Chess Board Setup Explained!


how to set up a chess board
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With chess being more popular than ever, you’ll likely find it referenced in cinema more and more. And it’s only logical; not many activities convey wisdom, wit, and long-term thinking as well as chess does.

That’s why it is so baffling to see how often the chessboard is wrongfully portrayed on the big screen – or any large medium -. After all, there’s only a 50% chance of setting up the board the wrong way.

We all know how influential blockbusters can be, so we decided to make this quick guide to set up the chessboard if the next big movie decides to google it before shooting a scene.


Setting up the board the right way


The chessboard is an 8×8 grid of light and dark squares and, before getting on to the chess battle, you need to set it right. Its orientations matter!

There’s a simple hack always to get it the right way: the lower-left corner should be a dark square! This is true no matter if you are playing white or black – it makes sense if you think about it as the board is symmetrical -.

Now, some boards have numbers and letters in their frame. These are coordinates, and they serve to name the files and ranks on the board. Letters for files and numbers for ranks. So, from White’s viewpoint, the first file from the left is the a file, then the b file, and up to the h file. For Black, the a file is on the right side of the board. Ranks are also counted from White’s side. The nearest to the bottom is the first rank, and the farthest is the 8th rank. For Black, the 8th rank is the most immediate, and the 1st rank is the most distant.

Now that you understand files and ranks, you can finally name squares! How? By crossing files with ranks. First look for the file a square is in and then the rank. For example, the famous lower-left square is a1 for White and h8 for Black. The square at the right of a1 is b1 and on top of a1 is a2. The square touching h8 diagonally is g7.

It takes some time getting used to understanding coordinates (it’s much easier once both players have a board in front of them). One last thing, coordinates make identifying the squares’ names easier, but their name is the same if the board didn’t have coordinates.

The board should be set up like this

If you use a board with coordinates, the lower-left square should be a1 for white and h8 for black. In practice, it doesn’t make a difference if the coordinates are set the other way around or if they are not there. But making sure the lower-left corner is a dark square is paramount! Otherwise, important chess geometry will be altered. You can learn more about chess notation in this article.


Setting the pieces up


Unless you play the chess variant known as Chess 960 or Fischer Random Chess (where the pieces are shuffled in the first rank), the chess pieces have a fixed initial position.

Both for White and Black, the rooks go on the corners of the board. Thus, the left-side rook should be on a1 and is also called the queenside rook, while its colleague goes on h1 and it is the kingside rook. For black, rooks go on a8 and h8. Notice that here you shouldn’t think in terms of left and right but in terms of queenside and kingside. So, for Black, the queenside rook is the one on a8, and the one on h8 is the kingside rook.

Rools occupy the corners of the board

Next to rooks, we place knights and then bishops. Notice that both pairs of bishops will always be in opposite colors. If you have your two bishops running in the same color complex, check your position.

Knights go next to rooks, and bishops of the same color always run on different color complexes

Now, why are they called queenside and kingside? Of course, because of the placement of the queen and king. From White’s perspective, the queen goes on d1 and for Black on d8. Notice that the queen’s initial square matches their color: d1 is a light square, and d8 is a dark square.

At this point, only one square should be empty in both sides’ bottom ranks: e1 and e8. Yes, that’s where the kings go! So from the d file to the nearest corner, that’s the queenside for both black and white. The other half of the board is the kingside.

Setting up the pawns is the easy part!

Now add eight white pawns in the second rank and eight black pawns in the seventh rank, and you have the initial position of the game of chess.

All set for your chess game!

You are set to play the game of chess. In case you need to learn how the pieces move, here‘s everything you need to know. And if you are a bit more advanced than that but still are afraid to get lost in the sea of possibilities, this post will teach you how to start the game properly.

Highlighted course

Lifetime Repertoires: Wesley So's 1. e4 - Part 1



Why is a chessboard 8×8?

Chess has undergone many transformations since its early variations till the present day. However, the 8×8 chessboard is one of the older features of the game (even casting, en passant captures, and the queen’s movement were revised afterward). The 8×8 board has enough space for all the pieces and allows a nice symmetry. Chess variations exist on 8×10 and 10×10 boards, but they make the game exponentially higher than it already is. 8×8 is quite perfect. With pawns moving two squares in their first turn, it means that a clash between both armies is never too far away.

How many 2×2 squares are in a 4×4 and 8×8 grid?

Within an 8×8 grid, there is space for sixteen sets of 2×2 squares, and four 4×4 sets.

How many squares are in a 7×7 grid?

A grid of 7×7 houses 49 squares.

How to position the board right?

Always rotate the board so that the left corner is a dark square, and your chessboard is correctly positioned, no matter what side you are on!

Do each square on a chessboard have a name?

Yes, it is possible to name the squares knowing the coordinates system, which is easy to crack. However, once you get it, you don’t even need to have coordinates to know the name of the squares. Just remember the magical a1, and you can guide yourself from there.

Where do the king and the queen go on a chessboard?

The queen and king go in the center squares of the first rank. The queen always goes in the square of its same color. That’s d1 and d8, and the kings go next to them, on e1 and e8.

How many squares are there on a chessboard?

The chessboard is a grid of 8×8, so the total amount of squares is 64. And mind you, in that space, there are more possibilities than atoms in the observable universe!

For more chess expert advice, check out this video from The Beginner’s 1. e4 Repertoire 

This video is from The Beginner’s 1. e4 Repertoire course by IM Andras Toth

Highlighted course

Lifetime Repertoires: Wesley So's 1. e4 - Part 2

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