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How To Move the Chess Pieces + Strengths & Weaknesses

By: Nathaniel_Fernandes | Posted: August 3, 2020 | Updated: 7/16/2021
This entry is part 3 of 8 in the series Starting Out

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Each piece moves differently so they all have their own strengths and weaknesses
  • (Usually) don’t trade a higher-valued piece for a lower-valued one.
    • Ex. Trading a Queen for a Bishop is probably bad.
    • If your opponent offers you that trade, take it!
  • Don’t forget the end goal is checkmate!

Learning how to move the chess pieces can appear daunting. (Wait a Knight jumps over pieces, WHAT?!) But as you play more often, you will easily get the hang of it.

Fun fact: most masters are so familiar with the board and how to move the pieces that they can play “mind chess” in their heads!

Magnus Carlsen plays “mind chess” against 10 people

Without further ado, let’s dive right in!

Meet The Pieces

Here is the fully set up chessboard. The following section will dive into the specific strengths and weaknesses of each piece.

Picture of the fully set up chessboard
The Chessboard

Note: The piece values shown below are relative. Different pieces can be more valuable in different scenarios based on their strengths and weaknesses.

King

Value:

Explanation: The piece value of ∞ isn’t because the King is the strongest, but because the game is over if your king is checkmated.

How It Moves: The King can move 1 square in any direction, as long as it is not blocked by its own pieces and does not move to a square where it is attacked (called “moving into check”). Once per game, the king has a special ability to “castle” in specific circumstances.

Special Ability: Castling

Strength:

  • Strongest in the endgame when there are few pieces left.

Weaknesses:

  • Needs constant protection so isn’t checkmated
  • Can only move 1 square at a time.
  • Cannot move into check

Queen

Piece Value: 9

Explanation: The Queen is one of the strongest pieces in chess. It can wreak havoc on the enemy army!

How it Moves: The Queen can move as far as she wants in any direction, as long as she’s not blocked by a piece (basically Rook + Bishop). Note: she can only move in straight lines.

Special Ability: None. (She’s already too OP!)

Strength:

  • Strongest in open positions where she can attack on both sides of the board
  • Ideal at picking off pawns in the endgame
  • A powerful attacking piece and can deliver powerful checkmates (with the help of a support piece)

Weakness:

  • DO NOT bring her out in the opening – because she’s so valuable she can get “kicked around” by enemy pawns or minor pieces

Rook

Piece Value: 5

Explanation: The Rook is another powerful piece that is better in the middlegame and endgame. It is a long-range piece and is best developed by castling and supporting the attack from the first couple ranks (it isn’t a front-line piece).

How it Moves: The Rook can move as far as it wants along ranks and files (up and down, side to side).

Special Ability: Castling

Strength:

  • Excellent in the endgame when it can’t be attacked as easily
  • Rooks on the 7th rank are deadly (Seventh Heaven)
  • Excellent at pins, skewers, forks – you name it!
  • Helps in castling

Weakness:

  • Can become trapped on their starting positions if not developed (fix this with “Connecting the Rooks”)
  • NOT foot soldiers – shouldn’t be on front lines in front of pawns (except for the “Rook Lift”)

Bishop

Piece Value: 3

Explanation: Though the Bishop is a “minor piece,” it is still a piece to be feared! It can travel long ranges and swoop from one side of the board to the other. Having the “Bishop Pair” (both your light and dark squared Bishop) is especially prized.

How it Moves: The Bishop moves as far as it wants along the diagonals. Note: it must always stay on its original color.

Special Ability: None.

Strength:

  • Long-range piece that’s valuable in the opening, middlegame, and endgame!
  • Can attack/defend both sides of the board at once
  • A speed demon: Loves open positions where it can zoom from one side of the board to the other.
  • Excellent at pinning

Weakness:

  • Must stay on its original color – therefore it can only attack/defend half the board (having the “Bishop pair” remedies this!).
  • Useless if trapped behind its own pawns – called a “Bad Bishop.”

The Bishop is in an eternal war against the Knight. Learn which positions favor the Bishop!

Knight

Piece Value: 3

How It Moves: Perhaps the trickiest to visualize! The Knight moves in an “L shape”: 2 squares forward and 1 to the side. It can “jump over” other pieces even if another piece is in its way.

Special Ability: Can jump over other pieces!

Strength:

  • Can attack both colors (unlike the Bishop)
  • Excellent Blockers of enemy pawns
  • Can attack multiple pieces at once (called a fork)

Weakness:

  • Knights on the rim are grim! (because they can’t attack as many squares)
  • Short-range pieces: They take 3 whole moves to reach the other side of the board (compared to 1 move for the Bishop)

The Knight is in an eternal war against the Bishop. Learn which positions favor the Knight!

Pawn

Piece Value: ???

Explanation: The pawn is like a mystery card. It’s value depends greatly on the position it’s in. (Plus, it can even change into another piece if it reaches the end of the board, called promotion)

How It Moves: The pawn can only moves one square forward, EXCEPT if it hasn’t moved before when it can move two squares. The pawn captures one square diagonally.

Tip: Imagine the pawn is holding a shield – it can only move forwards. When it attacks with its sword, it must strike diagonally because the shield is in front.

Special Abilities: Promotion, En Passant

Strength:

  • Strength in numbers! You get 8 pawns to start out with.
  • Passed pawns are extremely valuable (pawns that are close to promoting)
  • Promotion: When the pawn reaches the end of the board (8th rank for White, 1st rank for Black), it can become a Knight, Bishop, Rook, or Queen!
  • Can attack higher valued pieces
  • Pawn Chains: pawns are strongest when they protect each other. A formation called a pawn chain

Weakness:

  • Can never move backwards!
  • Isolated pawns are (usually) weak like sitting ducks because they can’t be protected by their peers. 
  • Doubled/Tripled pawns are weak because they can’t protect themselves.

Wrapping Up

Hopefully this article gave you a sense for how the chess pieces move and their particular strengths and weaknesses. This is just the very tip of the iceberg, so definitely check out the in-article links and “More Resources” section below!

Drop any lingering questions in the chat below.

More Resources

Cover Photo Credit

Image by Devanath from Pixabay


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