08 February 2015

The Rule of Four

Chess sets with missing pieces are commonplace. As I take a dozen chess sets into many classrooms year after year in order to teach beginners, I have spent a bit of time looking for ways to prevent misplaced chess pieces.

My system is not perfect--none is--but the number of chess pieces lost from a dozen chess sets and many hundreds of young hands has been minimal. I teach second graders and other young players to put chess pieces in the bag according to the "rule of four". Start with the royalty: two queens and two kings, four pieces. Then, four bishops (the clergy). Four cavalry (knights). Four chariots (the original name for the rook). Then, four pawns, four pawns, four pawns, and four more pawns.

If at any point four pieces are not easily found, check the floor.

I put away my own chess sets by the same method.

The Orphanage
Some pieces still become misplaced. I keep a plastic bag with misplaced pieces in my chess bag. Young players in my chess clubs have learned to call this bag the orphanage.


  1. When I saw the title of this post on my RSS feed, immediately I thought it was related to the worst book I have ever read , which had the same title.

    Luckily, I took the time to read, rather than assume, and discovered it has no relationship to Princeton students, obscure Renaissance books or bad "Da Vinci code" copies : just orphaned chess pieces.

    Phew..nightmare over !

    1. I was thinking of the Sherlock Holmes novel, "The Sign of the Four."

  2. This is GREAT advice ! I've started practising it with my kids, and I hope it will reduce the amount of time spent looking for lost pieces significantly ! :-)