Setting up a chess board may seem a bit complicated for the beginner, but this guide will make it seem easy and provide you with the knowledge you need to properly set up your game of chess.

Setting up a chess pieces is really quite simple and there's nothing to it. Before we look at the actual chess board setup, let's look at some of the characteristics of the board itself.

What are the dimensions on a chess board?

This partly depends on your taste and the purpose of the boards. The World Chess Federation specifies the size of a square to be about twice the diameter of a pawn's base and it's recommended that the side of a square be about 5 to 6.5 cm (2-2.6 inches). So if you want a tournament regulation chess board then you can follow these guidelines, otherwise it's up to you. The actual chess board size will be around 50.8 cm (20 inches) square.

How many squares on a chess board?

In total there are 64 squares on a traditional board, 32 are light and 32 are dark. Traditionally the lighter squares are white and the darker squares are black. A board has 8 rows and 8 columns. The rows are labeled 1-8 where row 1 is the first row on the side that the light pieces have been set up. The columns are labeled a-h where column a is the first column on the left on the side where the light pieces have been set up.

How Many Pieces Are in a Chess Set?

Each side has 16 pieces.

  • 1 King
  • 1 Queen
  • 2 Rooks
  • 2 Knights
  • 2 Bishops
  • 8 Pawns

What Are the Names of the Chess Pieces?

The game of chess is thought to have originated in India around the 6th or 7th century AD.  It is believed that the original chess pieces from ancient India were similar to the ancient Indian Army faced by Alexander the Great around 327 BC. The Indian army was divided into 4 divisions.

  • Calvary
  • Elephants
  • Foot Soldiers
  • Shah

This ancient army may well have influenced the very first styles of chess pieces. Sassanian King of Kings, Khusros II of 600 BC said " If a ruler does not understand chess, how can he rule over a kingdom?".

The oldest found authenticated pieces are made of Ivory and consist of a Shah, Vizier, War Elephants, Mounted Knights, and Soldiers. Is it possible that the first chess sets were designed to mimic ancient Indian battles?

After chess originated it spread to the Arabic middle east as well as northern Africa. During the seventh to eighth century Islam adopted chess and used their own style chess pieces. Names in English are as follows...

  • Shah
  • Vizier
  • Elephant
  • Armed Horsemen
  • Chariot
  • Foot Soldier

When Islam adapted the games they changed the shapes of the pieces. The carving of figurines was discouraged at that time by Islam and therefore pieces were carved in block-like forms with no figurine characteristics. Wood and Bone were popular materials used for pieces. Elephant Ivory was also a popular material used for carving pieces.

It was then brought to Spain by Islam around the 9th century. It also was spreading to central Asia at that time. A couple of centuries later it began appearing in the British Isles, Norway, and Indonesia. As chess moved from area to area, each culture adapted it as their own by changing form and style.

The earliest versions of chess did not use the exact same rules as we have today and modern chess history probably does not start until Islam brought it to Europe.

Around the 10th or 11th century it is thought that the Isle of Lewis chess pieces appeared in Christian Europe. These were believed to be designed by the Norsemen of Norway and were made from walrus tusk ivory.

This is when the names were changed to represent the names found in a royal court. The names of the list of all chess pieces in English are six in total.

  • King
  • Queen
  • Knight
  • Rook ( Represented by a Berserker Soldier in Lewis Style)
  • Bishop
  • Pawn (Represented by Soldier in Lewis Style)

These names stuck and are most commonly used. However, the style of the pieces themselves can vary from set to set.

Names will vary from set to set for themed chess sets. However, modern chess pieces can be mapped to their standardized piece name so that when you mention the name rook, for example, everyone knows what you're talking about regardless of the specific set being used.

How Place Chess Pieces on a Board?

When playing chess you often hear coordinates being used when moving pieces. For example, a7 to a6. This would move a dark pawn from its starting position one row forward. Below are the coordinates for the initial piece setup.

Light Pieces (white) Dark Pieces (black)
a1 (Dark Square) = Rook a8 (Light Square) = Rook
b1 (Light Square) = Knight b8 (Dark Square) = Knight
c1 (Dark Square) = Bishop c8 (Light Square) = Bishop
d1 (Light Square) = Queen d8 (Dark Square) = Queen
e1 (Dark Square) = King e8 (Light Square) = King
f1 (Light Square) = Bishop f8 (Dark Square) = Bishop
g1 (Dark Square) = Knight g8 (Light Square) = Knight
h1 (Light Square) = Rook h8 (Dark Square) = Rook
Pawns are placed across row 2 on columns
a-h.
Pawns are placed across row 7 on columns
a-h.

Take a look at this chess board visualization to get a better idea of the layout.

Chess Set Up