Chess

One of my main passions is the game of chess. Actually, I never really started playing chess until University, but once there I was instantly drawn to the two chess tables situated to one side of the EngSci common room. In first year, I spent almost every spare period I had between classes there playing and learning chess and various variations of the game we call "double chess". OK, fine, you can probably still find me there during the school year now, too :-p This also means that I'm not even that good at the game, but I'm decent enough to play my friends on a regular basis. It's nice to know that you don't have to be good at something to love it.

This page is meant to introduce you, the visitor, to the basics of chess. Mainly, it's aimed at people who know basically how the pieces move, but not much beyond that. I also throw in some random tidbits I've learned about chess along the way. The best way to learn how to play the game well is experience... whether through playing the game, watching others play, or reading other peoples' experiences. This is divided into two pages; page one, which you are reading, and page 2, if you want to skip straight to some fancy moves. Even if you know how the pieces move, I recommend skimming this page before moving on to page two.

Without further ado, let's talk about chess!

The Battleground

This is the famous 8 x 8 chessboard that you see and hear about all the time. The white square should be in the corner closest to your right hand, with a checkerboard pattern alternating between black and white filling the rest of the squares. If this is set up correctly, then the queens should be sitting on their own colour: white queen on white square, and black queen on black square. One side controls the white pieces, and the other side controls the black pieces. White always moves first.

The Objective

To capture the enemy king, while simultaneously protecting your own. Every single move you make should have this as the ultimate objective. Each and every piece on the board has a special way of moving on the board. Pieces can only move to unoccupied squares, unless they are capturing an enemy piece. When capturing, they remove the enemy piece from the board and occupy the square where that piece was. If it is possible for an enemy piece to capture one of your pieces, then your piece is under attack. If any move places the king under attack, then the attacker must say check, to warn the defender that they must move to protect the king. If it is impossible to save the king, then the king has been checkmated.

There are some common sense rules which are based on the fact that you are protecting your king. For example, you cannot place your king into check on purpose. This means two things: you cannot move your king into check, and you cannot move any pieces that are protecting your king from attack directly. For example, if the only thing preventing a bishop from capturing your king (putting your king into check) is that your knight is in the way, then you cannot move the knight. The knight is effectively pinned by the bishop, and it cannot move until the pin has been broken.

Let's quickly cover the pieces on the board before some more advanced rules, such as en passant and castling are mentionned.

The Players

Ah yes, the all mighty pawn. The game of chess has military origins... essentially, you're the master of an entire army trying to beat your opponent. Like a real army, the most plentiful type of unit is the average foot soldier. You might think that high technology, like stealth bombers and lots and lots of tanks are all you need to win, but any army still depends on the soldiers to capture and hold enemy strongpoints in the end.

The pawn can only move straight forward blindly by one square. On its first move, it has the option of moving two squares instead... think of it as the initial charge, where all the soldiers are scrambling to go "over the top". However, the pawn is the only piece that captures in a different way than it moves. Pawns cannot capture pieces directly in front of them; in fact, if there is an enemy piece there, the pawn cannot move forward at all. Instead, pawns capture pieces in the squares directly in front of them and to one side. This has many strategic implications, which I'll get to later ;-)

Contrary to popular belief, this piece is known as the knight, not horse or horsie. Calling this piece anything other than a knight will immediately demote you to a newbie chess player in the eyes of your peers... consider this fair warning :-)

The knight moves and captures in an "L" pattern. It can only move two squares in one direction, then one square in the perpindicular direction. Because of this weird pattern, knights can be very strategic pieces... there are some very fun moves you can make with a knight, due to this pattern which can cause much pain and distress to your opponent. Also because of this pattern, the knight is the only piece that can "jump over" other pieces, since the only requirement for movement is that the landing square is available (or occupied by an enemy piece). Suiting its name, knights are extremely proficient at attacking castles, which I'll get to later.

This grinning piece is known as the bishop. You start off with one bishop in a black square, and one bishop in a white square. Since bishops move and capture diagonally, they are confined to the colour of square that they start the game in, and it is impossible for them to switch colours. This is in stark contrast to the knight, which because of its pattern always changes the colour it is resting in every time it moves or captures.

According to various experts, you will often hear that the bishop and the knight have very similar value, or are at least fairly close. By value, I mean the price you are willing to place on its head ;-) Roughly speaking, the value of the pieces go, from least to greatest, like so: pawn, knight/bishop, rook, queen, king. The only way for you to figure out whether the knight or the bishop is more valuable is by playing yourself, since this is more a matter of personal taste than anything else. Bishops have much more range than knights... they can capture pieces farther away... but knights are fun ;-)

Similar to the knight, this piece has a real name and a fake name. Call it a rook if you want to play with the big boys and girls... otherwise, feel free to call it a castle and sound completely inane, since the word castle is reserved for a very useful move that the king and the rook does together, and is something completely different.

The rook moves and captures in straight lines either forward or to the side. Like the bishop, it's range is confined only by other pieces and the size of the board... it can leap into action from your side of the board and take out almost anything, as long as nothing's in the way. Because of this, it is one of the most valuable pieces on the board. When rooks are placed in the same row or column, they are almost invicible... this is known as doubling up your rooks. When they are positioned in the same row/column, they can support each other in an attack, or defend each other from other pieces. If your opponent doubles up his/her rooks, watch out!

The queen is definitely the most useful piece in the game. The king might be the most important, but you won't be leading any attacks with your king. This piece can move either straight or diagonally as far as it wants, as long as nothing's in the way. In essence, it is combining the capabilities of the bishop and the rook. But since you only get one of these, make sure you put it to good use and don't sacrifice it needlessly!

Because of its value to both players, you will sometimes be faced with a queen trade. As the name implies, this means that you will sacrifice your own queen to take out your opponent's queen, removing them both from the board. Just like any trade, you must consider what effect a queen trade could have on your position and your enemy's position very carefully. Watch this piece like a hawk, since it can do some nasty damage to your army if ignored.

Finally, we come to the king. This piece will always be on the board, since if it's not that means that the game is over! Unfortunately, this guy is fat and slow... he can only move one square at a time, albeit in any direction he wants. You shoud try to keep as many pieces between your king and your opponent as reasonably possible.

Despite its awkwardness, the king can become very important in endgame, the stage of the game where most of the pieces on the board have been killed, and the king is one of the few survivors with a couple of pawns. Of course, you cannot really use the king to attack many pieces... but in combination with a couple of strategically placed pawns, you can sure give them a good scare. Since the king can move in any direction, he can usually sneak up on a piece without placing himself into check. The exception, of course, is the queen... and if your opponent has a queen on the board in endgame, and you don't, you're screwed :-) The king is also very useful for escorting pawns to the end of the board. Once pawns reach the other end of the board, they can be promoted to almost any piece they want: a knight, a bishop, a rook, or a queen. Most people choose to promote to a queen, but the others are still possibilities.

Now that you know all the basic pieces and how they move, you can proceed on to page two!

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