Learn How To Play Chess In 4 Easy Steps (Without Starting Your Own Scandal)

Learn How To Play Chess In 4 Easy Steps (Without Starting Your Own Scandal)

Chess can be sexy. Anya Taylor-Joy in the hit Netflix show The Queen’s Gambit taught me that. Chess can also be evil and stupid. A viral (and unfounded) claim that a 19-year-old chess champion beat the best chess player in the world, Norwegian pro Magnus Carlsen, by using smart tech anal beads to help him cheat, as well as recent controversies involving a misogynsitc Grandmaster, oh and the chess robot that broke a child’s bones, taught me that. Chess hasn’t had a year this wild since the era when Marilyn Monroe’s legacy was defiled for only the first time.

But, instead of being fanned away by all the weirdness, perhaps you’ve been attracted by chess’ swirling vortex of dark intrigue and espresso. Not one to shy away from strangeness, you’ve been thinking it’s time to dive into the game and start writing things down in notepads the way the sexy misogynists do. Yeah, sure. I can understand the appeal of a mysterious Norwegian. And I can teach you how to get started in chess, completely scandal-free.

1. Get to know the board

In a match, a chess board is laid out so that both you and your opponent have the lighter-coloured square on the bottom-right. Regardless of the actual colours of your board, the player with the light pieces plays “White” and makes the first move. The other player is “Black” and responds.

To set your board up, place eight pawns across the second row, or “rank.” Then, like there’s a mirror, place one rook in each corner of the first rank, knights next to them, and bishops next to the knights. Your queen sits next to the bishop on her matching colour (a white queen is placed on the white square, a black queen on black), and your king sits next to her.

2. Get moving — online or offline

Chess is a formal game of cat-and-mouse. Your ultimate goal is to capture your opponent’s king in a checkmate. But before you kill the king, you need to understand and remember that each of the six types of chess pieces have a defined reach of power and set of moves. Becoming deeply familiar with these confines will allow you to move with confidence and strategy.

Know this about your army:

  • Pawns: can only press forward, but pawns can only capture pieces that are both diagonal to and in front of them. Untouched pawns can move two squares forward, but if the moved pawn would have landed in an enemy pawn’s capture territory had it only moved one square, it can be immediately captured en passant, or in passing. Pawns can also be “promoted” if they make it all the way to the final square in a column, or “file,” and are swapped out for a rook, bishop, knight, or queen.
  • Rooks: can move to any open square in front, next to, or behind them. They can also be used for “castling,” a single-use move only applicable to an untouched rook and untouched king unobstructed by enemy pieces. The king can not be under attack or in check, either. After meeting these requirements, you can castle by coaxing your king two squares over left or right, toward the rook you’ll be moving, then sitting that rook next to the king on his opposite side. You will not move two pieces at once outside of this move.
  • Knights: move in an L-shape, one square up and one square over, always to a different colour square to which it started on (a black knight moving from a white square moves back to black, then white, then black again, etc.). Only knights can jump over other pieces while moving.
  • Bishops: move diagonally to any open square matching its starting square’s colour.
  • Queen: chess’ most formidable piece can go anywhere for as long as she wants, as long as it isn’t through another piece.
  • King: the shrimpy king can move one square in any direction.

The best way to embed chess’ many rules into your muscle memory is by playing it. Lichess, Chess.com, and Chess24 offer free training matches against computers or beginner-friendly matches based on skill. If you’d prefer to practice on a physical board or would simply like to have one, you don’t need anything fancy, but weighted sets and materials like vinyl or woods like boxwood and rosewood are durable, satisfying to move, and easy to transport. Chess sets don’t need to be expensive, either, like this $US25 ($35) weighted vinyl board from Chess House labelled helpfully with algebraic notation.

3. Get to know the community

Outside of the basic rules described here, chess is filled with passionate people, innovative gameplay, and lots of drama deserving of a buttery bag of microwave popcorn. The very active r/chess and r/chessbeginners are low-stakes ways to chat with enthusiasts and get to know chess more intimately.

Your town or city also likely has a few chess clubs or hangouts. In New York City, where I live, newbies are welcome to buy boards or play games at Chess Forum in Greenwich Village, or sit down at a stone chess table in parks like Washington Square, Union, or Bryant. Hell, you might even have your own thrilling Searching for Bobby Fischer experience. Stirring orchestral score not included.

But to eventually play in tournaments, some of which occur online or weekly, you’ll need to purchase a U.S. Chess Federation membership (one year for an adult over 24 and under 65 costs $US45 ($62)). A membership also qualifies you for an official U.S. Chess Rating.

4. Maintain a healthy relationship to your gastrointestinal tract

Do not put anything chess-related in your butt. Or don’t tell any Norwegians about it. If you do, they will alert the media, and your burgeoning chess career will get squashed like a bug.



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