How to Arrange a Chess Game

Video how to set up a chess game

For those of you who can’t wait to dive into battle, here’s the proper method to arrange a chessboard:

Chess Board Setup: This is the Correct Starting Position for a Chess Game
Chess Board Setup: This is the Correct Starting Position for a Chess Game

But hold on! Before you start placing the pieces, remember that the orientation of the board is crucial. Both players should have a dark square on their lower left corner.

From the perspective of the white player, the chessboard setup follows these steps:

The Board

Both players must have a dark square in their lower left corner.


The square with coordinates a1 is located in the lower left corner for the white player.


The white queen is positioned on the white, middle square of the back row.


The white king stands next to the queen, occupying the dark, middle square.


The two bishops are placed adjacent to the king and queen in the back row.


The knights occupy the squares directly beside each bishop.


Both rooks fill the corners of the back row.


All eight pawns are placed in the row in front of the other pieces.

The placement of the black pieces mirrors that of the white pieces. This arrangement is called a vis-à-vis position, which means face-to-face. Just a little French lesson for you!

Sometimes, a picture and some text aren’t enough to fully understand a concept. Linus has created a short video explaining the chess starting position in under a minute (well, maybe the intro was a bit too long):

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Watch the Video Here

We also have a helpful animation in case you’re on the go and want to conserve your precious mobile data:

chess board setup - proper starting position animated
This Animated Diagram Shows the Proper Setup of the Chess Board

If you’re having trouble identifying the pieces, the following diagram should assist you:

Proper Chess Board Setup - Identifying the Chess Pieces
Proper Chess Board Setup – Identifying the Chess Pieces

  • The king is the tallest piece in chess.
  • The queen stands out with her elegant crown.
  • The bishop is the third tallest piece and often has a distinct cut at the top.
  • The knight is represented by the head and torso of a horse.
  • The rook has a unique castle-like shape on top.
  • The pawn, the most numerous and smallest chess piece.

Let’s delve deeper into how the pieces should be placed on the board. In this section, we’ll provide helpful tips so that you won’t have to refer back to this page for the proper chess starting position (wait, that’s not good for us, right?).

The Correct Orientation of the Chess Board

Every chessboard consists of 64 squares in total, made up of 8 squares horizontally and vertically (8 x 8 = 64, you got it!). Each square has a unique designation, combining a letter and a number. We cover this extensively in our comprehensive guide to chess notation, but here’s a quick summary.

Looking from White’s perspective, the squares are alphabetically ordered from left to right, ranging from “a” to “h”. From bottom to top, each square is assigned a number from “1” to “8”. This results in a number-letter combination to identify each square.

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What does this mean for arranging the chessboard? To ensure consistent starting positions and subsequent notation in every game, White’s lower left square should be named “a1”. In turn, Black’s lower left square should be “h8”. This eliminates any confusion when recording your chess moves. Plus, you don’t want to be the one setting up the board incorrectly during a tournament and receiving odd looks. So let’s avoid that!

Placing the Queen Correctly

Here’s where most chess beginners stumble, so pay close attention. The white queen always occupies the white, middle square of the back row. This is why people say “white queen – white square” and “black queen – black square.” It’s all about the queens matching their outfits, so place them accordingly.

The queen is usually easy to spot with her regal crown. If you’re still struggling to identify her, look for the second tallest chess piece. It’s always the queen unless you’re playing with some bizarre chess set we’ve never heard of.

Proper King Position

The king is the tallest chess piece, so he’s hard to miss. Place the white king right next to the queen, in the middle square of the back row. The white king should be on a dark square, while the black king should be on a light square. Now, you should have your king and queen sitting side by side in the middle of the back row. Isn’t that a romantic sight?

The Missing Pieces (Bishops, Knights, Rooks & Pawns)

Once you’ve successfully positioned your king and queen on the board, arranging the remaining pieces should be a breeze. Here are the three pairs of pieces that need placement: two bishops, two knights, and two rooks. All of them belong in the back row.

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Place the two bishops directly beside the king and queen on the same row. Position both knights on the squares next to the bishops. Complete the back row by placing the rooks in the corners (a1 and a8 for White; h1 and h8 for Black).

Don’t forget to complete the chess setup by positioning all your pawns in front of the other pieces!

And that’s it! Congratulations, you now know how to set up a complete chess set. Any further questions? Feel free to shoot me a message over on our contact page.

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