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Chess For Everyone!

Chess for the New Player

Chess has the characteristics of both a mental game of skill (where an individual’s mind is used as a tool to achieve a favourable game result) and a physical sport (where continuous focus, concentration and endurance over a period of time may affect the individual performance of each player).

Wikipedia defines a game of skill (or wits) as “a game where the outcome is determined mainly by mental or physical skill, rather than by chance.” A game of chance is one where its outcome is strongly influenced by some randomizing device (e.g. dice). While a game of chance may have some skill element to it, chance generally plays a greater role in determining its outcome (i.e. who won and who lost the game). Wikipedia goes on to say that a game of skill may have some elements of chance, but skill plays a greater role in determining its outcome. 

On its first level, chess is a game of skill. There are no randomizing devices used and a successful outcome is essentially determined by one player seeing and making better piece moves than the other player. Chess is thought to be pure logic, however, perfect chess is essentially beyond human capability. Luck plays a part in any chess position where one or both players are not in control of the complications. Chess is essentially a simulation gamespace that uses an 8 x8 matrix (the chessboard) and a set of game pieces (kings, queens, rooks, bishops, knights and pawns) that have predefined attributes for movement, attack and defense. There are a number of rules that define how the simulation gamespace works and players must first learn those rules in order to participate in the gamespace.

In its second level, chess is a sport. Here is a link to a nice article and video that explains 5 reasons why this is so. In summary, the main reasons are as follows:

    • Chess is competitive.
    • Chess requires skill.
    • Chess has rules and etiquette.
    • Chess requires physical exertion including both practice and physical conditioning to develop stamina.
    • Chess is a globally established game.

If one accepts the premise that chess is a sport, then this has important implications with respect to obtaining government funding in many countries. See also our webpage about Chess Improvement and physiological factors that impact chess performance.

Rules and Conventions

The rules of chess essentially cover the following topics:

    • The use of a chessboard and the starting placement of both the board and the pieces on it. Light and dark squares, ranks, files and diagonals.
    • Players make alternating moves—first white, then black, then white, then black, and so on.
    • How the pieces move and how they capture each other. Check, checkmate and pins.
    • Special rules for pawn promotion, castling (king protection) and en passant capture involving pawns.
    • How a victory is achieved (e.g. checkmate or by an opponent’s resignation).
    • How a draw (i.e. ties) may result (e.g. by mutual agreement, repetition or force). 

In some scenarios, players will add mutually accepted conventions (or in competitions additional established rules) for chess play, which also need to be learned:

    • Touch move.
    • How to handle illegal moves.
    • Chess etiquette for behaviour before, during and after the game. After all, chess is a social activity and we are social beings.
    • The relative value of the pieces when compared to each other.
    • The use of chess notation as a language for discussing and reviewing players’ moves and documenting a game for subsequent analysis and verification of the game result.
    • The use of a chess clock and a time control to add the element of time pressure.
    • The proper way to offer/accept a draw.
    • The use of chess ratings as a tool to determine placement in a competitive event and to monitor one’s progress. 
    • The use of, and respect for, chess titles to recognize achievements and relative player skill levels.

The details relating to the list above are rules and conventions that every chess player needs to learn. When the beginning chess player is younger in age, the language used and explanations given as chess instruction tend to be simpler. Regardless of age, through some practice and repetition, the beginning student quickly learns how the game of chess works and can then handle the basics and soon play a complete game.

A great way to see if a new player really understands the rules of chess is to see if that player can clearly explain them to someone else.

Here is a link to FIDE's Official Rules of Chess, from the FIDE Handbook, effective January 1, 2023.

Starting Videos

Chess has a long and interesting history and a new player should invest some time to understand it. Here are a couple of interesting Youtube videos on Chess History to get you started.

Here are four useful videos to get you going on learning the rules of chess.

Next Steps

There are many other excellent websites and online videos to help the new player learn more about chess, including basic openings, strategy, tactics and endgames. 

You might also consider taking one or more of our chess classes, whether in an in-person or online learning format. Many students prefer to learn chess from a live instructor rather than by watching a video.

Certainly, much of the initial joy of playing chess for a new player comes from knowing the rules, and then successfully applying them to independently control their pieces on the board in a rules-legal manner. Vive l’independence.


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