Although there are six types of chessmen, the game of chess is really about the king. All other pieces and pawns are there as the king's helpers or weapons. The twin objectives of a chess game are to trap the opposing king and to keep your own king free. You will learn more about these objectives in Chapter 4. This twin objective is probably what makes chess unique. Most other games are measured in accumulations of points or time or territory.
Chess pieces have been designed to look like all kinds of things. This is fine for collections and displays. But for practical play, a design is needed that is at once easily recognizable by anyone who plays and readily available. That is the Staunton design, named after its inventor, nineteenth-century Shakespearean scholar and chess master, Englishman Howard Staunton.
The chess king is not particularly strong or fast. He can move in any direction, along a rank, file, or diagonal, one square at a time. This may not sound very promising, but your monarch can have a lot of power late in the game when there are not too many other pieces around. He can have up to eight possible moves in the middle of the board, but only three possible moves from any corner.
The Black king can move to any of the five nearby dotted squares. The White king can move to any of the eight nearby dotted squares.
But the king is extremely valuable: get him trapped and you lose the game. Therefore good players often begin by hiding their big guy in an inaccessible corner, while attacking with their other pieces and pawns.
Although the king never leaves the board during a chess game, the king can capture other pieces. As long as the enemy piece is within range of the king (that means one square in any direction from where the king stands), he has the option of moving to the square occupied by the enemy piece and removing it from the board.
The pieces can be made of almost any material—wood and plastic are most common. Some chess pieces are virtual: they appear only on your computer screen. So long as there are sixteen White and sixteen Black pieces and pawns of the correct type, you have a viable set.