Chess Terms Every Beginner Should Know

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Chess is one of the most popular board games in the world. When a beginner starts playing chess they have a lot of questions. These terms can get confusing and can be difficult to use. If you are learning/playing the game of chess then you should be aware of these terms. These terms are usually used by your coaches or other chess experts.

In this article, we bring you the most commonly used chess terms in the game of chess.

Chess For Beginner

One of the best ways to make progress at chess is to become familiar with the terminology used by chess players. Here are some of the chess terms every beginner should know:

Adjournment: In the past, when official chess games went on for too long, players would take an adjournment to suspend the game and continue it at another time. Adjournments would usually happen after a five- or six-hour session of play, and players generally resumed the game the next day.

Adjournments are no longer a common practice and only happen in rare situations. Instead, tournaments now have shorter time controls to keep games from lasting too long.

Adjudication: Adjudication is a formal process by which the final position of an unfinished game is analyzed by an unbiased third party, who then declares that position a win for one player or else declares the position drawn.

Attack: When you move a piece to a square where you would capture an opponent’s piece next move.

Battery: A battery is a formation that consists of two or more pieces of the same rank, file, or diagonal. It is a tactic involved in planning a series of captures to remove the protection of the opponent’s king or to simply gain in exchanges.

chess for beginner

Bishop: The bishop is a piece in the game of chess. Each player begins the game with two bishops. One starts between the king’s knight and the king, the other between the queen’s knight and the queen. The starting squares are c1 and f1 for white bishops and c8 and f8 for black bishops.

The bishop has no restrictions in distance for each move but is limited to diagonal movement. Bishops, like all other pieces except the knight, cannot jump over other pieces. A bishop captures by occupying the square on which an enemy piece sits.

chess for beginner

The bishops may be differentiated according to which wing they begin on, i.e., the king’s bishop and queen’s bishop. As a consequence of its diagonal movement, each bishop always remains on either the white or black squares, and so it is also common to refer to them as light-squared or dark-squared bishops.

Capture: Captures are tactical moves changing the material balance where an opponent piece is removed from the board as part of the completion of the move. This is either done by moving a piece to a square, which is occupied by the opponent captured piece, or as a special case of pawn takes pawn.

Castling: Castling is a special move to protect your king and activate your rook. It’s the only time in chess you can move two pieces in one move. The king moves two squares to the right or left and the rook moves directly to the other side of the king.

You can only castle if neither the rook nor king have moved and there are no pieces in the way. You can also not castle when in check, into check, or through check.

Check: Check is a term when a player’s king is attacked. If the king is in check, the player must find a way to stop the threat; she/he can not just ignore it. The player must do one of these things:

  • Capture the checking piece (with the king or another piece).
  • Interpose: put a piece between the checking piece and the king. This only works if the checking piece is a long-distance piece (bishop, rook, or queen).
  • Move the king to a square that is not threatened.

If none of these works, then it is not a check but a checkmate.

Checkmate: Also called mate is when a player’s king is attacked (in check) and there is no way to escape that attack. Or, simply put, the king is under attack and cannot get out of being captured. Giving a checkmate is the main goal in chess. A player who is checkmated loses the game.

Desperado: A Desperado in Chess is when a piece seems determined to give up itself by sacrificing against a lower-valued piece – usually a situation in which both sides have a piece (or pieces) hanging, and you capture material with your hanging piece to gain a more favorable material balance at the end of the sequence of captures.

Double Attack: The double attack is the most common tactical motif in chess. A double attack sets up two threats with one move. Only one of the threats can be fended off. This leads to material gain, and whoever has more material usually wins the game.

chess for beginner
Double Attack

En Passant: En passant is a French word that means ‘in passing’. It is a special rule that allows pawns to capture pawns on adjacent squares under special circumstances According to FIDE, the governing body of chess, the rule is:

chess for beginner
en passant

“A pawn attacking a square crossed by an opponent’s pawn which has advanced two squares in one move from its original square may capture this opponent’s pawn as though the latter had been moved only one square. The capture is only legal on the move following this advance and is called an ‘en passant’ capture.

En Prise: Pronounced as “on preeze” is a French expression used to describe the state of a piece under attack which the opponent can take with a material gain.

Fork: A fork is a tactic whereby a single piece makes two or more direct attacks simultaneously. Most commonly two pieces are threatened, which is also sometimes called a double attack. The attacker usually aims to gain material by capturing one of the opponent’s pieces. The defender often finds it difficult to counter two or more threats in a single move.

The attacking piece is called the forking piece; the pieces attacked are said to be forked. A piece that is defended can still be said to be forked if the forking piece has a lower value.

Illegal Move: An illegal move is a piece not moving according to its possible defined movements, moving according to its possible movements but exposing its own king to check or leaving its king in check. A player who makes an illegal move must retract that move and make a legal move.

Isolated Pawn: An isolated pawn is a pawn that has no friendly pawn on an adjacent file. Isolated pawns are usually a weakness because they cannot be protected by other pawns.

chess for beginner
Isolated Pawns

King: The king is not the most powerful chess piece, but it is the most important one! If a king is put in checkmate, then the game is over! 

Two very important aspects of the game of chess are attacking your opponent’s king while also keeping your king safe and protected.

chess for beginner

At the beginning of the game, the white king starts on the e1 square, and the black king starts on e8. The king’s movement is limited compared to other chess pieces. It can move one square in any direction.

Knight: The knight is one of the most powerful pieces on the chessboard due to its unusual movement. It is shaped like a horse. Each player begins the game with two knights. When setting up your chess set, place the knights on the row closest to each player, between the bishop and the rook, i.e., for white knights the positions are b1 and g1, and that for black knights are b8 and g8.

chess for beginner

The knight moves unconventionally compared to other chess pieces. Whereas other pieces move in straight lines, knights move in an “L-shape” – that is, they can move two squares in any direction vertically followed by one square horizontally, or two squares in any direction horizontally followed by one square vertically. The knight is the only piece in the game that can “jump over” other pieces, regardless of whether those pieces are black or white.

Knights capture enemy pieces by replacing them on their square. Due to its L-shaped movement, a knight beginning on a white square will always end up on a black square and vice versa.

Open File: An open file is a file with no pawns of either colour on it. An open file can provide a line of attack for a rook or queen. Having rooks or queens on open files is considered advantageous, as it allows a player to attack more easily since a rook or queen can move down the file to penetrate the opponent’s position.

chess for beginner
Open File

Pawn: The pawn is the most numerous piece in the game and, in most circumstances, also the weakest. It historically represents infantry, or more particularly, armed peasants. Each player begins a game with eight pawns, one on each square of the rank immediately in front of the other pieces. The white pawns start on a2, b2, c2, d2, e2, f2, g2, and h2 and the black pawns start on a7, b7, c7, d7, e7, f7, g7, and h7

chess for beginner

Unlike the other pieces, pawns cannot move backward. Normally a pawn moves by advancing a single square, but the very first time a pawn moves, it has the option of advancing two squares. Pawns may not use the initial two-square advance to jump over an occupied square or to capture. Any piece immediately in front of a pawn, friend or foe, blocks its advance.

Ply: In two-payers sequential games like chess, a ply is one turn taken by one of the players. The word is used to clarify what is meant when one might otherwise say “turn”. The word “turn” can be a problem as it means different things in different traditions.

Piece: In chess pieces (or game pieces) are used for playing chess. Chess pieces are distinguished by appearance and made of a rigid material such as wood, ivory, or plastic. Pieces are of contrasting colours, commonly white and black. The six different types of pieces of each colour are king, rook (2 in number), bishop (2 in number), queen, knight (2 in number), and pawn (8 in number).

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Pin: A pin is a situation brought on by an attacking piece in which a defending piece cannot move without exposing a more valuable defending piece on its other side to capture by the attacking piece.

Promotion: Promotion is a rule that requires a pawn that reaches the eighth rank to be replaced by the player’s choice of a bishop, knight, rook, or queen of the same colour. The piece chosen cannot be another king nor another pawn. The new piece replaces the pawn on its square on the same move.

Queen: The queen is the most powerful piece in the game of chess. It can move any number of squares vertically, horizontally, or diagonally. Each player starts the game with one queen, placed in the middle of the first rank next to the king (d1 for white and d8) for black. Because the queen is the strongest piece, a pawn is promoted to a queen in the vast majority of cases.

chess for beginner

Rank and File: The chessboard is divided into ranks (numbers) and files (letters). This is used as an identifier for when the players move their chess pieces. There are eight of each, and each consists of eight squares of equal size.

chess for beginner
Rank and File
  • Ranks are rows that go from side to side across the chessboard and are referred to by numbers. Each chessboard has eight ranks, which are numbered from the bottom of the board (where the white pieces start) on up.
  • Files are columns that go up and down the chessboard, and each board has eight of them. Because numbers indicate ranks, letters indicate files, which are labeled from left to right.
  • The naming conventions for ranks and files allow you to give an identifier to every square by using what chess people call the file-first method. For example, the lower right-hand square is called h1. This name is shorthand for h-file and first rank.

Repetition: Draw by repetition is a kind of draw that can happen in chess due to the threefold repetition rule. This rule is in place to prevent games from going on forever with the same moves being made over and over! 

The threefold-repetition rule says that if a position arises three times in a game, either player can claim a draw during that position.  

One thing to remember is that the repeated positions do not need to be in a row. The three positions can happen at any point in the game. If a position is repeated three times, no matter where in the game, on the third time it will be declared a draw.

Resign: To resign a game is to acknowledge that your opponent has reached a position so strong that only through gross mistakes would she/he lose. It is also a mark of respect because it assumes your opponent will not in fact make such mistakes.

Rook: The rook is a piece in the game resembling a castle. Formerly the piece (from Persian rokh/rukh, meaning chariot) was alternatively called the tower, marquess, rector. The term castle is considered to be informal, incorrect, or old-fashioned).

Each player starts the game with two rooks, one on each of the corner squares on their side of the board, i.e., white rooks at positions a1 and h1 and black rooks at positions a8 and h8.

chess for beginner

The rook moves horizontally or vertically, through any number of unoccupied squares. As with captures by other pieces, the rook captures by occupying the square on which the enemy piece sits. The rook also participates, with the king, in a special move called castling.

Skewer: A skewer is an attack upon two pieces in a line and is similar to a pin. A skewer is sometimes described as a “reverse pin”, the difference is that in a skewer, the more valuable piece is the one under direct attack. The opponent is compelled to move the more valuable piece to avoid its capture, thereby exposing the less valuable piece which can then be captured. Only line pieces (i.e., bishops, rooks, and queens) can skewer; king, knights, and pawns cannot.

Stalemate: Stalemate is another type of Draw in the game of chess. This means that if a Stalemate happens while playing a game, neither side wins or loses and the game ends in a Draw.

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A stalemate occurs in a game when one of the players isn’t in check, but also cannot make any legal move. Meaning, the square that her/his king is standing on is not being threatened by any of the other pieces, but she/he also cannot move to any other square that will put her/him in check, and none of her/his pieces can make a legal move to save the king.

Touch Move: The touch-move rule in chess specifies that, if a player deliberately touches a piece on the board when it is their turn to move, then they must move or capture that piece if it is legal to do so. If it is the player’s piece that was touched, it must be moved if they have a legal move. If the opponent’s piece was touched, it must be captured if it can be captured with a legal move. If the touched piece cannot be legally moved or captured, there is no penalty. This is a rule of chess that is enforced in all formal, over-the-board competitions. 

A player who wants to adjust a piece on its square without being required to move it can announce the French j’adoube (“I adjust”) before touching the piece. While j’adoube is internationally understood, a local language equivalent such as “adjusting” is usually acceptable. A player may not touch the pieces on the board during the opponent’s turn.

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