Board Game Bonanza: Chess — The Basics

Article and photo by Edward Boice

Chess is a game of intricate strategy and military might. The first of three articles on chess deals with the history of the game and setting up the board.

Game Title: Chess     Game Type: Strategy

Designer: Unknown     Number of players: 2

Expected Playing Time: Typically between 30 minutes to 1 hour, but can possibly take from 5 minutes to 3 hours

Christmas is over, spring break has passed, and the monotony of life is back.  Hopefully your winter and spring break were relaxing and contained memorable moments. Or, maybe you were bored out of your mind because you had nothing planned. Fear not, for when you are done reading this three article series, you will have a dignified board game to play and master when summer break comes around. Chess, which is over 1500 years old, is too complex and nuanced to completely fathom over spring break, but this guide will outline some of the basics of play for newcomers.

Since Chess has a storied past, historians have a hard time pin pointing the game’s exact origins. Most say that the Indians or the Arabians invented the game around the year 600 CE. Traveling via trade routes, merchants brought the game to the Europeans and Japanese, who then fashioned their own variations.

Chess was originally only played by royalty, but during the Middle Ages, merchants began selling the game, making the game more available. Because of the popularity of the game, tournaments and public matches were organized for hundreds of years. Eventually during the 1800s, several world tournaments emerged in London and today, are hosted worldwide.

At its essence, chess is a conceptual battle between two kingdoms and their forces played out on a grid, and though the physical boards often play an aesthetic role, the board need only be an 8 by 8 grid of squares in contrasting colors. Boards, along with the pieces, can be made with wood, plastic, glass, or even metal and come in a variety of colors, though a basic black-and-white pattern is traditional. Official tournament boards, according to, have 2 ¼’’ squares. Since all boards consist of an 8 by 8 grid, tournament boards are 18” by 18”, not counting the border surrounding the square grid.

The game begins with each player’s 16 game pieces—representing the social strata of Medieval Europe—situated in a specific starting order. (See picture above.) During play, the players, sitting at opposite ends of the board, advance their forces toward their opponent’s side through a series of piece-specific moves. The goal? To vanquish the other by capturing the King. Capturing consists of placing a piece on a square space that an opponent piece occupies. The movement necessary to capture an opponent’s piece differs for each type of piece. Piece movements and capturing abilities will be covered in the next article.

Unlike many games, chess can end in a stalemate. This happens in one of three ways. First, one player cannot move any piece. Second, if at least 50 turns have passed without the movement of a pawn, the lowliest piece on the board, and no pieces have been captured. Third, when the same position of pieces occurs three times in a row with each player. Though playing to a draw is not usually sound game strategy, stalemates can serve a strategic function in chess. (More on that will appear in later articles).

Since piece movement and strategies are so complicated (entire libraries have been written on the subject), this series will be broken up into three separate articles. The next article will be about individual pieces and the rules that dictate their movement and capturing.