Chess Piece Set Up & Board Layout for Beginners

chess pieces setup for beginners blog image

If you are a beginner, you should know that you will need 16 black and 16 white pieces. For a more detailed overview of chess pieces set up, with more visuals, learn how to set up a chessboard.

Frequently Asked Questions

How are chess pieces set up?

The easiest way to remember how to set the chess pieces up on the board is to work from the outside in.

Starting on the outside you place the rooks on each corner of the first rank. Next to the rooks, you place the knights and then the bishops next to the knights.

This leaves you with two squares for the king and queen. The queen goes on the square of the same color and the king stands next to his queen.

What are the 16 pieces in chess called?

To begin with, eight chess pieces for each side are called pawns. Then there are one king, one queen, two rooks, knights, and bishops.

How is the chessboard numbered?

The board is numbered with a combination of letters and numbers to help you get the chess pieces set up correctly and to record moves in a game.

The bottom left-hand corner, on the white side, is the a1-square. Moving across the board to the right each file gets its own letter – a, b, c, d, e, f, g, and h.

Each row across called a rank in chess, gets a number counting up from the first rank on the White side – 1 up to 8. There are eight ranks and eight files on a chessboard.

GM Susan Polgar is known as an excellent coach for chess players of all levels. Thus, there’s nobody better to teach you how to play chess. In this video, she shows us how the squares are numbered.

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Does chess board orientation matter?

Yes, the orientation of the chessboard matters. In light of this, if you do not have a white, or light square, in White’s right-hand corner pieces will end up on the wrong square.

For example, White’s dark square bishop will be to the right of the king instead of next to the queen.

Another reason it is important to get the orientation right is to help you read chess books. The author might mention “weak light squares around the king” and you will be looking at dark squares.

How do you orient a chessboard?

To set up the chess pieces and orientate the board correctly remember “White on the right.” In view of this, it means White’s right-hand corner must be a white, or light, square.

Why does white go first in chess?

Up until the 1800s, players would draw colors and then have a second draw to decide who goes first. Having the same color go first makes studying chess easier.

Which is more powerful: the bishop or the knight?

The bishop and the knight are called minor pieces and both have the same points value (3). However, it is the game position and not how the chess pieces get set up on the board that determines if a bishop is stronger than the knight.

Bishops have a longer range and prefer open positions. Because they can jump over pieces knights prefer a closed position.

Can you promote a pawn to a second queen?

Yes, you can promote a second and even a third or fourth pawn to a queen. With this in mind, be careful not to make the mistake of the beginner who promoted several pawns to queens and stalemated his opponent.

What is the weakest piece in chess?

The weakest piece in chess is the pawn, but this is balanced by the fact that the pawn can get promoted to a more powerful piece when it reaches the eighth rank.

Chess pieces set up:

Each player has 8 pawns at the beginning of a chess game. Pawns are the least valuable chess pieces on the chessboard. While you are still an amateur, it’s no real drama if you lose one of the pawns during the game.

The pawns form a protective wall in front of your other pieces, as GM Susan Polgar explains.

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Each player also has 4 minor pieces at the beginning of a game – two knights and two bishops. Knights and bishops are worth about 3 pawns.  Moreover, each player has two rooks which are more valuable chess pieces, being worth 5 pawns.

Triple Weighted 3.75 King Black White 1200 1
From left to right – pawn, rook, king, queen, bishop, and knight.

The queen, the second tallest chess piece on the chessboard, is also the second precious piece of the game. Each player has one queen who is extremely powerful and worth 9 pawns. Do you see how important she is? She is worth more than all the pawns which you possess.

In the graphic on the right, you can see how the chess pieces look like, and from now on, identify them without any problems:

However, the most important chess piece is the king! Throughout the whole game, you must care for his safety – otherwise, you’ll lose the game. The main goal in the chess game is to checkmate the king.

Thus, while you have attack your opponent’s king, yours must always be in a safe place, protected by the other pieces. You can’t count your king’s value in pawns because these would be endless.

The Chess Board Set-Up:

Chess Pieces Set Up: The Definitive Guide For Chess Beginners

Before we see how the chess pieces are set up, let us look at the chessboard structure itself. The chessboard consists of 64 squares.

Half of the squares are white, and the other half is black, spread out evenly. By the way, half of the chess pieces are also white while the other half is black.

The chessboard has the shape of a quadrant, consisting of 8 horizontal lines (called ranks) and 8 vertical lines (called files).

Numbers indicate the horizontal lines from 1 to 8 and the vertical lines with the letters a to h.

Consequently, a number and a letter are matched to each square, making it easier to explain where the chess pieces get set up.

White on the right - an easy way to remember the light square goes in the bottom right corner

If you are the player with the white pieces, your chess pieces are set up on the first two ranks – lines 1 and 2 – at the beginning of the game.

Whereas, if you are the player with the black pieces, your chess pieces are set up on the last two ranks – lines 7 and 8 – at the start of the game.

From White’s perspective, the chessboard without the chess pieces looks like the image on the right.

Here’s a useful tip to make sure your chessboard is oriented correctly: “White on the right.” If the bottom right square is white, your chessboard is facing the right way.

What are the appropriate chess pieces set up?

  • 1: If your board has letters and numbers, the players should sit on the edge of the board with the letters.
  • 2: The bottom-right corner should be light-colored.
  • 3: The pawns are the chess pieces set up on the second row, from each player’s point of view.
  • 4: Rooks are the chess pieces set up in the corners.
  • 5: Knights are the chess pieces set up next to the rooks.
  • 6: Bishops are the chess pieces set up next to the knights.
  • 7: The queen is the chess piece set up in her own color.
  • 8: The king is the chess piece set up to the last square remaining.
  • 9: Double-check everything

Here’s how the chessboard should look before the start of a chess game.

How the chess pieces appear at the start of a game.

Now that you know how the board looks with all the pieces, here is a guide to how we get to the starting position.

First, start with the rooks.

Rooks half board
Rooks go in each corner

Then place the knights next to the rooks.

Knights go next to the rooks

The bishops start next to the knights. Remember, bishops and knights are both called minor pieces and they stick together.

Bishops go next to the other minor piece – the knights.

Always place the queen on the square of the same color. That is d1 for White and d8 for Black.

Queen is always on the square of the same color.

Now that his army is in place it’s time for the king to take up his position.

The White king stands on e1 and the Black king on e8

Now it is time for the pawns to form a protective wall for your king along the second rank.

Pawns go across the second rank in front of your other pieces.

Final Thoughts on the Chess Pieces Set Up

Even if you cannot yet play like a grandmaster, you can still do everything in your power to appear like a pro before the game starts. You can learn how to fill out the score sheet, and you can learn chess etiquette – you can make some polite chitchat before the game starts and wish your opponent luck with a firm and sincere handshake.

But if you do not know how the proper chess pieces are set up, it will immediately flag you as a rank beginner (or a patzer, in chess parlance).

Learning how the chess pieces are set up and the correct chess board setup may look complicated at first, but after a little practice, you will get the hang of it.

You might even be able to land the first psychological blow of the battle if your opponent has their chess pieces set up incorrectly – nothing will make you feel quite so smug as pointing out that your adversary has put their queen on the wrong square before the game has even begun!

How to Make Sure the Positions are Correct

Before starting the game, do one final check of the pieces and their positions to ensure that the chess pieces set up have been done correctly.

  • Are all the squares on the first and second row occupied?
  • Have you used all the pieces in the chess set?
  • Do all the pieces mirror each other? (For example, the White king should directly face the Black king on the other side of the board)
  • Is the bottom-right square (from either player’s perspective) a light square? If not, you will have to go back to step 1 and start again! 

Once you have all the chess pieces set up, the real game begins. Remember, the player with the White pieces always moves first. If you are playing in a friendly game, you can decide who plays White and who plays Black by tossing a coin, hiding a pawn of each color behind your back, and getting your opponent to choose, or simply by agreement.

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