Chess 101: Mastering the Pieces and Basic Strategies

Understanding each chess piece is fundamental to mastering chess.

Each piece moves in a unique way, contributing differently to the game’s strategy.

Key Takeaways

  1. Pawns: Understand their forward movement, capturing diagonally, the unique ‘en passant’ move, and the power of pawn promotion.
  2. Rooks: Learn their straightforward horizontal and vertical movements and their role in the special move, castling.
  3. Knights: Master the unique L-shaped moves and their ability to jump over other pieces, offering strategic versatility.
  4. Bishops: Grasp their diagonal movements and the importance of controlling long-range diagonals, especially when using the bishop pair.
  5. Queen: Recognize the queen’s unrivaled power, combining the abilities of a rook and bishop, crucial in both attack and defense.
  6. King: Understand the king’s singular moves, the crucial tactic of castling for safety, and the game-ending conditions of check and checkmate.
  7. Overall Strategy: Emphasize the importance of piece coordination, effective piece development, and understanding the unique role and value of each piece in the broader game strategy.

Beginners must learn not only how each piece moves but also grasp their value and potential in various positions on the board.

This knowledge forms the foundation upon which advanced strategies and tactics are built.

The Pawns

chess board with the pawns highlighted

Pawns are the most numerous and, initially, the least powerful pieces in chess. However, they hold great potential. Each pawn appears as the smallest piece in the set and is placed on the second row from each player.


  • Forward Movement: Pawns move forward one square at a time. On their first move, they have the option to move two squares forward.
  • Capturing: Pawns capture diagonally, one square forward to the left or right.
  • En Passant: This special move allows a pawn to capture an opponent’s pawn that has moved two squares forward from its starting position, bypassing a square that would have been subject to capture.

Promotion is a unique feature of the pawn. When a pawn reaches the opposite end of the board, it can be promoted to any other piece, except a king. Typically, a pawn is promoted to a queen. This transformation can significantly alter the game’s dynamics, often leading to a decisive advantage.

The Rooks

chess board with the rooks highlighted

Rooks, resembling miniature towers or castles, are positioned at the four corners of the chessboard, two for each player. They start on the a1, h1, a8, and h8 squares.


  • Horizontal and Vertical Movements: Rooks can move any number of squares along a row or column, but cannot jump over other pieces.
  • Capturing: They capture by moving to the square occupied by an opponent’s piece.

Role in Castling

  • Castling is a special move that involves a rook and the king. This move allows the king to move two squares towards the rook, and then the rook moves to the square next to the king. This can only occur if neither piece has moved before, there are no pieces between them, and the king is not in check.

The Knights

chess board with the knights highlighted

Knights are shaped like a horse’s head and start next to the rooks, on the b1, g1, b8, and g8 squares.


  • L-Shaped Moves: Knights move in an L-shape: two squares in one direction (horizontal or vertical) and then one square perpendicular to that direction.
  • Jumping Over Pieces: Unlike other pieces, knights can jump over any pieces between the starting and ending square.

Strategic Value

  • Knights are particularly effective in closed positions where other pieces are blocked.
  • Their ability to jump over pieces makes them versatile in both offense and defense.

The Bishops

chess board with the bishops highlighted

Bishops have a tall, pointed top and start on the c1, f1, c8, and f8 squares.


  • Diagonal Movement: Bishops move diagonally across the board, any number of squares, but cannot jump over other pieces.
  • Capturing: They capture an opponent’s piece by moving to its square.

Importance of Bishop Pair

  • Having both bishops (commonly referred to as the “bishop pair”) is advantageous as they can control a wide array of squares and complement each other.
  • The bishop pair is particularly powerful in open positions where they can exert influence across the board.

These pieces, with their unique movements and strategic roles, add depth and complexity to the game of chess. Understanding how to effectively utilize rooks, knights, and bishops is crucial for beginners to develop their chess skills.

The Queen

chess board with the queen highlighted

The Queen is the most powerful piece in chess, combining the abilities of the rook and bishop. It is easily recognized by its ornate crown-like top. Each player has one queen, which starts the game on the central square of its color, d1 for White and d8 for Black.


  • Combination of Rook and Bishop Movements: The queen can move any number of squares along a row, column, or diagonal.
  • Capturing: Like other pieces, the queen captures by moving to the occupied square of an opponent’s piece.

Power and Flexibility on the Board

  • The queen’s ability to move in multiple directions gives it tremendous reach and versatility.
  • It plays a crucial role in both offense and defense, able to control significant portions of the board and participate in attacks from various angles.

The King

chess board with the king highlighted

The King is the most important piece, and its capture is the game’s objective. The king is distinguished by its cross-topped crown and starts the game next to the queen, on e1 for White and e8 for Black.


  • One Square in Any Direction: The king can move one square in any direction – forward, backward, sideways, or diagonally.
  • Special Move – Castling: This move involves the king and a rook. The king moves two squares towards the rook, which then moves to the square next to the king on the opposite side.

The Concept of Check and Checkmate

example of a check in chess
Example of a check in chess
  • Check: The king is in ‘check’ when it is under threat of capture on the next move.
  • Checkmate: The game ends with a checkmate, where the king is in check and has no legal move to escape capture.

Basic Strategies and Tips

modern illustration of chess pieces
  • Each chess piece has a relative value, helping players decide when to exchange pieces. For example, a queen is generally considered more valuable than a rook or a bishop.

Basic Opening Principles

  • Control the Center: Aim to control the central squares (e4, d4, e5, d5) as it provides more room for your pieces to move.
  • Develop Your Pieces: Move your knights and bishops towards the center to prepare for the game.
  • King Safety: Castling early can help protect your king.

Protecting the King

  • Keep your king safeguarded, often behind a row of pawns or through strategic positioning of other pieces.

Importance of Piece Coordination

  • Coordinating your pieces means positioning them so they protect each other and work together efficiently.
  • Effective coordination can lead to stronger attacks and a more resilient defense.

Chess Board and Setup

The chessboard is a square board divided into 64 smaller squares, arranged in an 8×8 grid. These squares alternate between two colors, traditionally black and white. Each player starts with 16 pieces: one king, one queen, two rooks, two knights, two bishops, and eight pawns.

The initial arrangement of the pieces is crucial. Each player’s back row, closest to them, is filled with the more powerful pieces in this order (from left to right): rook, knight, bishop, queen, king, bishop, knight, and rook. The queen always starts on her own color (white queen on a white square and black queen on a black square). The second row for both players is occupied entirely by pawns.

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