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Learning chess and understanding how each piece moves can feel daunting to begin with, but actually, it is quite simple, and you’ll get the hang of chess moves quite quickly and learn to utilize the strengths of each in your game.
Each chess piece on the board moves in a specific way. Each has strengths and weaknesses based on the way it can move and its limitations.
- King – The King can move only one square in any direction, as long as the intended square is available and does not cause ‘check’ [Involved in Castling]
- Queen – Any direction and any number of squares
- Rook – Horizontally or Vertically any number of squares. [Also involved in Castling]
- Bishop – Any diagonal direction and number of squares
- Knight – an ‘L” Shape move – either 2 square diagonal and 1 vertical or vice versa. They can also jump
- Pawn – One square vertically forwards, although first move can be 2. Pawns capture diagonally. They can make more moves and have some special tricks too
They are the basic moves for each piece in the game of chess. Now read on to find out how the King and Rook can move together and how the Pawn has some special ninja moves which can be good to know from early in your learning.
This article does not cover all of the special moves in Chess but only the basics. Take a look at my Special Chess Moves Article for some sneaky ninja chess moves.
There are a ton of questions about how pieces move in chess, and rather than have a separate article for each I thought I would create a complete guide to how chess pieces move right here, with an in-depth guide for each piece, but also answering as many of the common questions as I could.
Common Chess Moves Questions
- Can chess pieces move backwards?
- How does a pawn become a Queen?
- What chess pieces can jump?
I will have answers to these and more at the bottom of the page.
By the way, there are 3 chess pieces that can jump – not just the Knight!
That’s right, as well as the Knight which moves in an L-Shape and can jump over other pieces, there are two more pieces that are able to jump over other pieces, but can do so only once in a game, but only in special conditions.
Once you learn how each piece can move and some special abilities one or two pieces have you can begin to improve your chess ability.
How Far Can Chess Pieces move?
The differing movement abilities of chess pieces can feel a little daunting to begin with but there are a few simple rules for each that are easy to remember and to help avoid blunders. So which direction and how far can each chess piece move?
Bishops diagonally, Rooks vertically or horizontally and Queens in any direction can move up to 7 squares in Chess. Pawns, 2 spaces on the first move, thereafter only 1 square vertically, while the Knight moves 3 in an ‘L’ shape and the King just 1 in any direction.
There are a few little exceptions to these rules, especially for the pawns, and in a single occasion when the King and Rook work together to perform and move called ‘castling’
So let’s get into this and look at each piece in detail, how they move, and where the special moves can be best used.
Basic Chess Moves by Piece
Let’s start by looking at each piece in isolation and how they move, but first we should be familiar with how a chess board is set up for the start of the game.
No doubt, you have seen a chess board, set out with eight squares by eight, and the chess men set up with a rank of 8 pawns for each side on the second row, and the bigger pieces set up in formation behind.
You may even know the order in which they appear on the back line, but even if the pieces are all in place, there are 2 rules that must be followed to ensure the board is set up correctly.
- The Queen sits on its own color
- A white or light colored square is in the bottom right hand corner of the board
1. How does a Pawn Move in Chess?
Whilst the pawn is considered the least valuable piece on the chess board, do not underestimate how it can work for you both strategically and defensively. It is also more versatile than at first glance, so let’s take a closer look at how far a pawn can move in chess.
Pawns move single vertical squares forwards with 1 exception. Initial moves can be 2 squares forward, or when capturing an opponent piece, a pawn can move 1 square diagonally. After any first move, only single square advancements are an option. Any piece directly in front of a pawn prevents advancement.
Pawns can neither Jump nor ever move backards!
Whilst pawns are considered the least valuable material in chess they become exponentially more valuable when becoming a ‘passed pawn‘
Want to learn more about moving your pawns in chess? Read on for some essential things to remember when using your pawns to best effect in chess. The first move you will make, in almost every case, will be a Pawn, so which pawn should you move first?
Which Pawn to Move First?
Which pawn you move first will depend on whether you you are playing white [first move] or Black [2nd move]
Most Popular First Move in Chess
Kings Pawn 2 squares forward to e4 is the most popular first move in Chess.
TIP: This should always be countered with e5 from Black.
The d-pawn should always be moved in the first seven moves or so. Never be caught with it unmoved. It often pays to sacrifice a pawn by d5-d6 in order to prevent it from moving.Charles Dealtry Locock
The most popular first move in chess is ‘e4’. That is the white pawn directly in front of the King moving 2 squares vertically forward.
If you are playing black, then the return move to this should always be ‘e5’, you Kings pawn moving forward 2 squares to block the advancement of the white pawn.
So here is a visual look at the first move for White, taking the Kings pawn to ‘e4’, a 2 square vertical advancement.
The reason for this move is within the overal strategy to control the middle of the board as soon as possible and before your opponent gets a chance.
Pawns are relatively limited in movement
If a pawn comes face to face with another piece on the board, whether that be one of it’s own side or an opponents piece, it’s advancement is halted. It is unable to move forward to the occupied square, nor is it able to jump the piece ahead.
There are only two options to move this pawn now.
- If you own piece is blocking the way, move it
- A capture opportunity in a diagonal option from the occupied square
Other than these two options, your pawn will be held indefinitely by whatever is blocking the path.
Pawns Move Diagonally to Capture
Pawns can only move vertically on the board with the exception of a capture opportunity on a diagonally adjacent square.
If a diagonal square forwardly adjacent is not occupied by an opponent’s piece, a Pawn can not move to it, limited to only a 1 square vertical movement in a forwards direction.
What Moves Should You NOT Make with Pawns?
You should always be aware of which moves NOT to make with your pawns and why too!!
“Don’t play f2-f3 (or f7-f6), especially before castling. The move robs your King’s Knight of its best square, exposes your King to a check by the Queen, and may stop your castling if the opponent has a Bishop at c5 (or c4)”— Charles Dealtry Locock
2. How Does a Rook Move in Chess?
Incorrectly or informally referred to sometimes, as the castle, the Rooks sit in the bottom right and left-hand corners of the chessboard at the start of the game. It is rather hemmed in, but once it is let loose how far can a rook move in chess?
A Rook can move 1-7 squares either vertically or horizontally, forwards or backward without obstruction in Chess, only ever in straight lines, and it can not jump other pieces. The Rook is involved in a special move with the King called ‘Castling’, the only time it is able to jump.
Want to know more about the Rook, how to Castle with the King and some tactics for bringing the Rook into your game? Read on
The rook is not an easy piece to develop if avoiding castling. Starting positions on a1/h1, or a8/h8 mean they are tucked away for several moves before being able to release into the game, with real movement limitations from the straight-line rule of their movement and pawns almost always ahead of them in the ‘a’ and ‘h’ files.
They can be developed easier after castling, and this should almost always be the way to bring one of your rooks into play.
Getting your Rook on the 7th rank, [your opponents 2nd] can hold the King in and decimate any unmoved pawns
2 Rooks on the 7th rank almost always means defeat is out of the question
According to Charles Dealtry Locock, The Queen’s Bishop is often the last minor piece to be developed, the last being the Queen’s Rook. You never know where you may ultimately want it. Look out especially for the chance of playing it to a3, preventing castling.
How Valueable is a Rook?
As a versatile chess piece, the Rook coupled with a Knight has a similar value to two bishops.
A pair of Rooks would be relatively equal to a Queen and a pawn
3. How does a Knight Move
The knight is a special chess piece and for new players, often the one that causes the most confusion with its’ unique moving capabilities. So what are the moves of a Knight in Chess and how far can it move?
The knight can arrive at 8 different squares from its starting position moving in a 2 squares – 1 square “L” shape in any direction, whilst also possessing the ability to jump over any piece in its way. The knight will always finish on an alternate color square from which it starts.
The Knight is a super effective piece in your attack, especially early on as the ability to jump of the ranked pawns allows you to attack early.
Bringing at least one knight into attack as early as possible can gain you some ascendency, especially in the middle of the board. Don’t play them out to the flanks, they are restricted in movement and less effective in attack.
Finding a powerful outpost in the centre of the board where the knight is not under threat from pawns places them in a great tactical attacking position.
BEWARE of Vulnerabilities
Whilst the Knights are most effective in the middle of the board this is also where they are at their most vulnerable. Special care and consideration should be employed as always, but especially before you have managed to advance your bishops into play.
Use your Knight to ‘Fork’
A fork in chess is when you attack two or more opponents pieces with a single piece of your own and the Knight is a ideal piece to execute this move.
The perfect fork would be attacking both opponents King and Queen even if they are many squares apart.
4. How Does a Bishop Move
A game of chess starts with each player having two bishops, one each on white and black squares next to the King and Queen. The bishop will always remain on the same color square for as long as it is in play due to the way the rules of chess dictate its moves but how far can the bishop move in a game of chess?
The bishop can move diagonally backward and forward up to a maximum of 7 squares [corner to corner], as long as no other piece impedes the route. It always stays on the color it begins.
In just the same way as any chess piece, it will capture an opponents piece by moving to the occupying square in the diagonal direction as dictated by the rules above.
What are ‘Good’ and ‘Bad’ Bishops?
You may have heard bishops referred to as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ but what does that actually mean?
|Good||A bishop on a color square that most of your pawns are on|
|Bad||A bishop on a color square where you have fewer pawns|
The reason they are good or bad is if most of your pawns are occupying black squares, your black bishops’ movement can be impeded by their presence thanks to only being able to move diagonally on the black squares.
Conversely, if your pawns are mostly on white then your black bishop will be the good one, whilst your white bishop will be the ‘bad bishop’
5. How does the Queen move
The Queen possesses the most power and threat to your opponent in the game of chess thanks to the versatility n movement it has which if far beyond that of any other chess piece. How far can a queen move in chess?
The queen can move in any direction, vertically, horizontally, or diagonally both backward and forward in a straight line and is not limited in distance allowing moves up to 7 squares at a time. Anything in her path can be captured. The Queen is unable to jump other pieces.
6. How Does the King Move
Here is your King who has very little attacking ability and must be defended at all cost for his capture is the end of the game for you or your opponent. He has to be defended well as his movement is restricted and his position has to be out of the path of opposing pieces. So just how far can a king move in chess?
In chess The King can move only a single square in any direction, backward or forward, vertically, horizontally, or diagonally, as long as the path is clear, he can capture or the move would not place him in ‘check’. The King can also ‘Castle’ with a rook under special circumstances.
Chess Moves Frequently Asked Questions
Chess Questions specializes in answering questions about chess. I myself am looking these up all of the time, and finding some nuggets of information I had forgotten over time.
Whilst I have covered the very basic moves of each piece in details, there are many more questions about chess moves this basic moves article doesn’t cover.
Here are some short answers, but please feel free to hit some links or use the search bar at the top of the page to find out ore information on site.
What Special Moves Are There in Chess?
There are some additional moves in chess that are not covered here in this guide to the basic moves for each chess piece. I have a separate article on site that covers all of the special moves
Can chess pieces move backwards?
All of the pieces on a chess board can move in a backward direction, that is back towards the starting positions, with the exception of the pawns that can only ever move forwards or in a diagonal if making a capture.
How does a pawn become a Queen?
A pawn can become a queen in a move known as a promotion. This is achieved if the pawn is able to advance unhindered right to the opponents first rank where ‘promotion’ will take place. A queen is the normal choice for promotion but any chess piece can be chosen.
What chess pieces can jump?
This is a super trick question for quizzes. Consider it next time you have to write some testing questions. most of the time people will answer incorrectly.
There are 3 chess pieces that can jump over others. The Knight can jump other pieces in its normal movement of an ‘L’ shape, but also the King and Rook can jump each other in a defensive move known as Castling.
Almost always in a quiz, contestant will answer ‘1 – just the knight’!
Fore more information and details about castling, check out my castling article.