Public Domain Rules by Trevor Blake

Placed into the Public Domain May 2002

John_Braley? informs me that these rules are substantially incorrect in some places. I hope someone will take the time to fix them.


Chess is one of the most popular games in human history; only Go and folk-games such as tossing a ball have anything close to the universal appeal of chess. Chess has been played for hundreds of years in every country, among the rich and the poor, beginners and professionals, the young and the old, among men and among women. The literature of chess is extensive, but the complete rules fill only part of one sheet of paper. Chess sets are available in expensive gift shops and death row prison cells; there is almost no place where there is no chess. Here are the basic rules to playing this most human of games.

Setting Up the Game

Chess is a game for two players, one "White" and one "Black." It is played on the familiar checkered board that is used for many games including checkers. Each player sits opposite the other. One common, if minor mistake, is improperly orienting the board. The board should be turned so that a white square is in the lower right corner ("White square on the right"). On the row nearest to the White player, from right to left, place a Rook, a Knight, a Bishop, the White King, the White Queen, a Bishop, a Knight, and a Rook. On the row in front of these places place all the White Pawns. The Black player places their pieces in the same manner, except they start on their left side of the board. This will result in the White King being direclty opposite the Black King and the White Queen to be opposite the Black Queen. The White Queen is on a light square and the Black Queen on a dark square ("Queen goes on her color").

Turns and Capturing

White always moves first. After the first move the players take turns moving only one piece at each turn (the exception is "castling," explained below). All pieces move only along unblocked lines except for the Knight, which may jump over White or Black pieces. A White piece may not be moved to a square already occupied by a White piece, nor may a Black piece be moved to a square occupied by a Black piece. A piece may capture an enemy piece by moving to the square occupied by the enemy piece, which is then removed from the board.

Pieces and Movement

The Queen can move any number of unblocked squares horizontally, vertically, or diagonally.

The Rook can move any number of unblocked squares horizontally or vertically.

The Bishop can move any number of unblocked squares diagonally. At the beginning of the game, each side has one light- square Bishop and one dark-square Bishop.

The Knight can move directly from its old square to its new square whether or not there are other pieces blocking its way. The Knight moves in an "L" shape - it moves two squares horizontally or vertically, makes a right-angle turn, and moves one more square. The square a Knight moves to will always be the opposite color of where it moved from.

The King can move one unblocked square in any direction (the exception is castling, explained below). The King may not move into check (check is explained below).

The Pawn can move one or two squares toward the enemy side on its first move. After a Pawn moves for the first time it can move only one square toward the enemy side each turn. The Pawn captures by moving one square diagonally. If a Pawn is moved to the opposite end of the board, any square on the last rank, it is immediately removed from the board and replaced on the same square by either a Queen, Rook, Bishop, or Knight; the choice is made by the player making the move.


Each player may castle one time at most during a game and only under specific conditions. Castling is the only move allowing a player to move two of their pieces at once -- the King and one Rook. To castle, a player moves their King two squares toward one or the other of his Rooks. The chosen Rook is moved to the square that the King has just passed over. Thus, a King that castles to the right will have its right castle on its left side at the end of the turn. Neither the King nor the chosen Rook can have previously moved (even moving away from the starting square then moving back to it disqualifies that King or Rook from taking part in castling). All the squares between the King and the chosen Rook must be empty. The King cannot castle when in check, cannot move through a square that an enemy piece is attacking, and cannot be in check at the end of castling. All of those conditions disallow castling. However, while castling, the Rook can move through a square attacked by an enemy piece -- this can occur while castling with the Queenside Rook.

En Passant

En Passant (French for "in passing") may occur when one player moves a pawn two squares forward to try to avoid capture by the opponent's pawn. If the other player uses En Passant in the turn immediately following, the Pawn is captured as if the previous player had moved the pawn only one square forward. If the other player does not use En Passant in the turn immediately following, they may not use it in a later turn with those specific Pawns.

Check, Checkmate and Stalemate

To check is to place the opponent's King in immediate danger. A King may not move into check.

When a player checks their opponent's King, they announce this fact by saying "check." The checked player must remove their King from check in the following turn. A checked player may get out of check by capturing the attacking piece, placing one of their pieces between the attacking piece and the King (unless the attacking piece is a Knight), or moving the King away from the attack.

If the checked player may not remove their King from check in the following turn, they are in checkmate. The player that is in checkmate has lost the game in the turn in which they are checkmated.

Stalemate occurs if a King is not in check, but that player can make no legal move. A stalemate game is considered a draw, with neither side having won or lost.