How Do All The Chess Pieces Move?

One of the first things you’ll have to learn when picking up chess, is how all the chess pieces move.

There are 6 different chess pieces and each of them moves around the board differently.

Let’s go over each piece one by one and see how they move.

Pawn moves

Pawns are unique in that they are the only piece on the board that can only ever go forwards. Moreover, the way a pawn can move and the way it can capture are different.

If a pawn isn’t blocked, it can move forward in a straight line one square at a time.

Additionally, the first time you move a pawn, you can choose to either move it one square or two squares forwards, as long as nothing blocks it.

Pawns can’t capture pieces directly in front of them. They can only capture one square diagonally regardless if its their first move or not.

Moreover, there is a special capture called en passant. If white has a pawn on the 5th rank and black moves a pawn on an adjacent file by two squares, you have the option to capture that pawn as if it had only moved by 1 square. However, if you want to take the pawn en passant, you have to do it directly on your next move.

Finally, when a pawn reaches the opposite side of the board, it can promote to a stronger piece. You can then replace your pawn with a knight, bishop, rook, or queen.

As you can see, there are a lot of special movement and capture rules for the pawn. It might be the weakest piece on the board, but that doesn’t make it a simple piece to move!

For a more detailed explanation with plenty of examples, you can read my article on how the pawns move in chess.

Key takeaways

  • Moves one square forwards
  • Can move 2 square on the first move
  • Captures 1 square diagonally forwards
  • Can take pawns en passant
  • Promotes to a stronger piece when it reaches the opposite side

Knight moves

The knight moves in an L shaped pattern. It can move two squares horizontally and one square vertically, or it can move two squares vertically and one square horizontally.

The knight can capture in the same way it moves. If the knight moves to a square that is already taken by an opponent’s piece, you can capture it.

The great thing about knights is that they can jump over your own and your opponent’s pieces. So you can quickly infiltrate your opponent’s position with a knight and surprise them.

The highlighted squares in the image below indicate how the knight can move:

Notice how a knight in the center of the board has 8 squares it can jump to, while a knight on the edge of the board only has 4, and a knight in the corner only has 2. As a result, knights are the strongest when they are near the center of the board.

The unique L shaped movement pattern in combination with the ability to jump over pieces makes the knight a tricky piece to master.

For a more detailed explanation with plenty of examples, you can read my article on how knights move in chess.

Key takeaways

  • Moves and captures in an L shape
  • Can jump over pieces
  • Limited movement at the edge of the board

Bishop moves

The bishop can move diagonally as many squares as it wants forwards and backwards. It can also capture the opponent’s pieces diagonally.

Notice that a bishop can never move from a dark square to a light square or vice versa, because bishops only move diagonally. This means a bishop can only move to half the squares on the board.

At the beginning of the game, you start with two bishops. One that can move and the light squares, and one that can move on the dark squares.

Together they are called the bishop pair, and they can control both the light and dark squares on the board.

Bishops are great in open positions with only a few pieces left on the board, because this allows them to move long distances. However, they can be pretty bad in closed position with a lot of other pieces that block their movement.

For a more detailed explanation with plenty of examples, you can read my article on how bishops move in chess.

Key takeaways

  • Moves and captures diagonally
  • Is limited to either the light or dark squares
  • Their movement easily gets hindered by pawns in the center

Rook moves

Rooks can move horizontally and vertically as many squares as they like. They can also capture the opponent’s pieces horizontally or vertically.

Unlike most other pieces, the rook can move to the same number of squares, regardless if the rook is placed in the center or on the edge of the board. So a rook on the edge can still be a strong piece.

However, like most other pieces, the rook’s movements are easily hindered by other pieces on the board. So it’s important to move the rooks to (semi) open files, from which they can attack the opponent’s pieces.

The rook in the position below can only move 1 square because it’s blocked by the pawn and knight.

There is one special move that you can perform with your king and rook called castling. When castling, you can move your king two spaces towards the rook, and the rook jumps over the king.

This is the only time in chess when a king can move two squares and a rook can jump over a piece.

Since you have two rooks at the start of the game, you can castle on both sides of the board.

Below you can see what castling on the kingside looks like:

And what castling on the queenside looks like:

However, there are 4 conditions you need to meet before you can castle. You can find more detailed explanations in my article on castling in chess.

As you can see, the rook is one of the easiest pieces to learn how to move.

For more detailed explanation with plenty of examples, you can read my article on how rooks move in chess.

Key takeaways

  • Moves and captures horizontally and vertically
  • Can make the same number of move in the center and from the edge of the board
  • Can castle with the king under certain conditions

Queen moves

The queen can move horizontally, vertically, and diagonally both forwards and backwards as many squares as she wants, as long as she’s not blocked by other pieces. The queen can also capture in the same three directions.

So a queen can move either as a bishop or as a rook. However, a rook can’t castle with the king or move like a knight.

For a more detailed explanation with plenty of examples, you can read my article on how the queen moves in chess.

Key takeaways

  • Moves and captures horizontally, vertically, and diagonally
  • Most mobile chess piece
  • Can’t castle with the king

King moves

Similar to the queen, the king can move and capture horizontally, vertically and diagonally. However, the king can only do so one square at a time.

However, the king is never allowed to move or capture into a check. These moves are considered illegal moves. This also means you can’t capture a king with another king.

In the position below, the white king can only move to c5 and d3. The white’s pawns and rooks are blocking the access to the c3, c4, and d5 squares. And moving to e3, e4, or e5 is not allowed because the black rook would check you.

As mentioned before, there is one special move that you can perform with your king and rook called castling. When castling, you can move your king two spaces towards the rook, and the rook jumps over the king.

This is the only time in chess when a king can move two squares and a rook can jump over a piece.

Since you have two rooks at the start of the game, you can castle on both sides of the board.

Below you can see what kingside castling looks like:

And what queenside castling looks like:

However, there are 4 requirements you need to meet before you can castle. You can find more detailed explanations in my article on castling in chess.

The king isn’t very strong initially because it can only move 1 square and always needs to worry about being checkmated. However, in the endgame the king often becomes your most powerful piece!

For more detailed explanation with plenty of examples, you can read my article on how the king moves in chess.

Key takeaways

  • Moves and captures one square horizontally, vertically, or diagonally
  • Is not allowed to move into a check
  • Can castle with a rook under certain conditions.

Special chess moves

Most beginners are familiar with the basic chess moves. However, there are also three special chess moves: pawn promotion, en passant, and castling.

You can only play these three chess moves under the right conditions.

We already went over them briefly before, but let’s look at them in a little more detail.

Pawn promotion

When a pawn reaches the opposite side of the board, it can promote to a stronger piece. This means that you can replace the pawn with a knight, bishop, rook, or queen.

(Promotion to a king is not possible.)

So pawn promotion occurs when either a white pawn reaches the 8th rank, or a black pawn reaches the 1st rank.

Normally you want to promote the pawn to a queen, because the queen is the strongest piece on the board.

In the two diagrams below, you can see how white’s pawn reaches the opposite side of the board, and the pawn promotes into a queen.

However, in some cases you might want to promote to a knight, bishop, or rook to prevent stalemate. This is a more advanced concept that will deserve a more in depth article.

Keep in mind that you have to promote your pawn. You can’t let your pawn stay a pawn when it reaches the opposite side. It’s even possible to promote your pawn to a second queen!

For a more detailed explanation with plenty of examples, you can read my article on how the pawns move in chess.

Taking en passant

The en passant rule states that if white has a pawn on the 5th rank, and a pawn on an adjacent file from black moves two squares from the 7th rank to the 5th rank, you have the option to capture it as if it only moved 1 square.

Similarly, if black has a pawn on the 4th rank and white moves an adjacent pawn two squares to the 4th rank, black could take this pawn as if it only moved 1 square.

In the diagram below, white’s pawn is on the 5th rank and black decides to move his pawn two squares from e7 to e5.

Now the two pawn are directly next to each other. Normally, you wouldn’t be able to capture black’s pawn with your own.

However, thanks to the en passant rule, you have the option to capture black’s pawn, as shown in the two diagrams below.

However, there is a very important caveat here!

You can only capture en passant directly the next move after your opponent moves his pawn two squares. If you want to play a different move first, you won’t be able to take en passant in the future.

For a more detailed explanation with plenty of examples, you can read my article on how the pawns move in chess.

Castling

In order to castle, you move your king two squares horizontally towards one of your rooks and move the rook to the opposite side of the king.

This is the only time in chess that a rook can jump over a piece and the king can move two squares.

When castling on the kingside, the king moves two squares from e1 to g1 and the rook on h1 jumps over the king to move to the f1 square.

Below, you can see what castling kingside looks like before and after on an empty chessboard:

When castling on the queenside, the king moves two squares from e1 to c1 and the rook on a1 jumps over the king to move to the d1 square.

Below, you can see what castling queenside looks like before and after on an empty chessboard:

However, you can’t castle in every position. You can only castle when the following conditions are met:

  • Both the king and rook have not moved yet
  • There are no pieces between the king and rook
  • The king is not currently in check
  • The two squares the king needs to move are not under attack

For a more detailed explanation and examples on the 4 castling rules above, you can read my article on castling in chess.

Illegal chess moves

Obviously, you aren’t allowed to move your pieces however you please. A queen can’t move like a knight, a rook can’t capture diagonally, and pawns don’t move backwards.

However, there are also two types of moves that are specifically labelled as illegal chess moves.

The first illegal move is moving your own king into a check. This would give your opponent the option to capture your king and directly end the game.

For example, in the position shown below, the white king has no legal moves. The c5 square is block by one of your own pawns, and all the other squares are guarded by the black queen and rook.

Of course, you can still move your other pieces such as the white queen, rook, and pawn.

The second illegal move is moving a piece to expose your king to a check.

For example, in the position below, white can’t move his c4 pawn because that would expose the white king to a check from black’s bishop on a6. Similarly, the white knight can’t move because black’s rook would check the king.

However, you can still move your king in this position and hopefully move your other pieces on the next turn.

Touch-move rule

Now that you know all the possible moves you can make in chess, it’s important to mention one last rule that you need to know: the touch-move rule.

According to this rule, if you touch one of your pieces on your turn, you have to make a move with that piece. Even if you accidentally touched the piece or changed your mind since touching that piece.

Moreover, if you touch one of your opponents pieces on your turn, you have to capture that piece if possible.

This rule might sound a little harsh. But it’s very strictly enforced in both casual games and serious tournament games.

So only touch a piece if you are 100% sure that you want to move or capture that piece.

If you notice a piece that is not placed properly on a square and you want to adjust it, you first have to clearly proclaim that you are merely adjusting the piece.

If you forget to mention this, your opponent can claim the touch-move rule and force you to make a bad move.