How to Set Up a Chessboard: 4 Tips, Notation, & Variants

By: Nathaniel_Fernandes | Posted: August 1, 2020 | Updated: 6/25/2024
This entry is part 2 of 8 in the series Starting Out


  • 64 squares with 32 pieces
  • 1 King, 1 Queen, 2 Rooks, 2 Bishops, 2 Knights, 8 Pawns
  • 2 players – White and Black
  • White moves first and alternates with Black

Step by Step Instructions

At the start of the game, each player has 16 pieces consisting of 8 pawns in front of  2 Rooks, 2 Knights, 2 Bishops, and 1 King and Queen. [Learn more about the pieces]

Total Time: 1 minute

Step 1: Orient the Board

Proper chessboard Orientation

Correctly orient the chessboard with a light square in the bottom right (“light” on the “right”).

Step 2: Kings

Put your King on the e-file. White’s King goes on e1 and Black’s King goes on e8. See the picture above.

Step 3: Pawns

Proper placement of Pawns

Place 8 white pawns on the 2nd rank and 8 black pawns on the 7th rank. All your pieces will go behind this wall of pawns.

Step 4: Rooks

Proper placement of Rooks

Take two rooks and put them in the corners behind the pawns of the same color.

Step 5: Knights

Proper placement of Knights

Take two Knights and place them next to the Rooks.

Step 6: Bishops

Proper placement of Bishops

Take two Bishops and place them next to the Knights.

Step 7: Queens

Completely Setup Board

Put your Queen on the d-file next to your Bishop. Remember, the Queen goes on her color (i.e. the White Queen goes on the light d1 square).

AVOID these Common Setup Mistakes

  • People flip the position of the King & Queen or Knight & Bishop
  • People put White’s pieces on rows 7 & 8.

Helpful Tips

  • White’s pieces go on rows 1 and 2 and Black’s pieces are on 7 and 8.
  • The Queen goes on her color (i.e. the White Queen goes on the light d1 square)
  • Ensure a light square is in the bottom right corner.
  • ABC’s: A Bishop goes on the C-file (and corresponding f-file)

The Board & Square Notation

The first step on the path to chess success is knowing how to set up the chessboard. There are 64 squares on the board – 32 light and 32 dark. The light and dark squares alternate like a checkers board.

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The Chessboard with two kings on their starting squares
The Chessboard

There are 8 rows (horizontal) and 8 columns (vertical). The rows are numbered from 1-8 and the columns are lettered from a-h. To identify a particular square, you denote the specific letter and number associated with it. For example, “a1” denotes the square in the a-column and first row. “E5” indicates the square in the e-column and 5th row. [Learn how to notate]

A1 and E5 squares highlighted on the chessboard
a1 and e5 squares highlighted

Squares of the same color that touch each other are called diagonals. Some pieces, like the Bishop and Queen, can move on diagonals. To name a diagonal, give the name of the first and last square: a1-h8 is the longest diagonal, followed by b2-g8.

Chess Variants

There are several chess variants that use different rules for setting up the chess board. For example, Fischer 960 Random Chess sets up the board completely differently. They have a database of 960 starting positions and at the beginning of each game, choose a different one [learn more here].

There is also 4-player chess and 3-D chess that use different board structures.

Recently, a new variant is on the rise called “5D Chess: With Multiverse Time Travel“.

Now that you’ve mastered setting up the board, go learn about the pieces or castling!

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