How Do Chess Pieces Move?

Chess Guides / By Andrew Hercules

When starting to learn chess, the first thing you must learn about is how to move each of the pieces on the chessboard and some special moves like casting, en-passant, and promotion. In a nutshell, here is the summarized answer to your question: how do chess pieces move?

  • The King moves one square in any direction
  • The Queen moves any distance horizontally, vertically, or diagonally
  • The Rook moves one or more squares on any file or rank
  • The Bishop moves diagonally any number of squares
  • The knight moves in an L-shape 
  • The Pawns move one square forward normally or 2 squares on their first move

In chess, the two players move in turn. You can’t skip a move or pass, even if making a move means you will lose the game (zugzwang).

As you move about the board, you need to be alert to opportunities to capture your opponent’s pieces and pawns. Capturing an enemy piece or pawn is a simple matter of moving your piece or pawn to the square occupied by the enemy piece and lifting it off the board. Other than the King, any piece can be captured. (For the King, inevitable capture ends the game before the actual capture is carried out).

The pieces and pawns are known collectively as material. If you capture one of your opponent’s pieces, you have gained material. If he then captures your equivalent piece, he is said to have recaptured that piece, and the material difference is said to be even.

How Does the King Move in Chess?

The King has always represented a monarch, from a Rajah in India to a Shah in Persia, to a Roi in France. The King is the most important piece on the board simply because its capture represents the loss of the game. The fact that the King is the most important piece by no means makes it the most powerful. It can’t jump over other pieces (as the Knight can), and it can’t sacrifice itself. The King has always moved exactly as it does today, except that castling (a special move with King and Rook) was not invented until about the 13th century.

The King can move one square in any direction, be it horizontally, vertically, or diagonally, and it can move both forward and backward.

Diagram showing how the King moves

How does the king move

How Does the Queen Move in Chess?

With the combined powers of a Bishop and a Rook, the Queen has the ability to control an amazing number of squares. In one move, the Queen can move any distance horizontally, vertically, or diagonally. It can move backward but cannot jump over other pieces.

Diagram showing how the Queen moves

How does the queen move

The Birth Of A Queen

More than 1400 years ago, in the original Indian game of Chaturanga, the Queen was the weakest piece, its moves being limited to the four squares diagonally adjacent to the square the Queen was sitting on. At that time the piece was not known as the Queen, but rather as the Mantri, which in English means adviser to the King.

When the game spread to Persia, the Mantri became the Firzan (which means wise man). In Europe, the name was never translated literally. From the early days, the piece was known as the Lady (The Dama in Spanish). Because Europeans thought it natural for the King to have a consort, in many countries the Lady became the Queen.   

Around 1475, the Queen’s moves were extended to make it the most powerful piece on the board. The Italians characterized the new piece as furioso and the new game as scacchi alla rabioso (rabid chess) which has nothing to do with the mental state of chess players!

How Does the Rook Move in Chess?

The Rook is one of the strongest chess pieces. It can move one or more squares on any file or rank. Like most other pieces, the Rook cannot jump over enemy or friendly pieces, but it can move backward, forward, and sideways. It can move horizontally or vertically, not diagonally.

In old Indian chess sets, the Rook has the shape of a chariot. An appropriate analogy for a piece that blasts down open files and ranks with great speed and force.

Diagram showing how the Rook moves

How does the rook move

The Rook Is Not A Castle


Until the 15th century when the Queen became the most powerful piece, the Rook reigned supreme.

Though the Rook’s powers have not changed throughout the history of chess, its name has undergone various transformations. Originally called a Ratha (Sanskrit for Chariot) it traveled to Europe under the Arabic name Rukh. The Italians used the like-sounding name Rocco (which means tower). Because the Rook is a small tower, Western Europeans followed the lead of the Italians in two ways:

  • They either used the word for tower from their own language (Tour in French) or
  • They used a word that sounded like Rocco (Rook in English)

Thus, though a chariot vaguely resembles a tower on wheels, it was more the chance similarity between the sound of an Arabic and an Italian word and the connection between towers and kings that gave us the modern Rook.

Some players incorrectly call the Rook a Castle. If you hear the name castle, don’t bother pointing out the mistake, however. Calling the Rook a Castle is about the smallest error you can make in chess because everybody understands which piece you mean.

How Does the Bishop Move in Chess?

The predecessor of the modern Bishop was the Fil or Al-Fil (meaning elephant). It was a much weaker piece than its modern counterpart because it could only leap diagonally across one square.

Europeans who had never seen an elephant had a tough time fitting this animal into the royal court. As time went on, the piece was called the Alfiere (meaning standard-bearer) by the Italians and the Laufer (meaning runner) by the Germans.

In France, the stylized elephant of the Indian chess set was thought to look like a court jester’s cap, so the pieces became known as the Fou (meaning fool). In England, the piece was thought to resemble a Bishop’s mitre, a symbol that fits well with the power structure of the day: King, Queen, and Church.

The Bishop’s Scope

The Bishop is considered to be about equal in value to a Knight, though many chess writers give the Bishop a small edge.

By the end of the 15th century, the Bishop had lost its power to leap across a square but had gained long-ranged maneuverability on the diagonal, with the ability to move forward or backward. Like the Rook, King, and Queen, the Bishop cannot jump over other pieces.

The Bishop’s one weakness is that it is limited to squares of one color throughout the game. This restriction hurts the effectiveness of a single Bishop, but two Bishops working together can cut through an opponent’s like a pair of scissors. As a team, they are powerful indeed.

Diagram showing how the Bishop moves

How does the bishop move

How Does the Knight Move in Chess?

Most beginning chess players have a love-hate relationship with the Knight. They love the weird way the Knight moves, leaping on unsuspecting opponent’s pieces. But they fear the enemy Knight’s ability to hop all over the place and wipe out their own pieces. With experience, many players (myself included) develop a special fondness for the Knight.

The Knight has the strangest move of all the pieces. It moves two squares along a rank and then one along a file, or two squares along a file and then one along a rank.

The result is a curiously L-shaped move. The Knight can go backward, and it is the only piece that can jump over other pieces.

Diagram showing how the Knight moves

How does the knight move

The Nobel Knight

Unchanged in 1400 years, the Knight has had variations of the same shape and has moved around the board in the same way since the invention of the game. It was known as a horse to the Indians, Persians, and Arabs, and because the horse was readily identifiable to Europeans, in many countries the name remained the same.

In other countries, including England and France, the horse acquired a rider and became a Knight, bringing this piece in line with the ethic of chivalry associated with the King, Queen, and Bishop.

How do Pawns Move in Chess?

Pawns are the weakest men on the board. They blaze a path for the stronger pieces and often sacrifice themselves for the glory of their army’s cause. The pawn’s original Sanskrit name was padati. Comparing this word with the Latin word for foot, pedis, we can see why the pawn is often likened to a foot soldier. In fact, the Arabic word for the pawn, baidaq means exactly that.

Since the earliest days of chess, the pawn has had the same basic movement: It marches forward one square at a time. The pawn is the only piece that can’t move backward, it is also the only one that captures in a different way than it normally moves: A pawn can capture only by moving one square diagonally.

In this position, the White pawn can capture either the Black Knight or the Black pawn, if the Black pawn doesn’t get him first! An enemy pawn can thus be immobilized by placing a pawn or a piece directly in front of it.

How do pawns capture in chess

When the game sped up during the Renaissance, the pawn acquired two dynamic abilities.

  • The ability to move two squares forward.
  • The ability to promote to another minor or major piece.

The first is relatively straightforward: If a pawn has never moved, it now has the option of moving either one or two squares forward

How do pawns move in chess

Pawn Promotion: The second change has much more profound implications. The pawn may seem unimportant, but it is now far from powerless! Like a caterpillar, the pawn dreams of the day when it can metamorphose. All it has to do is amble down the board to the 8th rank (the 1st rank from Black’s perspective), and it is immediately promoted to a piece of its own color.

The pawn can become a Queen, a Knight, a Bishop, or a Rook. It cannot become a King or remain a pawn.

Theoretically, you could have 9 Queens on the board at once if all eight of your pawns made it to the last rank! Originally, the pawn could be promoted only to a Minister (the weak original form of the Queen). With the enormous strengthening of the Queen, promoting a pawn to a Queen has become a key strategy in many games. Learn more about pawn promotion

Andrew Hercules

Hercules Chess, launched in 2020, is a website that teaches you about chess. We started as a chess blog and became a chess training platform in early 2022.

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