Chess is a strategy board game for two players. To distinguish it from other similar board games, it is sometimes called international chess. It is perhaps the best known of board games, with numerous international tournaments.
|When you see a good move, look for a better one
—Attributed to Emanuel Lasker
In many countries playing chess is a common pastime, and knowing chess can work as a way to befriend locals. There are many parks with giant chess boards and chess pieces, allowing visitors to play, and a miniature chess board can be carried when travelling.
Chess is believed to have originated in India before the 7th century, where it was originally called chaturanga. Although no rules of chaturanga survive, the game was so popular that it spread to Persia by the 7th century, where a local variant known as shatranj developed. The game would subsequently spread from Persia to Europe, where it would eventually evolve into modern chess.
While chess has been played worldwide for centuries, it was widely taught in the Soviet Union, and remains a spectator sport in Russia and other post-Soviet countries. Russians abroad usually find each other through chess clubs.
FIDE (Fédération Internationale des Échecs), the world organization for chess has 200 national federations as its members as of 2022. The last four World Champions came from Russia, India, Norway and China. Chess is truly a worldwide culture and sport today.
Chess is played on an 8x8 board. Each player starts the game with 8 pawns, 2 rooks, 2 knights, 2 bishops, 1 queen and 1 king, all of which start in specific positions, as shown on this page. The objective of the game is to capture the opponent's king. Gameplay is always started by the player with white.
Each piece has its own specific moveset, and the capturing of an opponent's pieces is generally done by moving onto the space occupied by that piece. The rooks may move any number of spaces horizontally or vertically. The knights move following an "L" shape, which is two spaces horizontally followed by one space vertically, or two spaces vertically followed by one space horizontally, and are the only pieces that may jump over intervening pieces. The bishops may move any number of spaces diagonally. The queen may move any number of spaces horizontally, vertically or diagonally, while the king may move one space in any direction. The pawns may move only one space forward except from their starting position, where they have the option of moving forward one or two spaces. Unlike the other pieces, the pawns do not capture in the same direction that they normally move, and can only capture pieces by moving one space diagonally forward. Pawns that reach the other end of the board must be promoted to any piece other than a king, usually to a queen, the most powerful piece.
There are also two special moves that may be executed under specific conditions. The first is known as castling, in which the king moves two spaces towards a rook, and the corresponding rook moves over the king to the next space. This may only be executed if neither the king nor rook involved have previously moved, there are no intervening pieces between the king and the rook, the king is not in check, and the king does not pass through any spaces that are under attack. Usually castling is done with the rook closer to the king, but "castling long" on the queen's side is also allowed. The second special move is known as the en passant pawn capture. If a pawn advances two spaces from its starting position and could have been captured by the opponent's pawn had it only advanced one space, the opponent can capture that pawn as if it had only advanced one space. This move may only be executed immediately after the two-space move.
Whenever a player's king is in danger of being captured in its current position, it is said to be in check. If a player's king is in check, and there are no legal moves that can allow the king to avoid capture, it is known as checkmate, and that player has lost the game. Should the king not be in check, but there is no move that can be made without putting the king in danger, this is called stalemate, and is regarded as a draw. A draw can also result from there not being enough pieces left for making checkmate, the same position repeating thrice, a large number of moves with no irreversible changes (no captures or pawn moves), or by the players agreeing so (seeing neither can win).
If you touch a piece you are usually required to move it, and as soon as you let it go the move is definite. One reason for this is not to allow faking moves to see the opponent's reaction. If a piece is off position and you want to correct it without making a move, say J'adoube (French for "I adjust").
When playing informally the players are normally allowed to think about any move for quite a long time. In tournaments and when time is limited a chess clock can be used, restricting thinking to a specific amount of time, for all the game or for a certain number of moves (or with added time for every move done). For classical games the time is 60 min per player or more, with shorter times making time administration an important factor. With times down to 2–5 min (blitz chess, bullet chess) most moves must be made without serious thinking.
In beginners' play the focus is usually in getting to capture valuable pieces from the opponent without losing as much oneself, and in tricks to get checkmate. In more advanced chess focus is on having the pieces occupy spaces where they are hard to threaten but can restrict the opponent's movements or easily attack or regroup. A more skilful player can often lure a beginner to move around without accomplishing much, while using every move to get his or her own pieces towards good positions. The pieces are often valued as follows: queen 9–10 pawns, rooks 5, bishops and knights 3. The value also depends on the situation, such that rooks and bishops are more valuable in the endgame (when they can move more freely) than in the beginning, a pair of bishops (one for white spaces and one for black spaces) is worth more than the double of one bishop, and a piece in a good position is worth more than otherwise.
The play is too complicated for anyone but masters to analyse more than a few moves forward. It is said good players analyse as many moves as a beginner, but the important moves. For the first several moves of a game it is common to use well studied standard openings. Trying to find one the opponent does not master is a good tactic, but masters usually know all relevant ones. In the middle of the game more general strategy – and intuition – has to be used. The endgame, where most pieces can move relatively freely, is a third part with its own character, with even one pawn more, or a slightly better configuration of pawns, often being decisive.
Important games and chess puzzles are often written down. The script is based on the chess board columns named a–h and rows 1–8, with the near left-hand corner from the white player's perspective being a1 (a black space). Moves are written like "Rf3" for a rook moving to the f3 square. If the rook captures a piece there it would be written "Rxf3" instead. If both rooks can reach the f3 square, the move would be written like "Raf3" to avoid ambiguity. The pawn in front of the king moving two steps forward is written "e4", as no other pawn can get there. Piece initials vary by language; in English, knight is N to distinguish from king. Usually the game record is kept in columns, with the move number, white's move and black's move on each row, like "14. Bc3 Nxc3" etc. Sometimes annotation signs are added after the game: "?" for a mistake, "!" for a good move, "!?" for an interesting one.
Chess players don't necessarily need a common language. Traditionally, French has been the regulating language of chess, but as in most international communication, English is more often used. Due to the game's popularization in the Soviet Union, many players speak Russian.
- 1 Elista. Envisioned as the world capital of chess by the eccentric local dictator, who is said to be a chess lover of fanatical proportions, the capital of the autonomous Republic of Kalmykia has a suburb dubbed Chess City, built from scratch in the barren deserts. Unsurprisingly, outdoor chess sets abound as do chess-themed artwork. Many international tournaments are regularly held, and it is not uncommon that the winners are rewarded with a diamond tiara, while much of the local population remains in poverty.
- 2 World Chess Hall of Fame, 4652 Maryland Avenue, St. Louis, Missouri, ☏ , [email protected]. St Louis has become the U.S. capital of chess, with many of the U.S.'s top players and university teams in the city. The U.S. and World Chess Halls of Fame are at this address. You can see exhibitions about the sport of chess.
- 3 Gökyay Association Chess Museum, Altındağ, Ankara. The largest chess set collection in the world.
- 4 Bobby Fischer Center, Austurvegur 21, Selfoss, ☏ . 1300 to 1600. Small museum dedicated to United States-born chess grandmaster Bobby Fischer, with a strong focus on his famous match with USSR grandmaster Boris Spassky in 1972 held in Reykjavik.
- 5 Deep Blue, Computer History Museum, Mountain View, California. Deep Blue was built by IBM and was the first computer to defeat a chess world champion in both a game (in 1996) and match (in 1997) when it competed against Garry Kasparov, the reigning World Champion. (There was some controversy afterwards, with speculation that some moves had been interventions by the human chess players, although they were later found to be results of a software bug. Additionally only Deep Blue had had the possibility to study its opponent's games.)
- 6 Max Euwe Centrum, Max Euweplein 30-a, 1017 MB, Amsterdam, Netherlands, ☏ . History of chess and history of Max Euwe who was a World Chess Champion. Free.
- 7 Museum of Chess-Pieces (Schaakstukkenmuseum), Overblaak 94, Rotterdam, Netherlands. W Sa Su 14:00 - 17:00. This little museum can be found among the famous Cube houses and houses a diverse collection of chess sets. From ancient Chinese to all sorts of cartoon characters. Adult €2; child €1;.
- 8 Abba The Museum, Djurgårdsvägen 68, Stockholm. A museum of the Swedish pop band ABBA, and the members' other projects, including the Chess musical.
Outdoor chess sets
- 9 Giant Chess Set Project (Medicine Hat Chess Club), Medicine Hat, Alberta (near The Esplanade). The world's largest chess set. The tallest piece — the king — is 4 feet tall, and the heaviest piece — the knight — weighs in at approximately 55 lb (25 kg). Passers-by are free to stop by for a game on this massive chess board.
- 10 Chess and Checkers House, Central Park, New York City.
- 11 Chess Park, 1652 Ocean Front Walk, Santa Monica, California, ☏ . Tables with chess boards, plus a human scale board with large pieces available for checkout.
- 12 Nagoya Gardens, Hyde Park, Elizabeth St, Sydney. 24/7. Giant outdoor chess set, although not as large as the one in Alberta.
- 13 Giant Chess Board, Northern end of Cockatoo Island; Sydney, ☏ . Chess park in Cockatoo Island
There are numerous professional chess tournaments around the world that pit top players against each other. Perhaps the best known among them is the World Chess Championship, which is held every two years in even years. The final for the 2021 World Chess Championship (rescheduled from 2020 due to COVID-19) took place in Dubai, United Arab Emirates from 24 November to 12 December, and saw Magnus Carlsen of Norway defeat Ian Nepomniachtchi of Russia to win his fifth straight title.
- 14 Human Chess Game, Marostica, Italy. Every two years in even years at the end of September, the Italian town of Marostica has a tradition of playing chess with people playing the pieces in costume, and orders given in the local Venetian language. Another lesser known event in the nearby city of 15 Monselice is the Giostra della Rocca, held on the 2nd and 3rd weeks of September every year, which features a human chess tournament at the beginning of the festival.
Many parts of the world, especially Europe, have had a long history of making ornamental chess sets. These can often be found in specialist chess shops and antique shops, and the most exclusive sets have been known to be sold for millions of U.S. dollars. That said, depending on the material and craftsmanship, most ornamental chess sets are available in the range of several hundred to several thousand U.S. dollars.
Chess sets, mostly carved from local hardwoods, are common in the bazaars and tourist shops of India. Quality ranges from barely acceptable to superb. Vendors will often claim the black pieces are ebony; if they really are then one of them will sink when dropped in water.
In parts of South America, some local markets have vendors that sell locally made chess sets that have been inspired by indigenous designs. Mexico has sets carved from stone, most often onyx.
If buying an ornamental set purely for display, anything goes. However if you want to use it for actual play, the choice is trickier. Indian elephants as rooks or Aztec Gods as bishops may look just fine, but they may also confuse players. In most cases it will be better to look for a set close to the Staunton design (named for a 19th century master and the general standard today) but with fine local materials and workmanship.