Before there was Game of Thrones, there was the game of kings. Chess, pegged the intelligentsia’s sport, has been around long before the events that inspired the popular television series. Since its inception, it has been the go-to game for battles of wit, strategy, and mental finesse.
Don’t let stereotypes keep you from playing it though, or you’ll miss out on the fun. You can still get a rush when you figure out how to outmaneuver your opponent or feel the tension of a long game.
With this game, getting started is all about having the right foundation and using that to take off. So grab a board (or load the game) and let’s get started.
From Wood and Stone to Bits and Bytes
One of the game’s earliest incarnations was in India, although there are theories pointing to earlier versions appearing in China.
The Indian game, called Chaturanga, where different pieces had their own unique abilities, an element that still exists today. The game spread to the Persians and Arabs and later, to Europe, where it became popular among nobles and learned classes, who used it for diplomacy and war strategy.
In the 1800s, chess became a professional sport, with the first tournament held in London in 1851. Since then, chess schools have produced players who would go on to become chess masters and legends.
The next big shakeup to the sport came in the 1970s when computer programs were capable of toppling top players.
In 1996, World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov faced off against an IBM chess computer called “Deep Blue” under tournament conditions. Kasparov bested Deep Blue. However, in the 1997 rematch, Deep Blue defeated Kasparov showing computers can catch up to human intelligence, even besting one of the world’s brightest minds. Kasparov later took on a new program, Deep Junior. The match ended in a draw.
How to Play
Now that you know a bit about the game, it’s time to try your hand at it. Who knows? You might even find a hidden talent. You could be the next Eugene Torre or Wesley So.
Every game starts the same: one board with 8 rows (called ranks) and 8 columns (called files) and 32 pieces (16 white, 16 black). The white side moves first to begin.
How to Win (or Lose)
The objective of the game is to checkmate your opponent’s king. A checkmate happens when the opposing king cannot escape capture (i.e. cannot avoid being removed from play). When you’re ready to attack the king, you announce “check,” but your opponent may still be able to save his king by moving it.
In the event a player has no moves left but is not in check, the game ends in a stalemate. Other draws can happen through agreements, interventions by the tournament director, or time restraints.
These are some of the basic moves and tricks to get you on your way. You can also check out books and other guides to deepen your knowledge of the game.
Make a Move
There are all sorts of ways the 6 different pieces can move:
- Pawns: They move forward one square at a time, except for the first move where they can move two squares. They capture diagonally. Each side gets 8 pawns.
- Rooks: They can only move straight forward, backward, or to the sides. Each side gets two rooks.
- Knights: They follow an “L” pattern and can jump over other pieces. Each side gets two knights.
- Bishops: They can only move diagonally. Each side gets two bishops.
- Queens: They can move forward, backward, to the sides, and diagonally. Each side gets one queen.
- Kings: They can move one square forward, backward, to the sides, and diagonally. Each side gets one king.
Add Some Flair
After learning the basics, you can also learn special maneuvers you can perform in chess. Use these to widen your strategy options:
En passant: This is a special pawn move when the capturing piece is on the fifth rank, with the target pawn adjacent to it after having moved two squares. The capturing piece moves one square diagonally to capture the target.
Promote a pawn: A pawn can be upgraded to a more powerful piece—not necessarily one captured, and only up to the queen—once it reaches the other end of the board.
Castle: The king moves two squares to one side and the rook on that end simultaneously moves two squares so that the rook is right beside the king on its opposite end. This can also be done using the queen.
Gordon, Stewart. “The Game of Kings.” Saudi Aramco World 60, no. 4 (2009): 18-23.
Pandolfini, Bruce. Beginning Chess. New York: Fireside Chess Library, 1993.
Shenk, David. The Immortal Game: A History of Chess or How 32 Pieces on a Board Illuminated Our Understanding of War. New York: Anchor Books, 2007.