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How The Pieces Move

The pawn, though small in stature and numerical value, can be a deadly foe. Pawns have distinctive opening moves, methods of capture, and potential for promotion.

Depending upon the player's strategy, the pawn may move one or two squares forward, but only the first time the piece is moved. After that it can only move one square at a time, and, unlike all the other pieces on the board, never backward.

The pawn is the only combatant whose attack move differs from its normal movement. A pawn captures by attacking one square forward, to the right or left (a one-square diagonal move). The single exception to this, called capturing en passant (in passing), is described at the end of this page.

A player skillful (or lucky) enough to move a pawn completely across the board is rewarded by having the pawn promoted to queen, bishop, knight, or rook. (Most players obviously choose queen!) This feature makes it possible for a player to possess numerous queens.

The knight is the only piece that can jump over other pieces, and its movement is always in the shape of a capital "L." In his book, Chess For Beginners, I. A. Horowitz describes the knight's move as either:

1. One square north or sout; then two squares east or west


2. One square east or west; then two squares north or south.

The knight captures on the end square of the move.

This piece moves diagonally across the board, always remaining on its own color. (Both players have a bishop on a light and dark square.) It can capture any enemy within its range.

The rook moves like the bishop but horizontally and vertically, not diagonally. Also like the bishop, it can capture any enemy within its range.

The greatest force on the board, the queen combines the moves and capturing power of both bishop and rook.

The king can move and capture one space in any direction. (The one exception is castling, which is described at the bottom of this page.) Though his moves are small, his importance is great. When the king is trapped and cannot move without being captured, the game is over: checkmate. (According to Saidy and Lessing, checkmate comes from the Persian shah mat, meaning "The king is defeated!")

Exceptions to Normal Moves:

En Passant:
A pawn located on its fifth square may capture an enemy pawn that advances two spaces on its first move, from the second to the fourth square. (The opposing pawns will now be side by side.) On the very next move, the capturing pawn moves forward diagonally, and captures en passant, as if the enemy pawn had been on the third square.

There are two types of castling: king-side and queen-side. To castle king-side, the king moves two squares to the right while the king's rook then moves to the square on the king's left. Queen-side castling moves the king two squares to the left while the queen's rook moves to the square on the king's right.

A player may not use a castling move under the following circumstances:

  • Either the king or the castling rook already has moved from its original position

  • A piece (enemy or friendly) is located between the king and the castling rook

  • The king is in check

  • The castling places the king in check

  • The king must move across a square within capturing range of the enemy

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