How The Pieces Move in Chess ♙♘♗♖♕♔

Have you been asking yourself lately, “how does each chess piece move?”

Before you start playing chess, you need to know how to identify the pieces you’re looking at and, in general, how they move around.

In this article you’ll learn about chess piece moves, which chess pieces can move backwards or diagonally, and I will also show you  special chess moves like castling.

There are six different pieces in chess, each with different abilities in how they move.

The most powerful piece is the Queen while the most important piece is the King. The other four pieces work together with the queen to protect the king.

If you’re looking for a chess cheat sheet for how the chess pieces move, you can open this chess piece moves chart and download it for free.

(Here’s a preview of it)

chess piece moves chart pdf

If you’re unsure about one piece in particular, click below to skip to that section.  You can always click the blue arrow to return to the top.

How Much is Each Chess Piece Worth?

Each chess piece has a value to help give players a better idea where they stand when they capture pieces over the board.

The chart below explains how much each piece is worth in a chess game.

Piece Value How Many You Start With
♙ Pawn ♟ 1 8
♘ Knight ♞ 3 2
♗ Bishop ♝ 3.25 2
♖ Rook ♜ 5 2
♕ Queen ♛ 9 1

Here’s a simple infographic that you can use as a cheat sheet to remember how the pieces all move.

Click here to open in a new browser to download.

how the chess pieces move infographic

Let’s break down what each piece can do in a chess game.

Let’s start with the pawns as they are the simplest to understand.

How ♙Pawns Move and Attack

♙ Pawn Point Value: 1

The goal of each pawn is to help each player control the chess board.  They will need to move out of the way so other pieces can be developed.  They do a great job protecting the king from attack.

pawn movement

Some items to note about pawns:
  • Each player begins with eight pawns ♙
  • Pawns have a unique choice on their first move; they can move 2 squares instead of one
  • Only pawns and knights can move on the first turn made in a chess game
  • Pawns cannot move backward, only forward one square at a time
  • Pawns may only move diagonally forward one square to attack another piece.  Otherwise, they move straight ahead one square to advance in their goal to reach the other side.  They cannot move diagonally unless they capture a piece
  • Pawns cannot move sideways
  • By moving a pawn completely to the other side of the board. it can be traded for another piece (knight, bishop, rook, or queen)
  • Pawns are able to capture any piece, including the queen

How does a pawn move in chess?

Pawns move 1 square at a time, forward only.  On its first move, however, it has the option to move 2 squares forward.

In the picture below, neither pawn on the e file is able to move forward.

dont play e5 in sicilian dragon

If black plays his d pawn from d6-d5 at some point, the white pawn on e4 would be able to attack diagonally by capturing d5.

If the white pawn had free reign, it would continue to move forward to d6, then d7 before it must capture diagonally again, or wait for the queen to move from d8.

Can Pawns Move Backwards?

Pawns can only move forward and never backward or sideways. It is for this reason that each player must be careful and selective with their pawn moves for they can never be taken back.

It is also important to understand chess openings as these pawn moves cannot be taken back.

How I learned to respect pawn moves:

When I first played the Caro-Kann defense, I often started with pushing c6 as black, but somewhere around the third move I would always push c5, forming the French defense.

I was lucky enough to have a Chess coach who advised me to instead play the French defense.

This opening starts with e5 on the first move with the understanding that c5 will be pushed in a few moves.

Understanding this allowed me to change my opening approach based on whether I was moving my pawn one square or two.

Pawns also have 2 special moves in chess.

♙ Pawn Special Move 1: The Option to Move 2 Squares instead of 1

On a pawn’s first move only, you may choose to move two squares forward instead of one.

It is on this first and only move of each individual pawn’s first movement that it may choose to move two squares forward instead of one.

Should the pawn decide to move one square on its first move, it may not move two squares at any other time in its journey to the other side of the board.

pawn first move any of these pawns can choose one square or two squares of movement forward only.

You may think that because pawns can move forward only, they could also attack moving forward.

However, pawns can only attack diagonally.

pawn attacking forward

♙ Pawn Special Move 2: En Passant

There is a second special move that occurs based on the pawn‘s first special move: en passant.

If a pawn happens to be directly next to another opponents pawn when that pawn decides to use it for a special move and move two squares forward, the original pawn has the choice to take that pawn diagonally as if it were attacking it on its original square.

en passant 1

en passant 2

en passant 3

This is a unique move, just like the first special move, that can only occur on that set move.

If a pawn is next to another pawn and the player decides not to take advantage of en passant, then they cannot execute this move again in this scenario.

You cannot execute en passant for that pawn after the turn it is offered.

How are ♙ Pawns Promoted into Other Pieces?

Pawns also have a secret mission throughout the entire game.

Their mission is to travel across the board to the other side.

What happens when a pawn reaches the other side?  They are promoted into other pieces!

More specifically, a knight, bishop, rook, or queen.  They cannot turn into another pawn or king.

This can be completed once the pawn reaches the 8th rank of the board in enemy territory.

pawn promotion

This process is known known as a pawn promotion.

So where does the pawn go when it is promoted?  It is removed from the board and transformed into another piece of your choice.

What is Underpromotion in Chess?

While most of the time a pawn will be swapped into a queen, there are specific situations where that pawn would be more beneficial as a knight.

The only instances where you would choose a bishop or a rook would be to prevent the queen promotion from ending the game in a stalemate.

There are some situations where promoting pawns into a queen is great, but the situation and position would be better if that piece were turned into a knight.

knight pawn promotion

Underpromotion into a knight resulting in a fork of the king and queen.

In most cases, this is because the knight will allow either a fork or check on the opponent’s king resulting in a won piece or a position, and sometimes checkmate.

This is known as an underpromotion.

How ♘Knights Move and Attack

♘Knight Point Value: 3

Knights are often the most complicated piece for newer players to understand because they have such a unique style of movement.

These are some things the knight can do:
  • A knight can move backward and forward
  • Knights are the only pieces that can jump over other pieces.  Not even the queen can move like a knight
  • Knights are worth less than bishops
  • A single knight is unable to checkmate on its own
  • 2 Knights can only checkmate with the opponent’s cooperation
  • Knights do very well in closed positions because of their ability to move by jumping over other pieces that may be in the way.

knight 8 squares

It becomes easier to understand when you view their movement as an uppercase L shape.

Download and save this infographic if you’re ever unsure of how the ♘ knight moves

How the knight moves infographic

The easiest way to think about knight movement is one space in any direction and then two spaces perpendicular to that space.

Look below at a few examples of the way I can move my knight around the board.

knights

kngiht movement

When you think about the knight’s movement this way, it becomes easier to start to see where it can move.

Practice ♘ Knight Movements Over the Board

Try this by putting a blank board right in front of you, and placing only the knight on the board.

Count out the spaces you can move out loud starting with 1 space in every direction, then 2 spaces perpendicular to that location.

Next, start with 2 spaces in any direction, then 1 space perpendicularly.

knight movement ideas

In either case, the knight will make an L shape and it does not matter if any pieces are in his way in its movement towards its final square.

Here’s a snapshot of every square a knight can move to if it is in the middle of the board.  The knight can move to 8 scenario squares.

knight 8 squares

However, the closer a knight is to the edge, the less squares it can move to.  In this position, the knight can only move to 6 squares.

knight 6 squares

“The rim is grim” is a saying that describes how bad knights are on the side of the board can be.  They can only move to 4 squares.

KNIGHT 4 SQUARES

Even worse, in the corner, they can only move 2 squares!

knight 2 squares

Unlike every other piece in the game, knights are able to jump over other pieces to get to their final destination.

It doesn’t matter if other pieces are in the way, only if there is a piece where you want to move the knight to.

knight surrounded

The knight can jump over all of these pieces

If there is an opponent’s piece in the knights final movement square, the knight can capture it.

If there is one of your own pieces on this square, the knight cannot move to this square.

knight cannot move

Practice moving the knight with knight flight and knight sight

The easiest way to practice knight movement and seeing your next move more quickly over the board is to do what I call knight sight or knight flight.

Start with the knight in one corner of the board and move to another corner in as few moves as possible.

Then try to move to the next corner, then the next, then return home.

Hint – it takes 5 moves from one corner to its adjacent corner.

It takes 6 moves from one corner to the opposite corner.

Try it!

Additionally, you can put obstacles along the way to see if you can find quick alternate routes.

Use these exercises with a blank board and attempt to move the knight to specific squares in the least amount of moves.

Understanding the rules of chess knight movement will help improve the way that you see the board.

It will make your knight sight much quicker and allow you to interpret situations faster too.

Knights in the Endgame

In the opening, knights are generally better.

Once the board opens up however, bishops are stronger than knights.

This doesn’t mean knights are useless in the endgame though.

Some endgames still have a lot of pawns that block bishops from helping create an advantage.  These endgames are known as closed positions and knights are much better.

Knights are able to attack pieces that may be stuck due to gridlock.

This gives them an advantage in specific end games, so don’t always assume you should trade your knights away just because you’re in the end game.

How ♗ Bishops Move and Attack

♗ Bishop Point Value: 3.25

Bishops are a much easier piece to understand than the knight.  They are the chess piece that starts next to the knight when setting up a chess board.

light and dark squared bishop

Bishop starting positions

Some items to note about bishops:
  • Bishops move diagonally only
  • You start with 2 bishops, one on each colored square
  • Bishops are worth more than knights
  • Bishops can move backwards and forwards
  • Bishops cannot jump over other pieces
  • Bishops can move to any square along their path as long as a piece is not in the way

How does the bishop move in chess?

Bishops can only move diagonally, but they can move backward and forward.

When you first start off in the game, you’ll have a light squared Bishop, and a dark squared bishop, each will never be able to attack or defend each other.

This also means they will not be able to get in each other’s way.

bishop movement

Bishops have a score of 3 1/4 points because they are slightly better than knights. It really depends on your situation over the board, but generally bishops are considered more valuable.

Generally, people will develop knights before bishops because bishops can easily be moved around the board in the opening.

Bishops have a very long line of sight, because they can go in any direction as long as it is diagonally, and they can move as many squares as they like in one turn.

Bishops work very well with pawns because they can defend each other. While pawns can only attack and defend a piece in front of them diagonally.

end game bishop

The bishop protects both the pawn in front of, and behind it, diagonally.

This leads to a lot of stalemate games or at least a very strong structure for the player with the bishop, because of this structure. See below for diagram.

While knights can be easily pushed away a defending or attacking position by being attacked, bishops generally have a longer line of sight to continue defending or attacking specific pieces.

This is one reason why bishops could be considered stronger the knight usually in the end game, but sometimes throughout the game as well.

knight being pushed

This knight is being pushed away from attacking the pawn highlighted in red.

bishop being moved

This image shows a bishop being pushed away, but he is still able to attack the red highlighted pawn by staying on the same diagonal.

The best way for your bishops to operate, is for them both to be right next to each other. Doing so will give a very wide line of sight, and cover both light and dark squares.

You can kind of think about bishops working together in the same way as a rook because it attacks or defends all squares around it.

2 bishops working together

When 2 bishops work together, they cover a lot of ground

How ♖ Rooks Move and Attack

♖ Rook Point Value: 5

Rooks are worth five points each because their end game strength exceeds both bishops and knights.

Some things to note about the rooks:
  • Rooks can move backwards, forwards, and sideways
  • Rooks cannot move diagonally
  • They are stronger in the endgame than knights and bishops
  • Two rooks are better when protecting each other
  • They are best on open files
  • Each player starts with 2 rooks

How does the rook move in chess?

Each rook can move as far as it likes in a straight line, as long as another piece is not in the way.

Rooks can move and attack in all directions that are linear. This means that rooks cannot attack diagonally and this is the best way to attempt to attack them.

Below you can see the possible squares a rook can move in one turn.

rook movement

Any of the green squares are considered an illegal move.  However, the line of sight is cut off with another piece in the way.

Note the red squares the rook cannot move to.  This includes its own pawn on g3 since you cannot capture your own pieces in chess, even if you want to.

The bishop on b3 and the pawn on e6 may be captured by the rook.  However, the rook cannot move past them on the same move.

When rooks are their strongest

Rooks are very strong when they work together, just like the bishops. However, rooks are considered much stronger than bishops.

This is not just because they have a long line of sight, but also because they can help pawns progress forward down the line to becoming a queen, the most powerful piece.

rook helping pawns advance

The reason rooks are considered more powerful than bishops is because they can work together and attack the same squares.

By lining up both of your rooks on the same file, more pressure is added to either an attacked piece or defended piece.

On the other hand, bishops can only help each other and expand their line of sight, but they can never attack the same piece.

rooks helping each other

Rook strength in the opening

Rooks are considered the weakest pieces in the opening of the game because they have very few safe squares they can go to.  There is so much activity, it is best to avoid bringing your rook off the back rank and into the center of the board.

italian game with rook in the center of the board

When presented with the point values for each piece, sometimes newer players will look at this structure and think that because the rooks are the second most valuable piece, they would have a strong chance at attacking their opponent.

For this reason, a lot of newer players may start with h4 or a4, to bring the rooks into the game. This fails rather quickly because there are so many ways to attack rooks as well as bishops, so rooks cannot be easily brought into the game early on.

rooks coming out in beginning

This was an actual “strategy” I had when I first started playing chess 20 years ago.

However, rooks far exceed the skill of knights and bishops in the end game. The biggest reason is:

  1. To help advance pawns towards the other side of the board
  2. To isolate the king from moving across an entire file

rook blocking a king

These two factors are invaluable to a player and contribute deeply towards gaining an end game advantage.

It is for this reason that losing a rook early in the opening can cause you to lose the game later because your rook is no longer available to be used.

Consider connecting your rooks in the opening, but keeping them away from the center of the board.  Keep them safe so that they may be used in a better position in the end of the game.

How the ♕ Queen Moves and Attacks

♕ Queen Point Value: 9

In our point structure, the queen is worth nine. The queen can be considered to be two pieces in one; a bishop and a rook.

While thinking of point values, the queen uses the abilities of the rook and bishop, yet the sum of a rook (5) and bishop (3.25) is 8.25 while a queen is worth 9.  Its value derives from its combination of both powerful pieces into one.

A single queen can cover more ground and attack multiple pieces at the same time in ways the rook and bishop cannot when working together over the board.  For this reason, the queen has an edge.

Some things to note about the queen:
  • They can move sideways, backwards, forwards, and diagonally
  • They cannot jump over other pieces like the knight can
  • You can have multiple queens, up to 9 queens, on any board since each pawn could potentially turn into a queen (though achieving this is nearly impossible with both sides trying)
  • You start with one queen in the square next to the king (d1 or d8)
  • The queen always starts on the same color square as its army.  Black starts on a dark square while white starts on a light square

How does the queen move in chess?

The queen can move sideways, backwards, and diagonally in any direction.  As long as no other pieces are in its way, the queen can travel as far in a single direction as it likes.

This means that a queen can move as far or as few squares as desired in any direction.

What a queen cannot do is jump over pieces the way a knight can. The queen is the most valuable piece because of the ability to act like two pieces instead of one.

queen movement

When is the queen the strongest?

When there are a lot of pieces on the board, the queen is not as able to attack multiple pieces at once.  However, in the endgame a queen can do tons of damage.  A queen can gobble up isolated pawns very easily, especially if the king is out in the open.

Because of the queen’s strength, some players like to move it around early on. As you can see in this video, this is generally not a great idea because the queen cannot do everything by herself.

Especially in the opening, the queen needs to have additional support from minor pieces to initiate and execute an attack.

What pieces should you trade your queen for?

Because the queen is worth nine points, sometimes it’s a good idea to trade your queen for two rooks, but it really depends on the situation.

Sometimes it’s better to keep your queen and you should think about what the position will look like after the queen has been traded rather than looking only at the point values being equal.

When it comes to trading a queen (9) for multiple pieces, such as a bishop (3.25), knight (3) and rook (5), you can count the points that you will be trading and see what the outcome is.

While the point value is higher for the player who lost their queen (11.25 to 9) the position might not be favorable.

queen trading

In this scenario, let’s assume black traded its queen for a knight, bishop, and rook.  While the point values are helpful, black’s pieces are not yet working together to achieve an advantage.

Points alone are not enough to win a game as white now has an active queen that can possibly exploit the weakness of the isolated knight, or work its way toward the rook by attacking the g7 pawn.

How the ♔ King ♚ Moves and Attacks

♔ King Point Value: Invaluable

The king can move one square in any direction. There is no point value applied to the king because the king cannot be traded for any other piece.

Some notes about the King:
  • The king must always be on the board and in fact will never be removed from the board.
  • The king can move and attack one space in any direction, sideways, diagonally, and backwards
  • Once per game, the king can move 2 squares sideways (see castling below)
  • The king always starts on the opposite color square as its own army
  • Both kings can never be next to each other because they would be in check

How does the King move in chess

The king can move forward, backwards, sideways, and diagonally, but only one square in any direction.

king movement

The exception is when the king and rook perform a special chess move known as castling.  This can be performed once per game.

The king can capture any piece that it is next to, as long as it does not itself into check.

Below we can see where the king can and cannot move.

king movement restriction with pieces

Since moving to c4 or c5 would put the king next to another king (in check) this move is not allowed.  The king also cannot capture its own pawn on c6.

The bishop on f3 is protecting the pawn on e4 from capture and the other bishop on e7 is blocking d6 and c5.

Therefore, the king can only move to d4, e5, and e6 in this situation.

Protecting the King

In the opening, the king must be protected because your opponent has a lot of pieces that can threaten him.

In the end game, however, the king transforms into a super useful piece.  While the same rules apply and you want to protect him, he is actually more powerful in the center of the board because his job changes from hiding to pawn hunting.

As long as the queen is not on the board, in most cases the king will do very well in the center in the endgame.

What happens to the king when checkmated?

When a player is in checkmate, the king is never actually taken off the board.

Checkmate is a position that ends a game of chess where the king is under attack and cannot move, and the piece attacking the king cannot be captured. The game simply ends rather than the opponent taking the king.

Because the king can only move in one space any direction, he is often considered a very weak piece, but he must be protected or the game ends.

King’s Special Move: Castling

Just like pawns, the King has a special move known as castling.  During castling a king moves two spaces instead of one to either the right or the left.

One side moving toward the king but, known as king-side castling, and the other moving two squares toward the queen side, known as queen-side castling.

Kingside Castling (annotated as 0-0)

castling 1

castling 2

Queenside Castling (annotated as 0-0)

castling queen side

castling queen side 2

The special move of castling can only occur if:

    • The king or rook have not moved
    • There are no pieces in between the king and the rook
    • The king is not in check
  • Any of the squares between the king and rook are under attack

Conclusion

I hope this article helped you to understand the basics of how pieces move in chess. The easiest way to think about your pieces and their strength in the game is to think about the point value of each.

Piece Value How Many You Start With
Pawn 1 8
Knight 3 2
Bishop 3.25 2
Rook 5 2
Queen 9 1

Know these values because they will also help you understand when to trade one piece for another.

Remember to always consider your position in addition to the point value as sometimes it is okay to trade a bishop for 3 pawns because the values are similar.

Keep this chart in the back of your mind when you practice playing chess. You’ll start to see over time as you play more why these values make sense.

Go back over your games and analyze them too! This way, you can see where you may have gone wrong and traded for the wrong pieces.

You can also check out my guide for various chess openings as well as the basic principles of the opening here for further reading and study.