32 Absolutely Useful Chess Game Rules You Need To Know

chess game rules

Chess rules or chess game rules why you need to learn them?

You are not planning to play in chess tournaments yet…   But you want to learn the basic rules, the right chess moves and how to play chess in chess tournaments.  

What you need to learn first is the chess game rules, it is beneficial for you to learn some of the chess rules that chess players follow during a chess game.  

Well, luckily I want to learn the same thing… 😉   Because I want to teach my daughter what are the essential chess rules that you need to remember and some chess etiquette that we also need to keep in mind during a chess game ( not following chess etiquette can cause you your match, seriously).  

So, I created this simple guide of chess game rules from the most basic to more serious chess rules that you can memorize or simply use as a guide whenever you are playing chess.   Here are the 32 useful chess game rules.

32 Absolutely useful chess game rules you need to know

Here is another recommended article for you to read later:
Click the link to read more about “Chess Pawn Rules for beginners

1. There should always be 64 squares of alternating colors

The funny thing about this first chess game rule is, I tried to search for this explanation online… 🙂   And I saw this clever answer on how many squares does a chessboard have – they say it’s 204! lol!  

Mathematically the answer 204 is right?! But in chess game rules the answer is 64 squares of alternating colors…   Don’t forget the “alternating colors” phrase… 🙂  

The alternating colors consist of 32 light squares and 32 dark squares, and the chess board is 8 by 8 grid.

Note: If this simple rule is not met, then the game should be discontinued, and used an appropriate chess board.

2. There should always be a light square on your right

Besides having a 64 square with alternating colors for the chess board…   You should also keep in mind that there should be a light square (last square) on your right.  

It’s going to be occupied by a Rook.   The importance of this is you can identify if you have placed your Queens in the right position while setting up the game.  

If you are playing white and you have a light square on your right, then your Queen should be placed on the white square.   Both players (white and black) can use this to correct any illegal positions before starting a game.

3. The chess squares can be identified with numbers and letters

During a chess game, especially a chess tournament, chess moves are almost always required to be recorded.  

Chess game rules use the squares to identify the chess moves to reproduce the game for disputes just in case.   Chess notation is being used, with corresponding algebraic notation.  

The numbers and letters should be relatively easy to read during a game, and chess players should have an idea on how to read and write chess notation (even without labels on the chessboard).

4. The Chess positions should be checked before starting

If you just started playing chess and want to join chess tournaments.   The worse thing that can happen after playing at least before 10 moves let’s say, and you have a winning position is that the arbiter or tournament director will ask you and your opponent to play from the very start…  

Because of illegal positions or simply, the pieces are in the wrong places after starting.   Always check the positions before ever starting a serious game.  

Note: The third chess game rule above can be your ultimate guide to avoid playing with wrong positions.

5. Chess game starts with a shake hand

Chess players are smart and show respect to their opponent…  

Have you seen Bobby Fischer’s movie?!   Never mind… 😉   The game should always start with a shake hand. I believe it was given as a chess rule to begin a game with a “shake hand” otherwise you forfeit.  

Respect your opponent and the arbiter always.   You don’t want to lose a game just because you don’t want to shake your opponent’s hand.

6. Chess Players or Arbiters can decide who goes first

What this means is who plays white or black…   When I played in tournaments before, I never get to decide to play black or white.  

The tournament director tells us who plays white or black, but I also experienced doing a toss coin to determine who plays white… And most of the time I play white! 🙂  

If you are a beginner who likes playing white, but you know you can’t control which color you are going to play during tournaments…  

Learn and practice playing both white and black; you will be more confident and probably win more games than I am.

7. Chess Players must know proper pawn promotion

I believe this is one of the essential chess game rules that chess players should know about…  

I’ve seen several chess games where chess players have been denied of pawn promotion or even lose the game because of not executing proper pawn promotion.  

Chess game rules suggest that you should have the chess piece on your hand that you are going to use for your pawn promotion.  

You need to clarify also whether you need to hit the clock first before pawn promotion…  

Also, some chess game rules do not allow for an inverted Rook as a Queen when a pawn is promoted or ask the arbiter first regarding the rules before playing.

8. Chess Players must know Fifty-move rule

This chess game rule should be first introduced to the chess player clearly, especially if your playing with a beginner…   When I was learning chess, and I reached an end game with my dad, he started counting 1,2,3,4…  

Did I ask him why? Then he just explained to me about the fifty-move rule…   Sometimes even if you assume that a chess player should know this fifty-move rule beforehand still some of newer chess players need to be briefed about this before playing.

9. Chess Players must know Three fold repetition rule

The same thing with the fifty-move rule…   You should know how to identify if you or your opponent made a three fold repetition rule.  
Knowing this chess rule will help you play better and you will learn how to use this rule or even learn how to avoid this in your next chess match.  

So, chess players must know this rule to avoid getting into any bad situation.

10. Chess Players must know how to castle

Which one should you touch first…  

The King or Rook?   When you are about to do castling, you should know what to touch first. Chess players, especially beginners, make this common mistake and in a chess tournament, this rule in castling should be strictly followed.  

Castling starts with touching the King first, do not forget this chess game rule.   You can lose a match when you make a mistake of touching the Rook first.

11. Use only one hand

Chess game rules say that chess players should only use one hand in moving chess pieces…   And only use that hand in hitting the chess clock as well.  

I know there are some instances that this cannot be followed; you need to inform the arbiter or tournament director before even starting to play.

12. A chess move cannot be retracted

I have experienced playing with my friends, where they keep on retracting their move…   Many times…   I call it a rubber band move! 🙂  

If you are not familiar with this rule and you do retract your moves, then you need to stop doing that.   You cannot retract a legal move, but if it has been agreed upon that it is an illegal move, then there is the possibility that you can change your move.  

The arbiter should always be involved when this happens during your chess match.

13. Do not distract your opponent

Your family cheering you can motivate you…but that is not allowed in a chess game, not even having an unmuted cellphone.  

Chess game rule says that you are not allowed to distract your opponent, or even talk to your opponent.  

Complete silence during a game is ideal but can be very difficult to achieve.   The only requirement is you or your family should avoid creating any distractions to your opponent during an actual chess game or tournament.  

You may get forfeited or lose the game.

14. Alternate colors when doing a rematch

When playing a rematch, the chess game rules require us to change or play alternating colors on rematch…   What it means is that if you were playing white the first match, then you should be playing black on the second match.  

And the same thing on the third, fourth and so on.   You don’t need to do a toss coin again or ask the arbiter who plays white or black again.

15. Follow the assigned time

There will be a designated time set placed on a chess clock…   The tournament director will determine the time, and rules set with the time should be strictly followed at all times.  

If you somehow deviate from the assigned time, the arbiter or tournament director may forfeit you.  

Better ask the arbiter or tournament director what are the rules against the assigned time before you start playing.   Always follow the assigned time to avoid getting into any problematic issues.

16. Time starts for white

When the tournament begins, the white’s chess clock timer is going to run immediately…  

Chess game rules that the white player’s chess clock will be started first, for the first move.   There are a few rules that I read that you need to follow, like if you are going to be late for the tournament before the start…your timer should be started at this point if you are going to play white.  

Failing to come to the tournament on a specific time will cause you the game.   In general, when you are playing a chess tournament or any chess game using a clock, the white’s timer will start first.

17. Complete a move by a chess clock

When playing with a chess clock in tournaments or even in practice sessions, you need to get used to hitting the chess clock after making a chess move.  

If you do forget stopping your clock and starting your opponent’s chess clock, then you can lose a significant amount of time…   Nobody is going to tell you to hit your chess clock after moving to stop it from running; it’s not even your opponent’s obligation to tell you that.  

And one of the critical chess game rule you need to remember is you need to hit the chess clock with the same hand you used for moving the chess pieces.

18. Do not hover over the chess clock

Chess game rules say that you cannot hover over the chess clocks…   Hovering your hand over the chess clock is illegal and can cause you the game; you cannot just hover or wave your hand over the chess clock to be able to stop the timer from running.  

Doing so will force the arbiter to forfeit you from the game.  

There are only two things you need to keep in mind, first is never place your hand hovering over the chess clock, the second is do not forget to hit the chess clock after every time you make a move.

19. Be careful with chess clocks

Be very careful with chess clocks… 🙂   What does this mean?   Well, there are chess game rules that strictly prohibit chess players from hitting the chess clocks hard.  

Abuse of the chess clock can get you in trouble, arbiter or tournament director can forfeit your game.   If you brought your chess clock, then you can do whatever you want I guess… 🙂  

Either way, if abuse with chess clocks happens during a game, you can call the attention of the arbiter or tournament director.

20. Write the chess moves

Chess game rules require chess players to write the chess moves for proper records during tournaments and trying to report any faults, so on…  

This requirement of writing the chess moves or chess notation has been very valuable not only for arbiters to check any disputes but even for chess enthusiasts like you and me.  

We can track the chess moves and analyze popular game first hand, and we can learn valuable information like strategies and tactics if we have the chess moves written.  

Specific chess rules allow chess players not to write the chess moves.   This is exceptions to this chess rule that you need to know.

21. Exemption in writing the chess moves

Particular chess tournaments do not require chess players to write the chess moves…   If the chess player is disabled or handicap, the arbiter or tournament director will allow exemption in writing chess moves during the game.  

There can be alternatives like another person will write the chess moves on behalf of the chess player or none at all.  

The other exception that does not involve handicap chess player is that when the chess clock is already less than 5 minutes, the chess players are allowed to stop writing chess moves.

22. Four chess play formats

If you are planning to join a chess tournament any time soon, there’s a good chance that you will be playing with either these three chess play formats.  

  • Round-Robin format
  • Swiss System format
  • Single Elimination format
  • Match competition format

Round-Robin format   This type of chess play format is suitable for fewer chess players, and this is regarded as a more accurate way to assess a chess players performance.  

Because all chess players will have to face each other during the duration of the chess tournament.   And a chess player with a loss or bad performance can still have a chance to win the ultimate prize because the results are appropriately evaluated together with other chess players in the game.    

Swiss System format   This type of chess play format is used for a large number of chess players. The rule orders all chess players by their ratings and those chess players without any ratings are ranked alphabetically.  

The best thing about the Swiss System format is that chess players on the same team cannot face each other, to avoid any questionable results in the game.  
Single Elimination format   This is a chess play format wherein if you lose in a game you immediately lose the chance to win the tournament first prize.  

Although besides the first prize, chess players who lose immediately will now have to play for a chance to win the next award.  

Match competition format   This isn’t precisely a tournament, but this format is usually used in a world championship chess game.  

Because there are only two players in this chess play format, these two chess players are going to compete with each other for a set of a predetermined number of chess games.  

This game will decide who is going to be the next champion or world champion in chess.

23. Only four known ways to end a chess game

In a chess game, there are only four ways a chess game can end. This is a basic chess game rule and should be familiar to chess enthusiast as well.   When playing in a tournament, you should be aware of these four ways.

  • Checkmate
  • Draw
  • Resignation
  • Timer runs out

Checkmate   This is the primary goal of the game, and it’s only right to mention that a chess game ends by having your opponent’s King checkmated or your King being checkmated.  

This means that the goal was achieved with a well-planned finishing attack to the King.  

Draw   Different types of scenario can achieve this in chess games.   Most common that I think you have already heard is the stalemate, where there is no legal move for the King.  

Another Draw situation is three fold repetition, fifty-move rule, draw by agreement and draw by neither player can perform a checkmate.  

Resignation   I do think this is the ultimate win in any chess game.   Having to end a game without ever reaching a checkmate but having your opponent to declare resignation is I guess a better way to win.  

It’s like you have broken down your opponent during the game and can no longer bear it. 🙂  

Timer runs out   This one involves a piece of equipment that is set during the game.   The chess clock could end the game even if checkmate did not happen at all…  

A chess players time is essential in every game if you don’t know how to manage your time during a match, then chess game rules say that if you run out of time, you lose the game.

24. Two ways to reject a draw

Now that we are familiar with ending a game by a draw.   Chess players should also know that they can reject a draw.   And there are two ways in rejecting a draw during a chess game:

  • Make a move
  • Verbally say it

Make a move   If a chess player offers a draw to their opponent and the opponent makes a move, then that is considered a rejection of the draw offer and should continue with the game.  

Verbally say it   When a chess player offers a draw to their opponent, and the opponent verbally rejects it, then the opponent should make a move which means the game should continue.

(You may also like to read this article: Can you undo a move in chess? )

25. Scoring the games

Chess tournaments, especially chess play formats that require scoring to determine the ultimate chess champion follows the standard scoring system.   A chess player who loses will get zero points, a winner will get one point, and a draw game will get a half point each.

26. Clear your doubts with an Arbiter

It’s the arbiters responsibility to clear any doubts of a chess player at the very beginning of the game.  

But sometimes the arbiter cannot right away interfere with both chess players personally settling chess agreement during the actual game.  

The best way to settle any discussion or agreement is first to call the attention of the arbiter and clearly state to the arbiter what was the agreement all about.   Then the arbiter can decide or make a decision appropriately.

27. The arbiter can apply penalties

The arbiter is assigned to make sure that there will be no unwanted interference and that the chess tournament will run smoothly.   You need to remember that the arbiter can apply significant penalties to any game or chess players.  

I do remember watching a chess game where an arbiter reduced a chess players score because of some illegal moves.

28. Additional minutes for illegal moves

This is one of the penalties an arbiter can impose to any chess player.   The chess game rules say that an arbiter can add two minutes to an opponent of an offending chess player.  

This is being followed strictly by a different organization, two minutes additional for the opponent because of an illegal move.

29. Chess players should avoid stalling

Why would a chess player even stall?   Well, I’ve read, or I’ve seen some chess players tend to stall whenever they are in a losing position.  

You may think that this can never happen in a chess tournament, well this should be implemented of course.  

Instead of wasting time with a losing chess player who wants to run the time and does not make any move at all.

30. Resign when losing

What they should do is precisely this next rule…   When they are clearly losing, they should offer to resign, but I do know that arbiter can do this as well.  

If the chess player keeps on playing even if it is a clear losing position, the arbiter can interfere and declare the game is lost for the chess player.   Thus, resignation should be the chess players next move.

31. Adjourn the game

There is this chess game rule that if a chess game is not finished during a prescribed time, the game can be adjourned.   Following a proper procedure wherein the arbiter should agree, then the game can be adjourned.

Of course, both of the chess players need to follow a precise process before adjourning the game is approved.  

I have read that a game can be adjourned with the chess moves being sealed and identification should be written in the enveloped.  

The process to adjourn the game is not that complicated compared to another set of rules in continuing the game the next day.

32. End with a shake hand

Now from the very start of the chess tournament, both players should shake hand each other to show respect.  

The same thing should be done when the chess game ends…   A proper shake hand when the game ends will signal that the game has ended.  

And the chess game has declared a winner or a draw, whatever the result the important thing is both players played their best and end with a shake hand. 🙂

Check out ChessDelights chess recommendations here.

Wrapping Up

These chess game rules are guides for beginners and for those who want to experience playing sets of tournament rules on their home or with friends.

🙂   This is an excellent set of rules you can use and keep in mind whenever you are playing chess, even if it’s not a chess tournament.   Proper etiquette and some essential rules mentioned above should give you the advantage already when you are about to join chess tournaments.  

If you are teaching your kids chess, then this selection of chess game rules can be a good starting point for your kid.  

I hope you were able to pick up new chess stuff in this article which you can add to your chess knowledge.  

What else should be added in this guide? Just comment below and will try to add them as soon as possible.   As always have fun learning chess! 🙂

Gary Flores

Hi there! I'm a dad with kids who loves to learn how to play chess by learning online - also, this is my way of refreshing my knowledge about this game of tactics & strategy. I created chessdelights.com to inspire people who are also learning, re-learning or teaching their kids the game of chess.

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