Illustrated Guide to the Chess Pieces

How Each Piece Moves and Captures Other Pieces

Woman playing chess
Ulf Börjesson / Getty Images

The first step towards actually playing chess is learning how each piece moves. While some pieces may have similar moves, each one has special rules it needs to follow. The king, for instance, can move in one square in any direction while the pawn can only go one (occasionally two) squares forward.

Illustration of chess pieces and their movements
Illustration: The Spruce / Kaley McKean

Check out our illustrated guide to understand how to move, capture, and utilize any special abilities each chess piece has.

Rook Movement

Diagram of chess
Ed Scimia

Set up a chess board, then look at how each piece moves individually.

The rook moves any number of squares horizontally or vertically in a straight line.

Capturing With a Rook

Diagram of chess
Ed Scimia

Like most pieces, the rook cannot jump over other pieces. But, it can land on a square occupied by an opponent’s piece, and remove that piece from the board. This is known as capturing a piece. All pieces are capable of capturing in this manner.

In the diagram, the rook can move to any of the squares marked with a dot. It can also capture the black bishop on g4 by moving to that square. It may not move onto or through the squares occupied by the white pawns.
Rooks participate in the King's special ability known as ​castling.

The Bishop

Diagram of chess
Ed Scimia

The bishop moves any number of squares diagonally in a straight line.

Notice that the bishop will always remain on squares of one color during a game. For example, the bishop in the diagram above will always stay on dark squares. At the beginning of a game, each player has both a light-squared bishop and a dark-squared bishop.

The Queen

Diagram of chess
Ed Scimia

The queen has the combined abilities of the rook and bishop. A queen can move any number of squares in a straight line and in any direction. This mobility makes the queen the most powerful piece in chess. Queens and rooks are known as major pieces.

The King

Diagram of chess
Ed Scimia

The king moves one square in any direction.

The king is the most important piece in chess. When a king is attacked by another piece, it is said to be in check. If the king is in check, it must avoid capture immediately. If the capture cannot be avoided, the game is over (the king is not actually captured in chess). This is known as checkmate.

The king also has the ability to perform a special move known as castling along with the rook. 

The Knight

Diagram of chess
Ed Scimia

The knight in most chess sets looks like a horse’s head. The pattern the knight uses to move can be described in several ways. In a technical sense, the knight moves one square diagonally in any direction​ and then moves one square vertically or horizontally further away from where it started its move. This is often described as an “L-shaped” move: the knight moves two squares horizontally or vertically, and then turns at a right angle to move one more square.

Capturing with the Knight

Diagram of chess
Ed Scimia

The knight is the only piece that can jump over other pieces. However, the knight can only capture a piece if it lands on the same square as that piece. Jumping over a piece does not result in capture.

In the diagram, the knight can move to any of the squares indicated with a black dot. However, it cannot capture any of the black pieces it might jump over.

Knights and bishops are approximately equal in value. Together, they are known as minor pieces.

The Pawn

Diagram of chess
Ed Scimia

The pawn is the least valuable piece in chess. It may only move forward, never backward or sideways. Pawns also have the most complicated rules for movement.

Pawns move one square directly forward. However, they cannot capture this way; pawns can only capture one square forward diagonally. In addition, a pawn that is still on its starting square has the option to move two squares directly forward. In the diagram above, the pawns may move to the squares marked with black dots and may capture pieces on squares marked with an X.

Pawns have two special abilities: promotion and en passant.