danger, but there is a way to get him out, the king is merely in "check," but the player must do whatever is necessary to protect the king during his or her next turn. Partially for these reasons, kings aren't intended to do much offensive damage. They can move in any direction, but only one block at a time.

Beginner players might get discouraged early on, especially if they're playing against an expert chess player. However, the blog Confessions of a Chess Novice points out that the best way to improve at chess is to get lots of practice, so even losing can't help but make a player better in the long run.