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Chess terminology

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.

See also: Sample chess game

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  • Annotation: Describing a game using a combination of written comments, chess symbols or notation.


  • Back rank: For white, the first rank and for black, the eighth.

  • 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.

  • Blitz chess: A form of chess with a very small time limit, usually 3 or 5 minutes per player. 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.


  • Castling: A special move involving the king and one rook. See castling.

  • Center: The 4 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.

  • Combination: A clever sequence of moves, often involving a sacrifice, to gain the advantage.


  • Diagonal: A line of squares along which a bishop moves.

  • Discovered check: When one piece moves out of the way to enable another piece to give check.

  • Double check: When a king is in check by two pieces at the same time. A double check must necessarily be a discovered check.

  • Doubled rooks: Two of a player's rooks placed on the same (open) file.

  • Doubled pawns: A pair of pawns (of the same color) on the same file.


  • En passant (from the 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 the french): A piece that can be captured. Usually used of a piece that is undefended and can be captured.

  • 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 his opponent is said to have lost the exchange.


  • 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.

  • Fork: When one piece simultaneously attacks two of the opponent's pieces. See Fork.


  • 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.


  • Hole: A hole (for one player) is a square that the player does not, and cannot in future, control with one of his pawns.


  • Isolated pawn: A pawn with no pawn of the same color on an adjacent file.


  • King-side: The side of the board where the kings are at the start of the game, as opposed to the queen-side.


  • Long diagonal: One of the two diagonals of length 8.


  • Major piece: A queen or rook.

  • Majority: A player has a majority of pawns on one flank when his pawns on that flank outnumber the opponent's.

  • Material: The (estimated) value of a player's pieces. The player with more pieces is said to have a "material advantage".

  • Minor piece: A bishop or knight.


  • Novelty: A new move in the opening.


  • Open file: A file on which there are no pawns. Sometimes used to refer to a file on which one player has no pawns.

  • Outside passed pawn: A passed pawn on one of the rook files.


  • Passed pawn: A pawn that has no pawn of the opposite color on its file or on one of the adjacent files on its way to queening.

  • Pawn structure: Pawns being the least mobile of the pieces, the position of the pawns influences the character of the game. The type of placement of the pawns is known as the pawn structure.

  • Perpetual check: A player forces a draw by repeatedly putting the opponent's king under check in such a way that the opponent cannot avoid getting into check.

  • Pin: When a piece can not move because doing so would expose a valuable piece, usually the king, to attack. See Pin.

  • 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.

  • Protected passed pawn: A passed pawn that is supported by another 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. Actually 'Queening' may be promotion to a knight, rook, or bishop as well.


  • Rank: A row of the chessboard.

  • Rapid chess: A form of chess with reduced time limit, usually 30 minutes per player.


  • Sacrifice: When one player voluntaily gives up material in return for an advantage such as space, development (like forcing the opponent into a particular move), or an kingside attack.

  • Skewer: An attack to a valuable piece to compel it to move to avoid capture and expose a less valuable piece which can then be taken by the attacker. 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. See smothered mate.

  • 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. See stalemate.


  • 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 one of his pieces. Pl: 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.

  • Touched piece rule: A player who picks up one of his pieces (or touches it) is obliged to move that piece.

  • Triangulation: A technique used in king and pawn endgames to lose a tempo and gain the opposition.


  • Zugzwang: When a player is put at a disadvantage by having to make a move. Usually occurs in the endgame, and rarely in the middlegame. See zugzwang.

  • Zwischenzug: An "in-between" move thrown in before an expected reply.

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