Chess glossary


Adjust: to correct the position of a chess piece on the board; adjustments are only legal if they are announced before the adjustment

Alekhine’s Gun: a special formation of a battery using two rooks and a queen on the same rank or file

Algebraic notation: the standard method of recording chess moves that uses the letter-number coordinate system


Back row mate: a checkmate in which the enemy king is trapped on his starting rank behind his own pieces on the second rank

Backward pawn: a pawn that is behind pawns of its color on adjacent files

Bad bishop: a bishop that is blocked by pieces of its own color

Battery: an arrangement of two or more pieces on the same rank, file, or diagonal so as to line them up on the same line of attack; batteries are most often used to attack an enemy piece that is shielding its king from attack

Bind: a strong space advantage created by a pawn formation

Bishop pair: having bishops that move on both dark and light squares

Blitzkrieg chess: a very quick game of chess played with a chess clock and a time control of only a few minutes for the whole game (also called blitz chess)

Blockade: a strategic placement of a minor piece or another pawn to stop the advancement of an enemy pawn

Blunder: an unforced move that gives the opponent a decisive advantage

Bughouse chess: a variation of chess in which players play on team on two adjacent boards; pieces taken on one board may be placed on the other board as a move; kings are not placed in check or checkmate but can be captured

Bye: a tournament round in which a player does not have an opponent to play; the player receives a point for a win


Castling: a special move involving the king and one rook; if neither piece has been moved, and if the king is not in check, and none of the intervening squares between the king and its final position are under attack, then the king can be moved two squares towards the rook and the rook can be moved to the other side of the king

Centre: the centre of the chess board is composed of the four central squares d4, e4, e5, and d5.

Check: an attack on the king

Checkmate: an attack on the king that cannot be answered by any legal move, thus signifying the end of the game

Combination: a clever sequence of tactical moves that result in an advantage

Counter-gambit: a gambit offered by black


Decoy: a chess tactic used to lure a piece to an unfavorable square

Defence: a sequence of moves played at the beginning of the game by black

Deflect: a chess tactic used to lure a piece away from a good square

Descriptive notation: an older method of recording chess moves that uses letters representing the pieces and their initial positions to refer to the chess squares; for example, e4 in algebraic notation would be P-K4 in descriptive notation, meaning “pawn to the fourth square of the king’s file”

Develop: to move one’s chess pieces into the middle area of the board to provide better positions for launching attacks

Diagonal: a series of squares of the same color that touch at the corners

Discovered attack: a chess tactic in which a piece in front is moved to allow a piece in the back to attack

Double attack: a chess tactic that results in two (or more) of the opponent’s pieces being attacked at the same time

Draw: a game that ends with neither player winning; also called a stalemate


ECO: Encyclopedia of Chess Openings; a chess reference that lists some 500 chess openings and variants by a code number; the ECO can be found online for free in PDF format

En passant: a special chess move in which a pawn on the first rank in enemy territory can capture a pawn that moves past its capture square; the pawn is said to be captured en passant (French for “in passing”)

Endgame: the phase of gameplay in which both players have few pieces left

Exchange: a series of successive captures made by both players, with each capture being a response to the preceding capture; also called a trade


Family fork: a fork in which the king is put in check by a piece (almost always a knight) that is also simultaneously attacking the his queen and rook

Fianchetto: to place a bishop on the second square of the main diagonal, thereby attacking the centre from the flank (Italian for “flanking”)

Fifty-move rule: a rule used in scored games in which a draw can be claimed if there has been no pawn movement or no captures by either side for fifty-consecutive moves

File: a row of chess squares that are joined on an edge and span from the edges in front of the players

Flagged: a term that indicates a player lost the game due to the expiration of time, i.e. his or her flag on the chess clock fell

Flank: the files on either side of the center

Fork: a chess tactic in which one piece attacks more than one of the opponent’s pieces simultaneously


Gambit: a sacrifice of a pawn in the early stages of the game to gain an advantage in position or development

GM: grandmaster

Greek gift: the sacrifice of a bishop or knight in capturing a flank pawn that is part of a castle defense, used to setup an attack on the castled king


Hanging piece: a piece that is not protected and is open to capture


Illegal move: a move that is not permitted according to the rules of chess

Initiative: the advantage of the player whose actions force the opponent to respond; also called tempo

Insufficient material: a situation in the endgame in which a player lacks the pieces to put his or her opponent’s king in checkmate

Interference: a chess tactic in which the line of attack of an enemy piece is interrupted by a sacrificed piece

Intermezzo: a “middle move” inserted before an expected move, designed to complicate a move sequence and change its dynamics; see zwischenzug

Interpose: to move a piece between an attacking piece and its target


Kibhitz: to make comments on a game in progress by a non-player; kibhitzing is prohibited in both casual and scored games

Kingside: the side of the board corresponding to the starting position of the king


Luft: (German for “air”) space given to a castled king to allow it to escape a back row mate


Main line: the most common sequence of moves associated with a particular opening sequence

Major piece: a queen or a rook

Mate: shortened form of the word “checkmate”

Material: chess pieces in general

Middlegame: the phase of the game after the opening sequence of moves has concluded; in this phase chess tactics are employed to drive the game towards a favorable endgame position

Minor piece: a bishop or a knight

Mobility: the ability of a piece to move freely

Move order: a specific sequence of moves as they comprise an opening; in some openings, move order must be precise; in other openings, move order is not important


Open file: a file that contains no pieces

Opening: the beginning of a chess game in which White (and possible Black also) follows a planned sequence of moves in order to propel the game towards a favorable position for the middlegame

Opposition: the circumstance of having both kings on the same rank or file and separated by one empty square; the player whose turn it is to move is said to have his or her king “in opposition”

Outpost: a square in enemy territory protected by a friendly pawn

Overloaded: a piece that has too many defensive assignments to cover simultaneously


Pairing: the assignment of opponents for a scored chess game

Passed pawn: a pawn that has no enemy pawns in its file or on an adjacent file between itself and the promotion rank

Perpetual check: a condition in which a player forces a draw by threatening an endless series of checks on his or her opponent’s king

Pin: a chess tactic in which an enemy piece is attacked to prevent it from moving because doing so would cause the attacking piece to attack a more valuable target on the other side of the pinned piece

Promotion: a special move in chess in which a pawn reaches the starting rank of the opponent’s king and is exchanged for a minor or major piece


Queenside: the side of the board corresponding to the starting position of the queen


Rank: a row of chess squares that are joined on an edge and span from the edges on the sides of the board

Resign: to concede the loss of the chess game; resigning is generally announced only when checkmate is certain and unavoidable, and as a matter of saving time; it is discouraged as a method to avoid finishing a game in a difficult position


Sacrifice: the voluntary movement of a piece that results in that piece being captured, but yields an advantage of position or development to the player who sacrificed the piece

Simultaneous chess: a game of chess in which one player plays several opponents, each on their own board

Skewer: an attack on a valuable piece that compels the opponent to move it, which in turns exposes a lesser value piece to attack

Skittles room: the room in which players who are not playing their scored tournament games go to wait until the next round

Stalemate: a game that ends with neither player winning; also called a draw

Staunton pieces: the standard design of chess pieces, which is required for official tournament play

Strategy: the pursuit of a program of tactics and other moves that is designed for a achievement of a long-term goal

Symmetry: a board configuration in which one player’s pieces are exactly mirrored by those of the opponent


Tactic: a chess move or combination of moves designed for a short term goal, such as capturing a piece or achieving a particular position

Takeback: to undo a chess move; sometimes allowed in casual play or in instruction scenarios, but never allowed in scored games

Tempo: the advantage of the player whose actions force the opponent to respond; also called initiative

Tiebreak: a system of evaluation of tournament game outcomes to try to objectively determine a winner from amongst two or more players with identical win-loss records

Time control: a timing rule established at the outset of a chess game in which a chess clock is to be used; a time control generally indicates the amount of game progress mandated for a certain time interval

Touch move: a rule of play that requires a player to move a piece that they touch

Trade: a series of successive captures made by both players, with each capture being a response to the preceding capture; also called an exchange

Transposition: arriving at a certain board position from a different sequence of moves; important for studying chess openings and defences

Trap: a chess move or combination designed to entice the opponent to make a bad move

Triangulation: a technique used in the endgame to enable a player to give away the tempo and thus force opposition on the opponent’s king


Undermining: a chess tactic in which a defensive piece is attacked so that the piece it defends becomes vulnerable to attack


Variation: a sequence of moves of an opening that differs from the main line


Windmill: a tactic in which a rook and a bishop is used to set up a cascade of alternating check / discovered checks that results in the systematic removal of a lot of material


Zugzwang: (German for “compulsion to move”) a chess tactic that forces the opponent to make an undesirable move

Zwischenzug: (German for “middle move”) a chess tactic in which a move other than the expected response is inserted, often giving the opponent two threat situations to deal with rather than one; see intermezzo

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *