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Chess Glossary

Have you ever listened to chess players and wondered what language they're speaking? Here's a brief glossary of chess terms that will help you understand what they're talking about.

A -  B -  C -  D -  E -  F -  G -  H -  I -  J -  K -  L -  M -  N -  O -  P -  Q -  R -  S -  T -  U -  V -  W -  X -  Y -  Z


Adjournment The postponement of play in an unfinished game.
Adjust To touch a piece or pawn, but without the intention of making an official move.
Algebraic Notation A system of recording the moves of a Chess game in which each square on the board has a unique identifier, based on a grid system.
Annotation Commentary on a Chess game which attempts to explain the game in terms of tactics, strategy, psychology and the like.
Arbiter A person who ensures that the rules are observed, supervises the game, enforces the rules, and imposes penalties on infringing players.
Automaton A machine which purported to play Chess without human assistance.
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B Abbreviation for bishop.
Back rank A player’s own first rank.
Back rank mate Checkmate delivered by playing a queen or rook to an opponent’s back rank when the king is kept from moving out of check by his own pawn.
Bad Bishop A bishop whose effectiveness is hampered by its own pawn.
Bare King Position where one player has only his king left on the board.
Bishop The Chess piece which moves diagonally over any number of unoccupied squares.
Blitz Chess played very quickly.
Blunder A bad move which results in mate, the loss of material or a seriously weakened position.
Book Move The term for a standard move, one generally recommended in books cataloging openings or books concerned with the opening in question.
Brillancy A game containing original, innovative, sometimes surprising moves.
Bug House A variant of Chess played on two boards by two teams each consisting of a pair of players. When one player removes a Chessman from his opponent's board, he gives it to his partner, who places it on his board during his turn.
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Caissa The goddess (or muse) of Chess.
Castling A single move involving both the king and a rook.
Center The sqaures e4, e5, d4, and d5.
Chaturanga The name of the first game from which modern Chess is derived.
Check An attack on the opponent’s king by either a piece or a pawn.
Checkmate When a king is in check and cannot make any move to get out of check. The game is over.
Chess Oscar Award given by the Association of Chess Journalists for the outstanding male and female players of the year.
Chessman Term which refers to both pieces and pawns.
Classical Style of Chess play which developed in the late nineteenth century emphasizing rapid development and control of the center with pawns.
Closed File A file which has at least one pawn of each color on it.
Combination A series of forced moves (usually involving a sacrifice) which leads to an advantage for the initiating player.
Cramped Position Position in which the pieces have little room to move.
Correspondence Chess Chess played by mail. Also known as Postal Chess.
Crosstable A chart in grid form which lists the complete results of a tournament.
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Development The movement of pieces from their initial squares.
Diagonal Any contiguous line of squares along which a bishop may move.
Diagram A drawing of a Chess position where White is at the bottom of the picture and Black is at the top.
Discovered Attack The movement of a piece or pawn which results in an attack by a man not moved.
Discovered Check The movement of a piece or pawn which results in a check by a man not moved.
Double Attack A simultaneous attack by a single piece or pawn on two men of the opponent.
Doubled Pawns Two pawns of the same color on the same file, which are nearly always a positional weakness.
Draw A completed Chess game in which there is no winner.
Duffer Disparaging term to describe a very poor player.
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Edge The "outside" squares of the Chess board.
Elo Scale System for ranking Chess players in order of relative strength based upon results in rated games.
Enclopedia of Chess Openings Five volume collection of opening analysis edited by Matanovic.
En passant French for "in passing". The capture of a pawn which has moved two squares forward by an opponent's pawn on the fifth rank.
En prise French for "in a position to be taken". A Chessman is en prise if it is left or moved to a square where it can be captured without loss to the capturing player.
Endgame The final state of the game, characterized by the relatively few Chessmen on the board.
Escape Square A square to which a king in check can move.
Exchange The capture of a piece or a pawn while giving up material of equal strength.
Equalize To achieve a position where the opponent's initiative is negated.
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Fianchetto The placement of a bishop on b2 or g2 for White, b7 or g7 for black.
FIDE Fédération Internationale des Échecs, the international Chess federation founded on 20 July 1924 in Paris.
File Any of the eight columns on a Chess board, denoted by its algebraic notation letter, for example "the a-file".
First Board A term to describe the board in a team match which usually has each team's strongest player.
Flank Sometimes called wing, it is the a-, b-, and c-files or the f-, g-, and h-files.
FM Abbreviation for FIDE Master.
Fool's Mate The shortest possible Chess game ending in checkmate.
Forced Move A move for which there is only one reply (or if more than one reply, all but one are undesirable).
Fork An attack on two enemy Chessmen at the same time.
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Gambit Any opening which contains a planned sacrifice of material, usually to promote rapid development or control of the center.
Gens una Sumus Latin for "we are one family". The official motto of FIDE.
GM Abbreviation for International Grandmaster.
Good Bishop A bishop unhindered by its own pawns and thus is very mobile.
Grandmaster Shortened form of International Grandmaster.
Grandmaster Draw Deprecating term for a short, drawn game between grandmasters where it is obvious that neither player has made any attempt at playing for a win.
Greek Gift The sacrifice of a bishop for black's pawn on h7, leading to a forced win.
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Half-open File A file on which only one of the players has a pawn or pawns.
Half-pin A pin in which the Chessman subject to the pin may move along the same line (file, rank or diagonal) which it shares with the attacker.
Handicap A means of trying to equalize chances in a game played between opponents of greatly different strengths.
Hanging Slang term to describe a piece left en prise.
Heavy Piece A queen or rook. Sometimes called a major piece.
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Illegal Move A move which is in violation of the Laws of Chess.
Illegal Position A position which is not the result of a series of legal moves.
IM Abbreviation for International Master.
Immortal Game Name given to the Anderssen-Kieseritsky game of 1851, a spectacular example of the King's Bishop Gambit.
Initiative Term to describe the advantage held by the player who has the ability to control the action and flow of the game thus forcing the opponent to play defensively.
International Grandmaster Title established in 1950 and awarded by FIDE. FIDE has detailed requirements for the title, which is awarded to only the best players in the world. A player with a FIDE Grandmaster title, often abbreviated GM, usually has an Elo rating of at least 2500.
International Master Title established and awarded by FIDE, often abbreviated IM. An IM is a stronger player than a FIDE Master, but not as strong as an International Grandmaster, and usually has an Elo rating of at least 2400.
International Woman Grandmaster Title established in 1976 and awarded by FIDE to the world's strongest women players.
Interposition The movement of a piece in between a piece which is attacked and its attacker.
Interzonal Tournament One tournament in a series of competitions held by FIDE to select a challenger to the World Champion. Winners of the 14 Zonal championships compete in the Interzonal tournaments, which were first held in 1948. The top players from the Interzonals play in the Candidate matches which conclude when a challenger emerges.
Isolated Pawn A pawn whose adjacent files contain no pawns of the same color.
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J'adoube French for "I adjust". Expression used by a player on the move before touching a Chessman, generally to move it to the center of its square.
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K Abbreviation for King.
Kibitz To comment during a game, or during analysis following a game, within the hearing of the players.
King The most important of the Chessman, and consequently usually the largest. The king may move one square in any direction, and a game is over when the king is checkmated.
Kingside The half of the board with the e-, f-, g-, and h-files.
Knight A Chess piece which moves either two squares vertically and one square horizontally or two squares horizontally and one square vertically. In the first step of this move, the knight may pass "through" squares already occupied. The knight's move has not changed since Chess was devised.
Knight Fork Any double attack by a knight.
Knight's Tour A Chess puzzle whereby the knight is moved 64 times, landing on each square only once.
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Ladder A fluid method of ranking Chess players within a club or other group.
Laws of Chess The rules which govern the play of the game.
Legal Move Move permitted by the Laws of Chess.
Lewis Chessmen Chess pieces made of walrus tusk discovered on the Isle of Lewis (outer Hebrides) in 1831.
Light Bishop A bishop which moves on light-colored squares.
Liquidation The exchange of Chessmen to stunt an opponent's attack or to solidify one's own advantages or improve one's own position.
Living Chess The performance of a Chess game where the pawns and pieces are represented by real people.
Long Algebraic Notation A form of algebraic notation.
Long Castle Expression sometimes used to describe castling queen-side.
Loosing on Time A player loses on time if he has not completed the required number of moves in the allotted time.
Loosing the Exchange To exchange a rook for either a bishop or knight.
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Major Piece A queen or a rook.
Majority A player's numerical superiority of pawns on one flank.
Master Title offered by many national Chess federations to strong players.
Match A contest between two players only, as distinguished from a tournament.
Mate Short for checkmate.
Mating Sacrifice A material sacrifice made to achieve checkmate.
MCO Abbreviation for Modern Chess Openings.
Mechanical Move A move made with little thought because it seems to be obvious.
Middle game The part of a Chess game which follows the opening and comes before the endgame.
Minor Piece A bishop or a knight.
Minority Attack The advance of one or more pawns on a flank where the opponent has a pawn majority.
Mobility The ability to move one's pieces to important parts of the board quickly and easily.
Modern Chess Openings An influential encyclopedia of Chess openings first published during the 1930s and regularly updated.
Muse of Chess Another term for Caissa.
Mysterious Rook Move The movement of a rook to a closed file to discourage the opponent from making a freeing move because such a move would bring the rook into play, a strategy advocated by Nimzowitsch.
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N Abbreviation for Knight.
Norm The number of points a player in an international tournament must score to gain one qualification for a FIDE title.
Notation Any means of recording a Chess game.
Novice A beginning chess player.
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Open File A file which has no pawns. Sometimes called an open line.
Open Game A term usually used to denote games beginning 1. e4 e5, and which is characterized by piece mobility.
Open Tournament A tournament which is open to any player.
Opening The beginning part of a Chess game, during which the players develop all or most of their pieces.
Opposition A position where the two kings are on the same rank, file, or diagonal.
Organic Weakness Any permanent imperfection in a pawn structure.
Outpost A piece placed on a square (on an open or half-open file) on the opponent's side of the board, protected by a pawn, which cannot be attacked by an enemy pawn.
Outside Passed Pawn A passed pawn away from most of the other pawns on the board.
Over the Board A description of games played face to face, as opposed to correspondence Chess.
Overload A situation where a pawn or piece must perform too many defensive functions, so that if one it is forced to perform one function a weakness will be created.
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P Abbreviation for pawn.
Pairings A listing of who plays whom at a tournament.
Parry a Check To place a Chessman between the king in check and the checking piece.
Partie French for game.
Passed Pawn A pawn which has no enemy pawn opposing it on its own file or on any immediately adjacent file.
Passive Description of a move which contains no threats, or a piece with limited mobility, i.e. a piece which is not active.
Patzer A weak player. Sometimes used more specifically to describe a weak player who either does not recognize his deficiencies or who may boast of his ability.
Pawn Physically, the smallest unit on the Chessboard.
Pawn Chain A diagonal set of pawns which protect each other.
Pawn Grabbing Deprecating term to describe the act of winning pawns at the expense of development or countering an opponent’s attack.
Pawn Push The general advance of two or more connected pawns.
Pawn Structure Description of the overall position of one player's pawns on the board.
Perfect Score Term to describe the score of a player who wins all his games in a tournament or match.
Perpertual Check A position where one player can continue to place his opponent's king in check without threatening checkmate.
Phalanx Pawn structure where two or more pawns of the same color are side-by-side, i.e. on the same rank and on adjacent files.
Piece A king, queen, rook, bishop, or knight.
Pin A piece or pawn which is immobilized because it stands between its king (or other piece) and an opponent's piece which would otherwise be attacking the king (or the other piece).
Play-off A method of breaking a tie where the tied players play one or more games against each other.
Poisioned Pawn A pawn (often White's pawn on b2) which is undefended during the opening but which if taken, often permits the player who gave up the pawn to engage in a strong attack or to later win the piece taking the pawn.
Positional Sacrifice A sacrifice of material which improves the position of the sacrificing player.
Post-mortem The discussion of a game after it has been completed.
Praxis German for practice.
Prepared Variation An opening line which a player discovered in study before a tournament and which the player only makes public when played over the board.
Preventative Sacrifice Sacrifice made to prevent the opponent from castling.
Promotion When a pawn reaches the eighth rank it must immediately become a piece of its own color (except a king) at the player's choice--regardless of what pieces he may still have on the board.
Prophylaxis Expression for positional play strategy where the opponent’s position is kept constricted.
Protected Passed Pawn A passed pawn which is protected by another pawn.
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Q Abbreviation for queen.
Queen The strongest piece on the board (but second in size to the king).
Queenside The a-, b-, c-, and d-files.
Quiet Move A move which contains no immediate threat, which does not make a capture, and which is not a check.
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R Abbreviation for rook.
Rank Any horizontal row on a Chessboard.
Rating A numerical representation of the strength of a Chess player based upon his results in games against other graded players.
Rearspan The squares of a file which lie behind a pawn.
Recording a Game The process of writing down all the moves of a game, generally done at or near the time each move is played.
Refute To prove that a previously accepted move, line, or opening is deficient when best play is pursued by both sides.
Repetition of Position A player may claim a draw if he can demonstrate that a three-fold repetition of the position has occurred, with the same player having the move each time.
Resign To admit defeat of a game before being checkmated.
Rook A heavy piece which moves along the ranks and files.
Round Robin Tournament where each contestant plays one game with every other contestant.
Royal Game Commonly used description for the game of Chess.
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Sacrifice To deliberately give up material to achieve an advantage.
Sandglass Early form of Chess clock, also known as an hourglass.
Scholar's Mate See Fool's Mate.
Score A written record of a game containing all the moves, or a player’s result in a game, match, or tournament.
Scoresheet The paper on which a Chess score is recorded.
Sealed Move The last move made before a game is adjourned.
Second Term for someone who assists a Chess player, generally providing advice on openings and assisting with analysis.
See-saw Term to describe a series of alternating direct and discovered checks.
Seventh Rank The rank on which an opponent’s pawns are placed at the beginning of the game.
Sham Sacrifice A move which on the face of it appears to be a sacrifice, but if accepted will yield the player offering the piece a gain in material or a strong positional advantage.
Sharp Descriptive term applied to a move or a series of moves which could be considered risky.
Simplify To exchange material in order to reduce the possibility of an opponent’s attack.
Simultaneous Display Event where a single player (commonly a strong player) play several people all at the same time. Also known as a simul.
Skewer An attack on a piece which results in the win of another, less valuable piece which is on the same rank, file, or diagonal, after the attacked piece is moved.
Skittles Informal or casual Chess games, often played quickly.
Smothered Mate A form of checkmate where the king is unable to move because all the squares around him are occupied by Chessmen.
Speculative Description of a move or series of moves when the outcome cannot be known.
Spite Check A check by a player facing a mating attack which does not prevent the mating attack but only delays it.
Stalemate Situation where a player on the move is not in check but cannot make a legal move.
Staunton Chessmen Chessmen designed in 1835 by Nathaniel Cook who convinced Howard Staunton in 1852 that they should be designated Staunton Chessmen. They are the Chessmen required by FIDE.
Strategy The overall, long-range plan for a Chess game.
Swindle A combination employed by a player with a losing position which converts his position into a win or draw.
Symmetry Position where the Chessmen of one side mirrors the position of the Chessmen of the other side.
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Tactics A move or moves which are expected to yield benefits in the short-term.
TD Abbreviation for Tournament Director.
Tempo Latin for time. Generally, to lose a tempo is disadvantageous and a general rule of thumb is that the loss of three tempi is equivalent to the loss of a pawn.
Thematic Move A move which is consistent with the overall strategy pursued by the player.
Theory Term to refer the general body of accepted Chess knowledge.
Threat A move which contains an implied or expressed attack on a piece or pawn or the position of the opponent.
Time Limit The amount of time allocated to each player in which a prescribed number of moves must be made.
Time Trouble Situation where a player has a small amount of time to make a large number of moves.
Touch Move Chess rule which requires a player who touches a piece to actually move that piece (if it is his own) or take that piece (if it belongs to his opponent).
Tournament A contest among more than two Chess players.
Trap A move whose natural reply results in a disadvantage to the replying player.
Tripled Pawns Three pawns of the same color on a single file.
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Unit A term that refers to both pieces and pawns.
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Vacating Sacrifice A sacrifice intended to clear a square for a another piece.
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Winning Move A move which creates a position in which the player can or does win.
Winning the Exchange Giving up a knight or a bishop for a rook.
Woodpusher Derogatory term for a player who shows no understanding for Chess but rather appears to simply push his pieces around the board.
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X A symbol used in both algebraic and descriptive notation to indicate a capture.
X-Ray Another term for skewer.
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No entries.
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Zug Zwang Situation where a player’s position is weakened by the mere fact that he is compelled to make a move.
Zwischenzug A move which interrupts an apparently forced sequence of moves, improving the position of the player making the intermediate move.
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