General Move Rules

Although all the chess pieces move differently, there are some rules of chess that apply to all the pieces. Some of these general rules include:

  • Captures: usually you capture by moving your piece to the enemy piece’s square, removing the enemy piece, then putting your piece there instead. (Surprisingly, there is an exception called “en passant”.) For most pieces, they capture with the same method as their non-capturing moves to empty squares, but this is not true for Pawn Moves. Pawns capture differently from how they move to empty squares.
  • No self-captures: none of the pieces or pawns can capture any pieces on their team. They can only capture enemy pieces.
  • One Square Per Piece: Each piece must be on exactly one square.
  • One Piece per Square: No sharing squares: You cannot have two pieces on a square.
  • Backwards Moves: all pieces except the pawns can move backwards. Even newly minted pieces from pawn promotion can go backwards.
  • No Multiple Direction Moves: You cannot zig-zag with any of the pieces. It can only move in one direction each move. Only the Knight move is a bit like a zig-zag. Beginners often try to move a Queen first up and then diagonally, for example, but this is actually two separate moves and hence is an illegal move (except in a strange chess variant called “two move chess”).
  • Jumping Moves (Knight Moves Only): only the Knights truly “jump” over any other pieces. The other pieces slide through empty squares, but cannot jump over any pieces of their own or of the enemy’s army. Pawns can slide 2 squares on their first move, and the King’s special castling move is a bit like a jump move, because the King slides 2 squares, then the Rook jumps over the King.
  • Checks: a move of a piece or pawn can only be legal if it does not leave your own King in check. This is true in the normal types of chess where “King captures” are not allowed, but some types of chess play do actually allow “taking the King” as a way to win. In effect, if taking the King is allowed, then illegal chess moves are actually allowed.
  • Checks can be blocked or captured: Beginners will often move the King if it is checked. But you are allowed to do any legal move against a check. The enemy piece that is doing the check can be captured, for example. The King is itself allowed to capture a piece that is checking it, provided that checking piece is not protected by a second enemy piece or pawn. Or you can block the check by putting a piece between the enemy piece and your King. Note that Knight checks (jump moves) and pawn checks cannot be blocked (as bughouse players will know). Double check cannot be captured or blocked, and the King must move.
  • Diagonal Squeeze Moves: the chess board squares are connected at the corners for diagonal moves. A bishop or Queen (or King move or pawn capture move) can squeeze along a diagonal, between other pieces on squares adjacent to the diagonal, provided that the actual squares of the diagonal are empty (they are all the same color squares).
  • Legal Moves Only: This seems silly to say, but you can only play the chess pieces in moves that are actually legal for that piece. If not, then it’s an “illegal move”. In practice, lots of illegal moves happen in beginner tournaments!

There are also some more special chess rules for particular advanced chess moves:

There are also some advanced rules in tournaments about winning, losing, and other play:

  • Chess winning rules (e.g. Checkmate Rules)
  • Chess losing rules
  • Chess draw rules (e.g. Stalemate Rules)
  • Chess tournament rules

Related Chess Rules Topics

Read more about these related chess rules, chess puzzles, and other chess tactics and strategies: