Illustrated Guide to the Chess Pieces

Woman playing chess
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  • 01 of 08

    The Rook

    All diagrams © Ed Scimia

    After you learn to set up a chess board, you can dive into exploring how each piece moves individually. The rook moves any number of squares horizontally or vertically in a straight line.

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  • 02 of 08


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

    In the diagram above, 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.

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  • 03 of 08

    The Bishop

    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.

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  • 04 of 08

    The Queen

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

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  • 05 of 08

    The King

    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.

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  • 06 of 08

    The Knight

    The knight can be easily identified; in most chess sets, it 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.

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  • 07 of 08

    The Knight - Jumping

    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 doesn’t result in capture.

    In the diagram above, 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.

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  • 08 of 08

    The Pawn

    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.