Every chess piece has a unique way to move on the board, but some pieces are similar. Diagonal moves are surprisingly common in the game of chess, since the majority of pieces can move in this manner.
There are four chess pieces that are allowed to move diagonally: the bishop, king, queen, and pawn (when attacking). The bishop is the only chess piece that may move any number of unoccupied squares in any diagonal direction.
While kings, queens, bishops can all move diagonally in any direction (even when attacking), the pawn is the odd one out in this list. Pawns may only attack diagonally in a forward direction. They only do so when attacking the opponent’s chess pieces, within the attack range of a single diagonal square.
The first chess piece people think about when talking about diagonal movement is the bishop. In essence, the diagonal movement is what defines bishops: they cannot do anything else. The bishop is the only chess piece that can only move diagonally.
According to the rules of chess, the bishop may move any number of unoccupied squares in any diagonal direction. Bishops also attack other pieces in a diagonal direction. After attacking, the bishop must take the position of the opponent’s chess piece they manage to capture.
Since a player starts with two bishops in their arsenal, the whole chessboard can theoretically be covered by two bishops. There is always one bishop that moves on the white squares, and another bishop that moves on the black squares.
One might not immediately think about the king when referring to pieces that move diagonally. However, the old man is definitely allowed to move one square in any diagonal direction. However, the king has the following restrictions:
- The rules of chess do not allow the king to check (or checkmate) itself. Therefore, the king may not move onto a square that is currently under attack by an opponent’s piece.
- Just like other chess pieces, a king may not move onto a square that is currently occupied by pieces of the same color.
- Different from other chess pieces, a king may not move onto a square that is currently occupied by actively defended pieces of the opponent’s color. In other words: if an opponent’s piece is defended the king may not take it.
- If the king moves before castling, the special chess move is no longer allowed. This follows from the four rules of castling.
The king is not the fastest at walking across the board, but he is allowed to move in any direction. Not only can he move diagonally, but also horizontally and vertically. Kings are also allowed to attack other unprotected pieces, on the exact same squares they are allowed to move. Learn more about all the available king moves in this overview.
It comes as no surprise that the queen is capable of moving in any diagonal direction. As the master of movement in chess, the queen has the ability to swiftly move across the board diagonally, horizontally, as well as vertically. The diagram above shows the squares she is allowed to move on in a single turn.
In essence, the queen moves and attacks like the bishop and rook combined.
Queens have the ability to move any number of unoccupied squares. They attack pieces of the opponent’s color in a similar way as the bishop. She simply attacks and captures a piece, and takes their square after the attack. Learn more about all the available queen moves in this overview.
The odd ones out in this overview of diagonally moving chess pieces are the pawns. A pawn is usually a piece that can only move forward in a horizontal direction. Usually one square per turn, but their first move can be two squares.
However, the horizontally moving pawn transforms into a diagonal chess piece as soon as it attacks an opponent. Pawns can only attack forward diagonally, the rules of chess do not allow a pawn to move or attack backwards.
But there is another special way a pawn can move diagonally. A pawn that reaches the other side of the board is subject to a special chess move called ‘pawn promotion’. The pawn is then removed from the board and exchanged for a queen, bishop, knight, or rook of the same color. Obviously, the pawns transforming into a second queen or bishop can also make diagonal movements.
Perhaps you’ve also heard of the en passant move. That’s when a pawn attacks past another pawn that made a two-move ‘jump’. Thereby not allowing the pawn to attack it at all. The rules of chess include the en passant move to ‘diagonally attack past’ the pawn that moved two squares in one turn. Very special, and it definitely counts as a diagonal move as well!
Diagonal Movement In Chess
It’s pretty entertaining to think about the fact that there are so many chess pieces that can move diagonally. The movement is a bit counter-intuitive to beginners. But as long as you see squares on a chessboard as lines, it becomes quite clear how that move actually works.
We discussed the bulk of all chess piece movements in this overview, but omitted two important ones: the rook and the knight. One might even argue that the knight has the ability to move diagonally as well, although in a very awkward manner (the infamous L-shaped move).
However, the way in which the knight moves can’t really be called a diagonal chess move, since it actually moves vertically one (or two) squares, followed by a horizontal move. Or the other way around, whichever you prefer. Would you agree with this theory, or would you argue that the knights on a chessboard are also diagonally moving pieces in disguise? Let me know in the discussion below. Talk to you there!