How to Play Chess for Beginners

The world of chess is very broad. In fact, it is commonly held that there are more possible chess positions than atoms in the observable universe! For this reason, the game of chess is continuously evolving; there are always new variations to explore and new chess puzzles to solve.

While that may seem daunting, the beauty of chess actually lies in its simplicity. With the right guidance, the chessboard becomes a playground for exploration and intellectual growth.

In this article, we’ll explain how to play chess for beginners. We will go through the fundamentals of chess, from setting up the board to understanding the movements of each piece, and explore the basic rules and strategies that will empower newcomers to start playing this age-old game with confidence and enthusiasm.

Introduction to Chess for Beginners

Chess is a centuries-old game of strategy, intellect, and skill that has captured the hearts and minds of people around the globe.

Whether you’re a complete beginner or someone looking to refresh their knowledge, this guide will provide you with essential insights on how to play chess. It’s a game that transcends age, gender, and background, offering endless opportunities for learning and growth.

Setting Up the Chessboard

Before you dive into your first game, you’ll need to set up the chessboard.

Place the board between you and your opponent so that each player has a white square on their right-hand side. The chessboard consists of 64 squares arranged in an 8×8 grid.

Each player has 16 pieces: one king, one queen, two rooks, two knights, two bishops, and eight pawns. The back row should be set up with rooks in the corners, followed by knights, bishops, queen, and king in the center. The front row contains the eight pawns. The player with the white pieces plays the first move.

Chessboard setup.
Chessboard setup

Understanding the Chess Pieces

It’s crucial to understand the movement and value of each chess piece:

  • King: The most important piece, but it moves only one square in any direction. The King is worth the entire game.
  • Queen: The most powerful piece, capable of moving any number of squares horizontally, vertically, or diagonally. The Queen is worth 9 points.
  • Rook: Moves horizontally or vertically any number of squares. The Rook is worth 5 points.
  • Bishop: Moves diagonally any number of squares. The Bishop is worth 3 points.
  • Knight: Moves in an L-shape: two squares in one direction and then one square in a direction perpendicular to the first move. The Knight is worth 3 points.
  • Pawn: Moves forward one square but captures diagonally. On its first move, a pawn can choose to move forward two squares. A Pawn is worth 1 point.

Basic Rules and Objectives

The primary objective in chess is to checkmate your opponent’s king while protecting your own. Checkmate means putting the opponent’s king in a position where it is under attack and cannot move to any safe square.

For example, in the position shown below, White played checkmate and beat Black.

Checkmate example: White wins
Checkmate example: White wins

White wins because the Black king is under attack by the White queen and has nowhere safe to go. The queen controls all the possible escape squares for the king, and the king cannot capture the queen because the White bishop is eyeing the diagonal and protecting it.

Let’s move on to some fundamental rules to always keep in mind:

– Kings cannot move into check (a square under attack by an enemy piece).

– Pawns have the unique ability to promote to any other piece if they complete their journey across the board and reach the opponent’s back rank. In some cases, there can be five (or even more) queens on the board at the same time!

Castling allows the king to move two squares towards a rook on its initial square, and the rook moves one square across from the king. It is used to keep the king safe and protected.

If you would like to learn more about castling, have a look at my complete castling guide.

Strategies for Beginners

Chess is a game of strategy, and while there are countless tactics and openings to explore, here are some foundational strategies for beginners to keep in mind:

  • Control the Center: Occupying the central squares provides greater control over the board and more opportunities for your pieces to move freely.
  • Develop Your Pieces: Get your knights and bishops into the game early by moving them out from their starting positions. Developing your pieces as soon as possible gives you more options.
  • King Safety: Keep your king safe by castling early in the game. This move tucks your king behind a wall of pawns, reducing its vulnerability.
  • Plan Ahead: Think several moves ahead. Consider not only your own moves but your opponent’s potential responses. Put yourself in your opponent’s shoes and think of what moves they would want to play and how you can prevent them from improving their position.
  • Trade Pieces Wisely: Don’t trade pieces just for the sake of it. Consider the relative value of the pieces you’re exchanging and whether it benefits your position. After every trade, there is a winner and a loser. Even if the traded pieces are equal in value, the resulting position may be more beneficial for one side than the other.

Knowing when to trade and when not to trade is an important skill. If you would like to learn more about it, have a look at my guide on the dos and don’ts of trading in chess.


Chess is a fascinating and rewarding game that offers a lifetime of learning and enjoyment. By understanding the setup, pieces, rules, objectives, and some basic strategies, beginners can embark on their chess journey with confidence.

If you would like to learn more, I recommend you have a look at my article on chess tactics for beginners.

Remember that practice, patience, and a willingness to learn from both victories and defeats are essential for improvement in this timeless game of strategy. Every chess expert was once a beginner.

If you have any questions, please feel free to drop them in the comments below. I would love to have a chat with you.

6 thoughts on “How to Play Chess for Beginners”

  1. Hi Yusuf! This guide is a fantastic resource for anyone looking to start their chess journey. How you’ve broken down the basics of setting up the board and understanding each piece’s movements is really helpful. I particularly liked your tips on controlling the center and developing pieces early on. Chess is not just a game but a lifelong journey of learning and strategy. Do you have any advice on how to stay patient and motivated, especially after a losing streak? And, how often do you recommend beginners to play to see improvement? Thanks for sharing this guide; it’s a great starting point for newbies like me!

    Warm Regards,

    • Hi Max,

      Thank you for your comment. I’m really glad the guide was helpful.

      When I was a beginner, I struggled a good bit with losing streaks. I believe the problem is that a beginner usually has what I like to call a “chess attention span” which is relatively short. After playing and losing a couple of games, you would find a beginner playing more games just to regain points without being fully focused and immersed.

      My advice is to only play one or two games a day while fully focused, and then spend some time analyzing your performance and studying. With time, this will pay off.

      I have written an article on how to deal with losing streaks, so feel free to check it out.

  2. Hello, I just finished reading your article and I must say, it’s one of the most comprehensive and beginner-friendly guides I’ve come across. Your step-by-step approach and clear explanations make learning chess feel much less intimidating. What I appreciate the most is how you’ve broken down the game into digestible chunks. From understanding the board setup to the movement of each piece, you’ve covered all the basics in a way that’s easy to follow. Your emphasis on strategy and tactics for beginners is invaluable. It’s clear that you have a deep understanding of the game and a passion for teaching it. The diagrams and examples you provided were incredibly helpful. They really helped to reinforce the concepts you were explaining. It’s evident that you’ve put a lot of effort into creating a resource that’s both informative and accessible. Your writing style is engaging and approachable, making it a pleasure to read through the guide. Thanks for sharing your expertise with beginners like me!

  3. Thank you, Yusuf, for your educative and informative post on how to play chess for beginners. The post lays a strong foundation for those interested in playing the game of chess and have to start from somewhere. I particularly like your glossary on the chess pieces, their meaning, and the moves they can make. I am not a chess player, but I would be interested in learning; however, from the first lesson, how do we determine who has won and who has lost? I suppose your audience would be interested in knowing this; therefore, a little more details on the beginner’s post might be helpful. It was not until I read your post on “Chess Tactics for Beginners.” I got an idea of the moves to make. Thus, I would suggest cross-referencing the post. However, this is just my opinion as a novice in this game.

    • Many thanks for your insights Andrew, I really appreciate it.

      You make a very valid point; I am continuously trying to incorporate newly-added content to every post. Stay tuned and keep these great insights coming.


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