All About Chess

What do the words echecs, ajedrez, Schachspiel, and shakhmat have in common? They are the French, Spanish, German, and Russian words for the word chess, one of the oldest and most popular games of skill in the world. Although the game is believed to have originated in India about thirteen centuries ago, chess—or a game very similar to it—was being played much earlier. Its emphasis on skill and logic have made chess universal in its appeal. A sixth grader in Oregon could easily enjoy a game of chess by mail with a grandmother in France if both players understand the basic rules of the game.

Although chess rules have changed somewhat over the years, the object of the game is still the same—to capture your opponent’s king in a move known as checkmate. The word likely comes from the Persian words shah and mat (the king is dead). In modern times chess rules have been regulated by the World Chess Federation (Fédération Internationale des Echecs). This helps everyone play by the same rules.

When chess spread from India to Europe, it became so popular with wealthy people and the aristocracy that it was known as the royal game. In time the game became more widespread, and people from all walks of life began to play. Chess clubs were formed and tournaments arranged. Chess experts, called chess masters, began to develop. Some masters became so skilled at chess that they were able to make their living playing exhibition games.

Many chess masters have been adults who were experienced players, but some of the world’s best chess players have been young people. Two famous teenage players were Americans. Paul Morphy was only thirteen when he played against some of the world’s greatest chess players in the middle 1800s. And more recently, Bobby Fischer was a grand master chess player before he was twenty.

Today chess is as popular as ever. Many teachers and educators believe that teaching school age children how to play chess will help them learn to think more logically. It will also help to increase youngsters’ powers of concentration and assist them in developing more patience. In Russia children learn to play chess in school. Some students even major in chess in college. Most chess players, however, feel that the greatest benefits of chess are that it is relaxing and just plain fun.

To get started playing chess, all you need is an inexpensive chessboard and pieces. You might not become another Bobby Fischer, but you may come to love the game as much as the English poet, Sir William Jones. Sir William created a “goddess of chess” named Caissa in one of his poems.

The Game

To begin, you won’t need a partner. Take time now to learn about each piece and how it moves on the board. Notice that your board has light and dark squares. In chess these squares are called black and white, no matter what their actual colors are. The same is true of the chess pieces or men. Place the board in front of you with the white corner square at your right. Place the chessmen on the board as shown in Fig. 1.

The Pieces

Each player has sixteen pieces, and each piece has a name and a special way to move. When you begin to play with a partner, white will always move first.


Each player has eight pawns. They are usually moved first, and can move forward one square at a time except on their first move, when they can move two squares forward if desired. The pawn is the only piece that cannot move backward. The pawn can only capture on the diagonal. See Fig. 2.


Each player has two knights. The knight is the only piece that can jump over other men. He can move in any direction as long as he goes two squares up or down and one square to the left or right. He can also move one square up or down and two squares to the right or left. See Fig. 3.


Each player has two bishops that can only move diagonally along the squares of their color. They can move one or more squares at a time, but cannot jump over other men. See Fig. 4.


Each player has two rooks that can move vertically or horizontally one or more squares at a time. See Fig. 5.


Each player has one queen that can move in any direction one or more squares at a time. The queen is very versatile. See Fig. 6.


There is only one king per player. He can move in any direction but only one square at a time. NOTE: The king is the only player that cannot move to a square where he could be captured by his opponent. See Fig. 7.

Take some time and study the figures. Memorize where the pieces can move. Now you are ready to learn how to capture. In chess, an opponent’s man can only be captured by one of your men landing directly on the square the opponent’s man is occupying. A captured piece is always removed from the board. Pieces cannot be captured by jumping. You do not have to capture a piece unless you desire to do so.

Once you are able to understand the concept of capturing, you are ready to play with a partner.

REMEMBER: The object of the game is to protect your own king and put your partner’s king into checkmate, a position where the king will be captured on the next move and escape is impossible.

Make Your Own Chess Set

Carefully copy this chessboard or remove this page from the magazine. Glue it onto a piece of lightweight cardboard. Cut out the board, being sure to leave the numbers and letters attached. These will help you later when you learn chess notation (other plays or moves). Now cut out the individual pieces. Store the game in a large envelope. When you purchase a larger set, save this one for traveling or camping.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Sharon Seegmiller