Which Color Goes First in Chess?

If you are not an avid chess player, or you are not familiar with the official moves, you may be wondering if it matters which colored pieces get to move first. 

Which Color Goes First in Chess

Well, it actually does matter. There has been a rule in place for centuries that means that only one color can make the first move at a game. And this is an official move that must be followed in all professional chess matches.

Continue reading to find out which color goes first in a chess match.

Which Color Makes the First Move In Chess?

In a legitimate game of chess, the player with the white pieces is given the opportunity to move first. This player is referred to as ‘white’, whereas the player who advances subsequently is referred to as ‘black’.

Prior to the late 1800s, before the Federation was founded and rules were enacted, it didn’t matter which colored pieces moved first.

The famous Anderssen vs. Kieseritzky game from 1851, in which the ‘black’ player moved first, served as an example of this. Before the official rules came in, there was no preference for which color got to move first.

The first regulation stating that the ‘white’ player must advance first was set in the New York 1880 event’s manual.

The very first international chess champion, Wilhelm Steinitz, was one of the first to adapt this rule. And soon afterward, it became standardized in official chess matches.

To this very day, it is still held up that, during official chess matches and tournaments, the player with the white pieces should move first.

Does It Really Matter Which Color Moves First?

At this point, you may be wondering why the color even matters. After all, the pieces on both sides of the board are all positioned symmetrically. So it does not really make sense as to why the white pieces get priority over the black pieces.

So, why is this such an important rule in chess?

One of the reasons is that it quickens the pace of the games. It is more efficient to pair the players so that everyone gets the first move advantage, and then have one color always move first.

Otherwise, the players would have to spend time deciding who gets to go first. By deciding that the white pieces go first, the decision has already been made.

It has been suggested that racism may have played a role in why white pieces were permitted to move before black pieces, and why this was made an official rule. However, there is no direct evidence recorded that supports this theory either way.

Logically, it does not matter which color moves first. Both sides of the board are laid out the same, with each pawn, bishop, rook, and knight mirroring their opposite-colored opponent on the board.

Therefore, you could play an amateur game with your friends in which the black player makes the first move, and the game will not change.

However, it is stated in the official rule book of chess playing that, during all official matches and tournaments, the white player must move first. It is a rule that has been abided for many years, and it is unlikely that this rule will ever be reversed.

Does The Player Gain An Advantage By Moving First?

Does It Really Matter Which Color Moves First

Yes, there is evidence that proposes that the player moving the white pieces will always have a slight advantage against the player moving the black pieces. Since they get to take the first step in the game, they will have more options for this initial move.

It is believed that the average prevailing rate for players employing white pieces in all games that do not end in a draw has been between 52% and 54%.

This is known as the ‘first-move advantage’, and has acknowledged by many chess players and grandmasters alike.

Evgeny Sveshnikov, a notable Russian grandmaster, allegedly declared in 1994 that a player should win with white, or, at least, should be pleased to draw with black.

In other words, there is no justification for losing when the white player has such a significant advantage by moving first.

However, we all know that it is not impossible to lose while playing with black pieces. In fact, you could argue that the black player has an advantage of planning their next move more meticulously, while white chooses any spot during the first move.

All-in-all, the first-mover advantage certainly does exist, and has been proven time and time again.

If you take a look at percentages of past tournaments from over the years, it is clear that white players tend to win slightly more often than black. However, the black player also has a great chance of winning.

Who Gets To Play With The White Pieces?

So, now that we know that the white players get to move first during chess, you may be wondering how it gets decided who plays with the white pieces.

In chess, there isn’t really a set rule that specifies who gets the white pieces. Who gets to make the opening move in the match can be selected in a number of different ways.

In casual games, it’s customary to offer the competitor a choice of hands while concealing one piece of each color in each palm to determine who gets to play as white. 

There is sometimes a rule in place at chess competitions that specifies a particular technique of deciding, but if not, players are free to decide on pieces however they deem appropriate.

Also, it is often customary for players to switch colors after each game. This way, each player gets to experience making the first move, and will gain that first-mover advantage at some point.

Final Thoughts

So, there we have it; in both casual and professional chess matches and tournaments, it is always the white players who get to make the first move. This rule has been in place since the late 1800s, and has been abided by ever since.

While this rule does not necessarily make any difference to the overall gameplay, it is thought to give a slight advantage to the white player.

However, the first-mover advantage is very slim, and does not mean that the black player has no chance at all of winning.

Jenna Ostria
Latest posts by Jenna Ostria (see all)