Teaching a friend of mine to play chess

Regretfully, some people do not know how to play chess. You always have to come down to their level first and foremost. This is what God did for humanity. That way, you can raise it up to your level. Albeit, I’m only a mediocre chess player but nonetheless, teaching helps me just as much as playing it!

So, the basics. There is the chess board. The board is arranged via ranks and files. There are eight ranks and eight files.

The ranks go from side to side on the chessboard and are numbered. The files go up and down on the chessboard and receive a letter. Understanding what a rank and a file is not necessarily important but it helps a lot in terms of notation. Thus, the a8 square is on the top left of the board from white’s perspective and the bottom right from black’s perspective.

Setting up a board–the most important basic concept of chess is setting up a board. The light square always goes on the bottom right (for both player’s perspectives–a8 is on the bottom right from black’s perspective and h1 is on the bottom right from white’s perspective). The squares may not always be black and white though. Generally, if the squares are not black and white, or if the light squares are not white and the dark squares are not black, the players generally agree which squares will be the light squares and which ones will be the dark squares. I have a couple chess sets at home. One has black and red squares, the other has green and white squares.

The way a chessboard is set up

The queen always goes on her own color unless that color is not on the board. In which case, the white queen goes on the lighter square next to the king, and the black queen on the darker square next to the king. On my green/white board, the black queen goes on a green square. One my red/white board, the white queen goes on a red square. The bishops sandwich the king and queen, the knights stand by the bishops and the rooks are on the end. The pawns stand guard in front of all the pieces. Your chessboard should look something like this.

The white pawn can capture the black pawn or move forward one square.

The next step of the basics of chess is the movement of the pieces. Let’s start with the pawns. Pawns can only move one square at a time along their file. So for instance, a white pawn on h5 can only move to h6 on its next potential movement. Pawns capture diagonally though. Thus, to block a pawn from moving, a piece can simply be placed in front of a pawn. Pawns that reach the end of a file though can promote to any piece on the board. Most promote to queens though in some circumstances, irrelevant under-promotions (to bishops or rooks) are done as well. In some cases, it is also more advantageous to under-promote to a bishop or rook in order to avoid a potential draw. In this game, Shirov under-promotes to a bishop. As one can see, queen takes bishop is forced, otherwise, his opponent loses the queen and goes down a bishop. In this game, it was more advantageous for black to promote to a knight in an attempt to forcefully win the white queen. The pawns are generally said to carry a relative material value of one point though this value increases as end-game scenarios approach. The pawn also has an additional special movement called an en passant. While the pawn can only move one space at a time, on its first move, it is permitted to move two spaces at a time. Because of this, if a pawn is moved  two spaces on its first move to a space that is adjacent to an opposing pawn, the opposing pawn is permitted to capture the just-moved pawn for one move only. The en passant rule becomes much more clear after seeing it in action several times. It took me time to get as well when I first started learning to play chess myself!

The next piece we will discuss is the bishop. The bishop is typically seen wearing the mitre. The bishop has a simple movement. Far more simple than the pawns. The bishops simply move diagonally. It is common for many to fiancetto a bishop along a certain diagonal in order to defend their king or even to provide a certain edge of center control attacking the center from a flank (a diagonal–file plus rank). This image shows a typical game I have with the English opening against a bot. The bot plays the English defense and responds to my fiancettoed king-side bishop by fiancettoing its own light square bishop on the queen-side. As bishops can only move diagonally, the coloredness of the bishop becomes quite strategic as the game progresses. Bishops typically have a relative material value of 3 to 3 1/2. It’s hotly debated as to whether knights are better or bishops are better.

The next piece we will discuss is the knight. The knight typically looks like a horse (using Staunton style chessmen). Though some specialty sets will make it look more human or even a human riding a horse. The knight has one of the oddest movements of all. It can jump over pieces. In addition, it moves two spaces along a file or rank, and then one additional space to the next given file or rank. A knight on d4 attacks the c2, b3, b5, c6, e6, f5, e3, and f2 squares. It is considered to be a very well-placed knight. This picture shows where the black knight can move to using the dots. Because of the knight’s movement, it is generally debated as to whether it is stronger than a bishop or not. A well placed knight obviously has greater material value than an imperfectly placed knight. Typically, it has a relative material value of 3 like the bishop although it can be quite a powerful force at times.

The next piece we will discuss is the rook. The rook is generally symbolized by a tower or castle figurine. The rook also has a very simple movement. It moves straight. Up and down, left and right across the ranks and files. It cannot move diagonally. Rooks typically carry a relative material value of about 5 points although many chess theoreticians would agree that two rooks are more powerful than a single queen and two passed pawns are more powerful than a single rook.

The next piece we will discuss is the queen. The queen is unique in that it is the only feminine figure on the chessboard. She is also the most powerful piece by far. The queen basically combines the powers of the bishop and the rook that we discussed. She can move in any direction she wants. She cannot form the shape of an “L” like the knight can. She cannot jump over any pieces like the knight can. Very often, players will resign when their queen is captured or blundered away. Although some will press on without it if necessary. Some might choose to sacrifice the queen for a couple of pawns and a couple of minor pieces, some for a quick checkmate, some for a rook and a bishop. The queen typically has a relative piece value of 9 points.

The final but most important piece we will discuss is the king. The king is by far the most important piece in the game whose safety is to be valued above the safety of all of your other pieces. The goal of chess is to checkmate the king. One must attack the king in such a way that no piece can block the attack on the king and the king cannot move onto a safe square, and the piece attacking the king cannot be taken. When the king is checkmated, the game is over. (It gets a little bit more complicated than that though as there is a 50 move without a capture rule that asserts if no piece has been captured after 50 moves–this combines black+white moves–the game results in a stalemate, there is a draw by third move repetition rule–repeated positions means a draw–most chess games are timed so it is possible to lose on time, and at high level play, most masters just resign in a lost position–this is generally indicated by a king-tip with the statement, “I resign” or an offered hand-shake and resigning is typically an act of courtesy in this gentleman’s game.) The king can only move one space but in any direction. There is also a special move that the king has with the rook. It is called castling. Castling is relatively simple. It is considered to be a king move even though the rook is involved in it as it is the only time the king can move more than one space. The king moves two spaces to the right (from white’s perspective) on a king-side castle and the rook switches to the square that is adjacent to the king’s starting home square (f1 on a king-side castle for white, f8 for black). One a queen side castle, the king will move two spaces to the left from white’s perspective and the rook will end up on the queen’s home square (d1 for white, d8 for black). Castling enables connection of rooks, and enables the king to be tucked away behind a wall of pawns until is safe for him to come out later. No piece can be in between the king and rook prior to castling, the king cannot castle through or off of an attacked square.

Position of mine in a game recently prior to castling queen-side.

Position after castling queen-side.

Position of mine in a game recently prior to castling king-side.

Position after castling king-side.

The rook can be brought into safety though via a castle and the king can even attack a piece via a castle, and you can put your opponent in check via a castle such as the case in this game. Neither piece involved in the castle may have already moved. As soon as your king moves, you have lost the privilege to castle. Any way, chess is far more complex than this and it takes time to build up strategies. Do work on it and you will know what to do and become better yourself.

About Emperor Thomas I

Catholic monarch of the New Roman Coalition. Consecrated to the Apostle Thomas, the Holy Martyr Sigismund, and the Holy Martyr Olaf II.
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