Chess Beginner Checklist

Improving your chess involves learning a large number of new things. You need to learns the rules of chess. If you play in tournaments, you'll need to know what that's all about. And you need to learn the tactics, the good moves, the techniques and strategies.

Chess Rules Checklist

The various aspects of the rules that you need to learn are in many areas.

Setting up the Board:

  • Two players called White and Black (or light and dark).
  • 6 types of pieces. Each player has 8 pawns, 2 rooks (castles), 2 knights (horses), 2 bishops, 1 queen, and 1 King.
  • White's pieces on the first row. Black's pieces on the 8th row.
  • Eight Pawns in the second and seventh row. (In front of the row of pieces.)
  • Rooks in the corner, then Knights, then Bishops.
  • Queen and King in the middle two squares.
  • The King is on the right of the Queen for White, and on the left of the Queen for the Black player, if both players face their side of the board.
  • Right-hand-side corner square should be a light square (for both players, when facing the board).
  • The White Queen should be on a light square, the Black Queen should be on a dark square. (For the Kings, it's the opposite.)

Basic aspects of the game:

  • Each player moves in turn.
  • White moves first.
  • On the very first move, only the pawns or Knights can move. Other pieces are blocked in.
  • Move to an empty square.
  • Capture a piece by moving to its square and taking it off the board.
  • Cannot capture your own pieces.
  • No "must-take" rule. Captures are optional.
  • No "pass" move. You must always play a move.

Basic Piece Move Rules:

  • Rooks (castles) move up/down or left/right (maximum 4 directions)
  • Bishops move diagonally (maximum 4 directions).
  • Queens move like Rooks or Bishops (up/down, left/right, or diagonally) (8 possible directions)
  • Kings move 1 square at a time, in any direction (8 possible directions).
  • Knights (horses) jump in an odd L-shape (maximum 8 different moves).
  • Pawns move one-square forwards
  • Pawns can optionally move two-squares forwards (but only from their start square).
  • Pawns capture diagonally, only one square.
  • Pawns cannot capture forwards. If something is in front of a pawn, it's blocked.
  • Pawns cannot move diagonally to an empty square. Must be a capture to move diagonally.
  • Pawns cannot move or capture backwards.
  • Only Knights can jump over pieces.
  • All pieces can move backwards. Only pawns cannot move backwards.
  • Bishops always move along the same color squares. Not true for any other pieces.

Checks of the King:

  • Checks. Attacks on the King are special.
  • Cannot take the King. (In usual chess rules. Some tournaments allow it.)
  • Checks can be stopped by (a) moving the King, (b) interposing another piece to block the check, or (c) taking the enemy checking piece.
  • King must move to a square that is not in check.
  • The King can itself take a piece that checks it, if the King can reach it (Kings move only 1 square),and also provided that the enemy piece is not supported by some other enemy piece or pawn.
  • Cannot castle if the King is in check.
  • Discovered checks are common.
  • Pinned pieces cannot be moved if it would result in a check against the King. It's an illegal move if pinned to the King.
  • Double check is possible, but very rare.


  • Checkmate is the end of the game.
  • Checkmate is where the King is in check, and cannot escape.
  • Checkmate can sometimes be blocked by another piece.
  • Checkmate can sometimes be stopped by capturing the checking piece.
  • Not checkmate if the King can move to a safe square.
  • Checkmate ends the game immediately. There's no double checkmate. Doesn't matter if the other player is about to make a checkmate too.


  • Stalemate is where there are no legal moves, including that the King cannot move, but the King is not in check. (If it's in check, that's checkmate not stalemate.)
  • Stalemate requires that there are zero legal moves for any piece or pawn (for that player), not just that the King cannot move.
  • Stalemate is a draw. (Don't blame me...)

Castling special move:

  • Castling counts as a single move, even though both the King and Rook move.
  • Castle by moving the King 2 squares towards the Rook, then jumping the Rook over the King to the square next to the King.
  • The Rook ends up next to the King.
  • Must be empty squares between King and Rook. Cannot jump any pieces or capture anything.
  • Can castle on either side. Both sides it's a 2-square King move.
  • Cannot 1-square or 3-square castle. Only 2-squares.
  • Castling advanced rules relate to checks and prior moves, called "castling rights".
  • Cannot castle out of check.
  • Cannot castle into check.
  • Cannot castle through check. (Not through a checked square.)
  • Can castle if the Rook is attacked (but not the King).
  • Can castle if only the Rook moves through an attacked square. (Occurs in queenside castling when the 'b' square is attacked.)
  • Cannot castle if your King has moved ever. You have lost the "right to castle".
  • Cannot castle if the Rook has moved at any prior move int he game. (The Rook you want to castle with.)
  • Can still castle on one side if it's only the other side rook that has moved.
  • The right to castle is lost for the whole game, even if your King and/or Rook move back to their start square.
  • Your King getting checked only prevents castling for that move, it does not lose the "castling right", unless your King moves, of course.
  • Cannot "un-castle".

Other advanced rules: Pawn Promotion

  • Queening a Pawn once it reaches the end (called "pawn promotion")
  • Can have two Queens (or more).
  • Can also capture a piece to reach the eighth rank and Queen.
  • The new Queen can move backwards. It's a normal Queen.
  • Can choose not just a Queen, but also a Rook, Knight, or Bishop (called "under-promotion"). Usually you want a Queen.
  • Cannot leave it as a pawn.
  • Cannot get a second King.

Other Advanced Rules: En Passant:

  • En Passant Pawn capture (a very odd rule).
  • You en passant capture by moving your pawn to an empty square, diagonally like it was a normal pawn capture diagonal move. Then you remove the enemy pawn from its square (it's 1 square behind where your pawn ends up).
  • Only applies to pawns.
  • Pawn start moves only: En passant only applies if the enemy pawn has just moved 2 squares forwards (i.e. from its starting position). No en passant if it moves past your pawn with a 1-square move.
  • En passant cannot be delayed. Only allowed to do it immediately after the enemy pawn moves 2 squares. Not on a later move afterwards.

That's a lot of stuff to remember!

Chess Tournamet Rules and Etiquette Checklist

Playing in an official chess tournament? There are many things to learn.

Tournament move rules:

  • Touch move rules. Have to move your piece if you touch it. Have to capture an enemy piece you touch.
  • Touch move does not apply if there's no legal move to do so.
  • Cannot take back a move.
  • Not usually requires to announce check. But you can say "check" if you want to be polite.
  • Can you take the King? (Most tournaments you cannot, but sometimes you can. Depends on the tournament rules.)

Chess clocks:

  • Chess clocks. Are the games timed? What time limit?
  • What to do if your opponent doesn't press the chess clock? Usually you don't have to do anything, but you can politely remind them if you wish.

Conduct rules in tournaments:

  • Shake hands at the start.
  • Shake hands at the end. Win, loss or draw.
  • No cheating.
  • No written materials. No chess books. Not at the board, and not anywhere else while you're playing.
  • No mobile phones. No tablet or laptop computers. No computer devices that could help you play.
  • Don't get help, or help someone else.
  • Don't talk about games, or talk while watching other games.
  • Don't talk to your opponent during the game. (This rule is pretty loosely applied in junior tournaments! There's lots of chatter usually. Plus there are draw offers, check announcement, chess clock reminders, and resignations.)
  • Cannot repeatedly offer draws in a way that would badger or harass your opponent. There are complex etiquette rules regarding draw offers.
  • Don't have to stay seated. You are allowed to get up and walk around in long timed games, on your time, or your opponent's time. But not noisily or in a distracting way.
  • Eating and drinking. Usually allowed, even at the board.

Other aspects of tournaments:

  • Recording the game. Is writing down the game required in this tournament? Or not?
  • Two Queens. Use an upside-down Rook to signify a second Queen. Or borrow another Queen piece from another board.
  • Adjournments. Hardly any tournaments allow adjournments overnight. Too many computers around these days...

Wins, Losses, and Draws in Tournaments: