Do you enjoy board games? From Monopoly to checkers, board games can be an interesting and challenging way to have fun with friends and family members. One of the oldest and most challenging games of strategy has to be chess.

The game of chess we know today has been around for over 500 years. Although no one knows for sure how the game came about, many people believe it developed from other chess-like games played in India about 2,000 years ago.

In a game of chess, you and your opponent each command an army of 16 pieces: 8 pawns, two rooks, two knights, two bishops, a queen and a king. Your goal is to trap your opponent’s king before he or she traps yours. When you reach a point where you have your opponent’s king trapped and he cannot escape, you have achieved checkmate and won the game!

Every chess game starts out with the pieces placed in the same positions on the chess board. One player plays with white or light-colored pieces, and the other player plays with black or dark-colored pieces. White moves first and then play alternates until one player achieves checkmate or the game ends in a tie (stalemate or draw). Players may not skip their move at any time.

To make a move, you must choose one of your pieces on the board and move it from its current position to another square, according to the rules of movement. The square a piece is moved to can either be empty or occupied by another player’s piece. If the square contains an opponent’s piece, you capture that piece by removing it from the board.

It takes many people a while to learn how to play chess. Not only does the game involve a lot of thinking ahead and strategy, but each type of chess piece moves in a different way. Remembering how each of the pieces moves can be difficult at first.

Pawns are special because they have two types of moves. A pawn can either move to an empty square directly in front of it, or it can capture a piece diagonally to the right or left. In addition, a pawn may also move two squares straight ahead on its first move.

Rooks move straight forward, backward or sideways (but not diagonally). They cannot jump over other pieces, but they can move as far as they want in any straight line.

Knights move by jumping two squares forward, backward or sideways, and then turning and jumping one more square. The knight’s move forms an “L” shape. Knights are special because they’re the only pieces that can jump over other pieces.

Bishops also move in straight lines, but not forwards, backwards or sideways — only diagonally! Like rooks, bishops can move as far as they want in any direction, but they cannot jump over other pieces.

The queen can move in a straight line as far as she wants in any direction. She cannot, however, jump over other pieces.

The king can move one square in any direction. He cannot, however, move to a square where he could be captured by an opponent’s piece.

When you make a move that puts your opponent’s king in danger of being captured, you say “check.” Your opponent then must make a move to protect his or her king. There are three ways you can protect a king: move him out of the way, block the check with another piece or capture the piece attacking the king. If one of these protective moves can’t be made, then you win the game and say, “Checkmate!”

Chess has a few other special rules you’ll have to learn if you want to become a chess player, such as castling, en passant and promotion. You can learn these more difficult rules as you play, though. For now, just concentrate on learning the basic movements of the pieces.


46 Join the Discussion

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    • Good morning, Nick! You were RIGHT! It sounds like you and your dad know a lot about chess, too! Thank you for being the FIRST Wonder Friend to comment on today’s Wonder! :-)

  1. We loved learning all about Chess today! The video was great – we can’t believe a little girl that young can play chess! We can’t wait to read tomorrow’s wonder. We’re guessing that you are visiting Antarctica! Brrrrrr!

    • Thanks for letting us know you enjoyed today’s Wonder of the Day® and learning all about chess, Mrs. Underwood’s Class! You’re the second Wonder Friend to guess that we’re headed some place chilly for tomorrow’s Wonder. We can’t wait to see WHERE! :-)

    • We sure do appreciate your honesty, Cole! Thank you for letting us know what you thought about today’s Wonder! We think a future Wonder of the Day® about tractors is an AWESOME idea! :-)

    • Well, we’re glad you visited today’s Wonder and got to learn all about chess, then, Michael! We really like that we get to use strategy when we play chess. It’s awesome to exercise our brains AND have fun at the same time! :-)

  2. We thought today’s story was great! It really makes us want to learn how to play chess and try it out! It’s surprising that such a little girl can play chess that good. We think that maybe you will be going to Alaska tomorrow. We’ll have to wait and see!

    • We thought the girl in the video was super skilled at chess for being so young, too, Mrs. Newland’s Class! You guys ROCK for visiting today’s Wonder and leaving us a comment! :-)

  3. I think tomorrow’s wonder of the day is about Antartica down south. I enjoyed today’s wonder of the day. I’ve never played chess, but since I’ve read this, I think I will play.

    • We’re really happy that you were inspired to try playing chess from what you learned in today’s Wonder of the Day®, Jesse! Way to go! :-)

  4. Wow! The video was so awesome. What a 3-4 yr old playing chess? That is pretty cool. I also play chess myself and I am not very good. So this might be your first comment today maybe so I am going to make it good. I love how you tell us what the pieces do and how they move. I can’t believe chess has been lively all these centuries. WONDER of the days are cool, but it is too bad that I can’t comment every day. Well, I haven’t read any of your latest posts so I think I am going to do that. So, bye.

    • Hi, Austin! We’re super happy to hear from you today! We thought your comment was SPECTACULAR! We bet you are great at playing chess, too! We hope you have fun visiting Wonderopolis today and catching up on some learning from the Wonders we’ve shared since the last time you visited! :-)

  5. Okay, sorry, maybe I am not the first to comment. But I went back to the “Do You Believe In UFOs” and read it again. Also, thank you for sending me that link about “What is Gibberish.” But anyway like I said, I will get on this website and comment if I have the chance and I am super sorry for commenting twice a day but I just can’t help it. It’s just you guys rule. Okay to the topic. I think that chess was invented by Greek gods and goddesses. Or, no I think it was the sages. Oh, sorry got to go.

    • Hi again, Austin! Don’t worry…we REALLY appreciate that you left us more than one comment today! You can visit Wonderopolis any time you like. We know you are a busy dude, so we’re just happy you visit us when you can! Thanks for that! :-)

  6. What wonderful memories. One of our elementary teachers @ Oscar Hinger-Rex Reeves, Betsey Huntington, her mom, Mary, her sister, Nancy & her brother Jerry would volunteer each week to not only help the kids to read but also taught them Chess. The kids loved it. This is something that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives. You never know when you touch a life.

    • Thanks so much for sharing this WONDERful personal connection to learning, sharing and CHESS today, Sharon! We appreciate when our Wonder Friends share a little more about themselves and their memories. It helps us all relate and find another level of meaning in each Wonder of the Day®! :-)

  7. A lot of our students know how to play chess! We couldn’t believe how young the girl was who was playing chess in the video! Our school has a chess tournament going on this week. Several students from our third grade class are involved in it.
    We think tomorrow you will be in Antarctica!

    • That’s so cool that you guys have a chess tournament going on at your school this week, Mrs. Watson’s Class! GOOD LUCK to all of our Wonder Friends who are involved in the tournament! Thank you for visiting today’s Wonder and for sharing such a FUN connection to it! :-)

    • Sure, Jacob! Checkers and chess have a few things in common! For one, they are both played on an 8-square X 8-square game board. Secondly, they are both games where one person plays another one person and BOTH players have to use strategy to try and win! They are also both SUPER fun to play! :-)

  8. Dear WONDERopolis,

    Our class really enjoyed learning about chess and we can’t wait to have a chess tournament in our classroom.

    We learned that chess is a difficult game to learn in the beginning, but as you practice it will become easier. Another thing we learned were the playing pieces names and their jobs. Wow, that is a lot of information to remember!

    This WONDER left us wondering who invented chess? Our prediction for tomorrow’s wonder is that we will be visiting ANTARCTICA.


    • That was a lot of WONDERful learning about chess and a GREAT prediction for tomorrow’s Wonder, TEAM CAISSE! We’re proud of you! We hope you guys have LOTS of fun with your classroom chess tournament! Please let us know how it goes! :-)

  9. This is Jack from Mrs. Bradsis’ 7th bell. I think the next wonder will be Antartica. I already knew this because I love chess.

  10. That sounds great. When I went to elementary, school our teacher, Mrs. Ripka taught us how to play chess. It was a club that we would sign up for and I signed up for it and I think tomorrow’s wonder of the day should be about the north pole or south pole or about Egypt. :) Egypt sounds like a great place to go and explore. I would love to learn about cleopatra and her sister or her treasures. :)

    • We think it would be fun to explore Egypt, too, Jewels! Thank you for sharing your personal connection to this Wonder…we think it’s AWESOME that you signed up to play chess! :-)

  11. Thanks for another great wonder. It was cool in the video how the man knocked over the girl’s chess piece. What is the clock for? It was funny how the girl said “it’s your turn” each time she was finished with her move. It sounded very confusing as to how each chess piece could move. How does anyone remember how the pieces should move?

    • Hello, Carly and Madison! The clock is used to keep track of how long the game actually lasts. When each person makes a new move, they tap the clock to “stop” the time on their side. When time stops on one side, it automatically starts on the other. We know it seems like a lot of information to learn in order to play chess, but we think once you play a few times, it will become much easier to remember! :-)

  12. I’ve Never played chess before. Mainly because nobody has taught me. I guess now I can play with my Grandpa sometime…I think tommorow’s WONDER should be about the making of gum! :) <3. Seairra .

  13. I LOVE CHESSS!!!!! I think tomorrow it will be about the south pole. Maybe Antartica (shivers). My class loved the video…what a smart little girl.

    • Hello, Kate! We agree…the little girl in the video was super smart to be so strategic about chess at such a young age. Can you imagine how much more awesome she will be at playing it when she gets older? We bet she is a great competitor, too! :-)

  14. Dear Wonderopolis,
    A checkmate is a move in checkers that you do to take your opponent’s piece. I think tomorrow’s wonder is about snowflakes or penguins or the ocean!
    Paige ;)

    • Maybe someday we will make a Wonder about Wonderopolis, Mrs. Armfelt’s third grade class! We think that’s a SUPER idea! :-)

  15. The game which involves a lot of thinking power is chess. I know how to play it, but often I lose when I play with my DAD. He plays very well. I should learn the strategies of the game. Irrespective of the matter of winning of the game, I would love to play. Thanks, wonderopolis for giving such wonderful information.

    Looking forward to see what the next wonder is…………

  16. I love chess. I have a game that has chess,checkers,and chinese checkers. I can
    play chess on the computer also.

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Have you ever wondered…

  • What is checkmate?
  • How long has chess been around?
  • How do the chess pieces move?

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Ready to play chess? If you have a friend or family member that knows how to play, ask them to teach you the rules and play a few games with them.

If you can’t find anyone to play with, you can always use an online chess tutorial to learn the rules and then play games of chess online!


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Check out Smithsonian’s History Explorer to see McClellan’s Chess Set, a chess set used by Major General George McClellan during the Civil War!


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