chess terminology[ edit ]

This page explains commonly used terms in chess in alphabetical order. Some of these have their own pages, like fork and pin. For a list of unorthodox chess pieces, see fairy chess piece; for a list of terms specific to chess problems, see chess problem terminology.

  • Adjournment: Suspension of a long chess game with the intention to continue later, usually another day.
  • Algebraic notation: A way of recording a chess game using alphanumeric codes for the squares.
  • Annotation: Commentary on a game using a combination of written comments, chess symbols or notation.
  • Arbiter: A tournament official who arbitrates disputes and performs other duties such as keeping the score when players are under time pressure.
  • Armageddon: A game which White must win to win the match, but which Black only needs to draw to win the match. White has more time than black: the discrepency can vary, but in FIDE World Championships, White has six minutes, Black five. Typically used in playoff tie-breakers where shorter blitz games have not resolved the tie.

  • Back rank: a player´s first rank (the one on which the pieces stand in the initial array); White´s back rank is Black´s eighth rank and vice versa.
  • Back rank mate: A checkmate delivered by a rook or queen along a back rank in which the mated king is unable to move up the board because the king is blocked by friendly pieces (usually pawns) on the second rank.
  • Bad bishop: A bishop which is hemmed in by pawns of its own color.
  • Battery: Two or more pieces of the same color supporting each other on the same file, rank or diagonal. Only queens, rooks and bishops can be part of a battery.
  • Bishop: see bishop
  • Bishops on opposite colors: A situation in which one side has only its white-squared bishop remaining while the other has only its black-squared bishop remaining. In endgames, this often results in a draw if there are no other pieces (only pawns), even if one side has one or two pawns extra, since the bishops control different squares; in the middlegame, however, the presence of opposite colored bishops can give an attack an extra edge, since one bishop can attack squares which cannot be covered by the other.
  • Bishop pair: In open positions, two bishops are considered to have an advantage over two knights or a knight and a bishop. (In closed positions knights may be more valuable than bishops.) The player with two bishops is said to have the bishop pair.
  • Blindfold chess: A form of chess in which one or both players is not allowed to see the board.
  • Blitz chess: A form of chess with a very small time limit, usually 3 or 5 minutes per player for the entire game. With the advent of electronic chess clocks, it is often the case that the time remaining is incremented by 1 or 2 seconds per move.
  • Blunder: A very bad move, an oversight (indicated by "??" in notation).
  • Book move: An opening move found in the standard reference books on opening theory. A game is said to be "in book" when both players are playing moves found in the opening references. A game is said to be "out of book" when the players have reached the end of the variations analyzed in the opening books or if one of the players deviates with a novelty.
  • Brilliancy: A spectacular and beautiful game of chess, generally featuring sacrificial attacks and unexpected moves. Brilliancies are not always required to feature sound play or the best moves by either side.
  • Bughouse Chess: A chess variant played with teams of two or more.
  • Bullet chess: A form of chess in which each side has less than 3 minutes for the entire game.

  • Castling: A special move involving the king and one rook.
  • Chess openings
  • Centre/Center: The four squares in the middle of the board.
  • Checkmate: A position in which a player´s king is in check and the player has no legal move (i.e cannot move out of check). A player whose king is checkmated loses the game.
  • Closed game: Any chess opening that begins with the moves 1.d4 d5. See also Open game and Semi-open game. Called such because these openings tend to restrict tactical interplay of line pieces, leading to a more positional game during the opening and early middle game. See also Positional game.
  • Combination: A clever sequence of moves, often involving a sacrifice, to gain the advantage. The moves of the other player are usually forced, i.e. a combination does not rely on the opponent to make a mistake.
  • Connected Passed Pawns: Passed pawns that cover each other. These are considered to be unusually powerful (often worth a minor piece or rook if on the sixth or above and not properly blockaded) because they protect each other.

  • Diagonal: A line of squares along which a bishop moves.
  • Discovered attack: An attack made by a queen, rook or bishop when another piece or pawn moves out of its way.
  • Discovered check: A check delivered by a piece when another piece or pawn has moved out of its way.
  • Domination: A situation whereby capture of a piece is unavoidable despite it having wide freedom of movement.
  • Double attack: Two attacks made with one move: these attacks may be made by the same piece (in which case it is a fork); or by different pieces (a situation which may arise via a discovered attack in which the moved piece also makes a threat). The attacks may directly threaten opposing pieces, or may be threats of another kind: for instance, to capture the queen and deliver checkmate.
  • Double check: A check delivered by two pieces at the same time.
  • Doubled pawns: A pair of pawns of the same color on the same file.
  • Doubled rooks: Two of a player´s rooks placed on the same (open) file] or rank. This is a battery of rooks.
  • Draw: A game that ends without victory for either player. Most drawn games are draws by agreement. The other ways that a game can end in a draw are stalemate, three-fold repetition, the fifty-move rule, and insufficient material. A position is said to be a draw (or a drawn position) if one of the players can, through correct play, eventually force the game into a position where the game must end in a draw, regardless of the moves made by the other player.

  • En passant ("in the act of passing" ; derived from French): The rule that allows a pawn that has just advanced two squares to be captured by a pawn on the same rank and adjacent file.
  • En prise (from French): A piece that can be captured. Usually used of a piece that is undefended and can be captured.
  • Endgame: The stage of the game when there are few pieces left on the board. The endgame follows the middlegame.
  • Exchange:
    • The capture of a pair of pieces, one white and the other black, usually of the same type (i.e rook for rook, knight for knight etc).
    • The advantage of a rook over a minor piece. The player who captures a rook while losing a minor piece is said to have won the exchange, and the opponent is said to have lost the exchange.
  • Exchange sacrifice : Giving up a rook for a minor piece (knight or bishop).
  • Expanded centre : the central sixteen squares on the board.

  • Family fork, family check: A knight fork that attacks more than two opposing pieces concomitantly.
  • Fianchetto: The development of the bishop to the second square on the file of the adjacent knight (that is, b2 or g2 for white, b7 or g7 for black).
  • File: A column of the chessboard. A specific file can be named either using its position in algebraic notation, a–h, or by using its position in descriptive notation. For example, the f-file or the king bishop file comprises the squares f1–f8 or KB1–KB8.
  • Fifty move rule: A rule stating that the game is drawn after fifty moves without a pawn move or capture.
  • Fool´s mate: The shortest possible chess game ending in mate: 1. f3 e5 2. g4 Qh4# (or minor variations on this).
  • Forced move: A move which is clearly the only one which does not result in immediate catastrophe for the moving player.
  • Fork: When one piece, generally a knight or pawn, simultaneously attacks two (or more) of the opponent´s pieces, often specifically called a knight fork when the attacker is a knight. Some sources state that only a knight can give a fork and that the term double attack is correct when another piece is involved, but this is by no means a universal usage.
  • Fortress: A fortress is a position that, if obtained by the weaker side, will prevent the opposing side from penetration, this generally resulting in a draw (which the weaker side is seeking).

  • Gambit: A sacrifice (usually of a pawn) in the opening.
  • Good bishop: A bishop which has high mobility, typically because the player´s pawns are on squares of color opposite to that of the bishop.

  • Hanging: Unprotected and exposed to capture. Slang for en prise. To "hang a piece" is to lose it by failing to move or protect it.
  • Hanging pawns: Two friendly pawns abreast without friendly pawns on adjacent files. Hanging pawns can be either a strength (usually because they can advance) or a weakness (because they can´t be defended by pawns) depending on circumstances.
  • Hole: A square that a player does not, and cannot in future, control with a friendly pawn.

  • Initiative: The advantage that a player who is making threats has over the player who must respond to them. The attacking player is said to "have the initiative".
  • Indian bishop: A fianchettoed bishop, characteristic of the Indian defenses (King´s Indian Defense and Queen´s Indian Defense).
  • Insufficient material: An endgame scenario in which all pawns have been captured, and one side has only its king remaining while the other is down to a king plus one knight or a king plus one bishop. The position is a draw because it is impossible for the dominant side to force checkmate (in the event of a king plus two knights versus a lone king, checkmate is possible only if the player with the lone king blunders by moving the king to one of the four corner squares when an alternate move would always be available).
  • Isolated pawn: A pawn with no pawn of the same color on an adjacent file.
  • Italian bishop: A White bishop developed to the c4 square or a Black bishop developed to c5. This development is characteristic of the Giuoco Piano opening, also called the Italian Game.

  • J´adoube (from French): "I adjust". A player says "J´adoube" as the international signal that he intends to adjust the position of a piece on the board without being subject to the touched piece rule.

  • Key square: A square whose occupation by one side´s king guarrantees that the position can be won by that side. This usually applies to the endgame.
  • King: see king
  • King-side: The side of the board where the kings are at the start of the game, as opposed to the queen-side.
  • Knight: see knight

  • Lightning chess: A form of chess with an extremely small time limit, usually 1 or 2 minutes per player for the entire game.
  • Long diagonal: One of the two diagonals with eight squares (a1-h8 or h1-a8).
  • Luft (from the German for air): space made for a castled king to give it a flight square to prevent a back rank mate. Usually luft is made by moving a pawn on the second rank in front of the king.

  • Major piece: A queen or rook.
  • Majority: a larger numbers of pawns on one flank opposed by a smaller number of the opponent´s; often a player with a majority on one flank has a minority on the other.
  • Mate: Short for checkmate.
  • Material: All of a player´s pieces and pawns on the board. The player with pieces and pawns of greater value is said to have a "material advantage".
  • Middlegame: The part of a chess game that follows the opening and comes before the endgame, beginning after the pieces are developed in the opening. This is usually roughly moves 20 through 40.
  • Minor piece: A bishop or knight.
  • Minority attack: An advance of pawns on the side of the board where one has fewer pawns than the opponent, usually carried out to provoke a weakness.

  • Novelty: A new move in the opening. Sometimes called a theoretical novelty (TN).

  • Open file: A file on which there are no pawns. A file on which only one player has no pawns is said to be half-open.
  • Open game: Any chess opening that begins with the moves 1.e4 e5. Also called a Double King Pawn opening. See also closed game and semi-open game.
  • Opening: The beginning moves of the game, usually roughly the first 20 moves. In the opening players set up their pawn structures and develop their pieces. The opening precedes the middle game. See Chess opening.
  • Opposite color bishops: The situation in which each player has only one bishop remaining and these bishops travel on opposite color squares (White and Black both have king´s bishops remaining or both have queen´s bishops). Although there are many exceptions, opposite color bishops can provide opportunities for attack in the middle game but are usually drawish in the endgame.
  • Opposition: A situation in which two kings stand on the same rank or file with one empty square between them. The player on move may be forced to move the king to a less advantageous square. A particularly important concept in endgames. (Also see Chess strategy and tactics).
  • Outside passed pawn: A passed pawn that is near the edge of the board and far away from other pawns. In the endgame, usually a strong advantage for the side possessing such a pawn.

  • Passed pawn: A pawn that has no pawn of the opposite color on its file or on any adjacent files on its way to queening.
  • Patzer: A weak chess player. (German: patzen, to bungle.)
  • Pawn: see pawn
  • Pawn structure: Pawns being the least mobile of the pieces and the only pieces unable to move backwards, the position of the pawns influences the character of the game. The placement of the pawns is known as the pawn structure.
  • Perpetual check: A draw forced by one player putting the opponent´s king in a potentially endless series of checks.
  • Piece: This term can mean either any chess piece including pawns (as in the touched piece rule), or a major or minor piece excluding pawns (as in "I hung a piece"), depending on context.
  • Pin: When a piece can not move because doing so would expose a valuable piece, usually the king, to attack. Pins against the king are called absolute because it is then illegal to move the pinned piece.
  • Plan: A strategy used by a chess player to make optimal use of his advantages in a specific position while minimizing the impact of his positional disadvantages.
  • Positional game: A game dominated more by maneuvering for advantage than by tactical exchanges and threats.
  • Promotion: Advancing a pawn to the eighth rank, converting it to a queen, rook, bishop or knight. Promotion to a piece other than a queen is called underpromotion.
  • Prophylaxis: (adjectival form: prophylactic)
    • a move that frustrates an opponent´s plan or tactic;
    • a strategy in which a player frustrates tactics initiated by the opponent until a mistake is made.
  • Protected passed pawn: A passed pawn that is supported by another pawn.

  • Queen: see queen. Also used as a verb for the act of queening, e.g. "... to queen the pawn".
  • Queen-side: The side of the board where the queens are at the start of the game, as opposed to the king-side.
  • Queening: Promotion to a queen. Also called Promotion. Sometimes used to indicate promotion to a knight, rook, or bishop as well (underpromotion).

  • Rank: A row of the chessboard. Specific ranks are referred to by number, first rank, second rank, …, eighth rank. Unlike the case with files, rank names are always given from the point of view of each individual player. White´s first rank is Black´s eighth rank and White´s eighth is Blacks first, White´s second rank is Black´s seventh rank and White´s seventh is Black´s second, and so on.
  • Rapid chess: A form of chess with reduced time limit, usually 30 minutes per player.
  • Resign: To admit that you have lost the game, and the game ends with a win for the other player. A resignation is often indicated by tipping over your king.
  • Rook: see rook

  • Sacrifice: When one player voluntaily gives up material in return for an advantage such as space, development, or an attack. A sacrifice in the opening is called a gambit.
  • Scholar´s mate: A four-move checkmate (common among novices) in which white plays 1. e4, follows with Qh5 (or Qf3) and Bc4, and finishes with 4. Qxf7#.
  • Score: A record that each player must keep of the moves of the game, usually in algebraic notation.
  • Semi-open game: Any chess opening that begins with White playing 1.e4 and Black playing a move other than 1...e5. Also called Half-open or Asymmetrical King Pawn openings. See also Open game and Closed game.
  • Simultaneous chess: A form of chess in which one (usually expert) player plays against several (usually novice) players simultaneously. Is often an exhibition.
  • Skewer: An attack to a valuable piece, compelling it to move to avoid capture and thus exposing a less valuable piece which can then be taken. Sometimes called a Thrust.
  • Smothered mate: A checkmate delivered by a knight in which the mated king is unable to move owing to it being surrounded (or smothered) by its own pieces.
  • Spanish bishop: A White king´s bishop developed to the b5 square. This is characteristic of the Ruy Lopez, also known as the Spanish Opening.
  • Stalemate: A position in which a player´s king is not in check and the player has no legal move. A game is drawn if one of the kings is stalemated.

  • Tabia or Tabiya: (from Arabic)
    1. The initial position of the pieces
    2. The final position of a well-known chess opening
    3. (from 2) The opening position from which two players familiar with each others´ tastes begin play.
  • Tempo: An extra move, an initiative at development. A player gains a tempo (usually in the opening) by making the opponent move the same piece twice or defend an enemy piece. In the endgame, one may wish to lose a tempo by triangulation to gain against the opposition. (Plural: tempi).
  • Threefold repetition: The game is drawn if the same position occurs three times with the same player to move, and with each player having the same set of legal moves each time (the latter includes the right to take en passant and the right to castle).
  • Thrust: See Skewer above.
  • Time pressure, time trouble: A player having very little time on their clock (especially less than five minutes) to complete their remaining moves. See Time control.
  • Touched piece rule/touch move rule: The rule stating that a player who touches a piece with at least one legal move is obliged to move that piece. If an opponent´s piece is touched it must be captured if possible. A player wishing to touch a piece to adjust its position on a square without being required to move it signals this intent by saying "J´adoube" or "I adjust".
  • Triangulation: A technique used in king and pawn endgames (less commonly seen with other pieces) to lose a tempo and gain the opposition.

  • Underpromotion: Promoting a pawn to a rook, bishop, or knight instead of a queen.

  • Variation: A sequence of moves.

  • Weak square: A square that cannot be easily defended from attack by an opponent. Often a weak square is unable to be defended by pawns (a hole). Exchange or loss of a bishop may make all squares of that bishop´s color weak resulting in a "weak square complex" on the light squares or the dark squares.
  • Win/winning position: a position is said to be a win (or a winning position) if one specified side, with correct play, can eventually force a checkmate against any defence (i.e. perfect defence).

  • X-ray attack: The threat of a piece to move through a square presently occupied by an enemy piece.

  • Zugzwang (from the German): When a player is put at a disadvantage by having to make a move. Usually occurs in the endgame, and rarely in the middlegame.
  • Zwischenzug (from the German): An "in-between" played before the expected reply.

See also

  • Burgess, Graham (2000). The Mammoth Book of Chess. Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc.. ISBN 0-7867-0725-9.

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article No 592 / last change on 2005-07-07, 02:02pm

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