Chess Terminology

For a more exhaustive list of chess terms, check out the following Wikipedia listing:


Describes a piece that is able to move or control many squares.

Adjust or J'adoube

To adjust the position of a piece on its square without being required to move it. Adjustment can only be done when it is the player's move and the adjustment is preceded by saying "I adjust" or "j'adoube". This is required when the touch-move rule is used.

Advanced Pawn

A pawn that is on the opponent's side of the board (the fifth rank or higher). An advanced pawn may be weak if it is overextended, lacking support and difficult to defend, or strong if it cramps the enemy by limiting mobility. An advanced passed pawn that threatens to promote can be especially strong.

Algebraic Notation

The standard way to record a chess game using alphanumeric coordinates for the squares.


Study of a position to determine best play for both sides.


Commentary on a game using a combination of written comments, chess symbols or notation.


A move or a plan that is not in accordance with the principles of positional play. Antipositional is used to describe moves that are part of an incorrect plan rather than a mistake made when trying to follow a correct plan. Antipositional moves are often pawn moves; since pawns cannot move backwards to return to squares they have left, their advance often creates irreparable weaknesses.


A tournament official who arbitrates disputes. In small tournaments the tournament director is often the arbiter. If there are several arbiters for an event, there is usually an appointed chief arbiter. A chief arbiter’s decisions are final for an event. Appeals would be the sponsoring federation or organization as a post tournament action.


An assault, either short-term or long-term, for example in the form of a sustained mating attack against the enemy king or a minority attach against the opponent's queenside pawn structure.


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.

Backward Pawn

A pawn that is behind the pawns of the same color on the adjacent files and that cannot be advanced with the support of another pawn.

Bad Bishop

A bishop which is hemmed in by the player's own pawns.


An abbreviation sometimes used for the 1982 chess opening reference Batsford Chess Openings, by Raymond Keene and Garry Kasparov. The second edition (1989) is often called BCO-2.


A strong grip or stranglehold on a position that is difficult for the opponent to break. A bind is usually an advantage in space created by advanced pawns.

Bishops of Opposite Colors

A situation in which one side has only its light-squared bishop remaining while the other has only its dark-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 (see opposite-colored bishops endgame). In the middlegame, however, the presence of opposite-colored bishops imbalances the game and can lead to mating attacks, since each bishop attacks squares that cannot be covered by the other.

Bishop Pair

In open positions, two bishops (on opposite colors) 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. Some evaluation systems count the bishop pair as worth half of a pawn.

Blitz Chess

A fast form of chess (Blitz being German for lightning) with a very short time limit, usually 3 or 5 minutes per player for the entire game.


A strategic placement of a minor piece directly in front of an enemy pawn, where it restrains the pawn's advance and gains shelter from attack. Blockading pieces are often overprotected.


A very bad move, an oversight (indicated by "??" in notation).

Book Draw

An endgame position known to be a draw with perfect play. As the name reflects, the analysis can been found in chess endgame literature.

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 (or a blunder).

Book Win

An endgame position known to be a win with perfect play. As the name reflects, the analysis can been found in chess endgame literature.


Destruction of a seemingly strong defense, often by means of a sacrifice.


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.

Bronstein Delay

A time control method with time delay, invented by David Bronstein. When it becomes a player's turn to move, the clock waits for the delay period before starting to subtract from the player's remaining time.

Bughouse Chess

Also known as Double Bug or Double Bughouse is a chess variant played with teams of two or more.


A tournament round in which a player does not have a game, usually because there are an odd number of players. A bye is normally scored as a win (1 point), although in some tournaments a player is permitted to choose to take a bye (usually in the first or last round) and score it as a draw (½ point).



The goddess of chess occasionally invoked to indicate luck or good fortune: "Caïssa was with me".


To carefully plan a series of moves while considering possible responses.

Candidate Move

A move that seems good upon initial observation of the position, and that warrants further analysis.

Candidates Match

A knockout match in the Candidates Tournament.

Candidates Tournament

A tournament organized by the FIDE, the third and last qualifying cycle of the World Chess Championship. The participants are the top players of the interzonal tournament plus possibly other players selected on the basis of rating or performance in the previous candidates tournament. The top ranking player(s) qualify(ies) for the world championship.


Moving a piece or pieces toward the center of the board. In general, pieces are best placed in or near the center of the board because they control a large number of squares and are available for play on either flank as needed. Because of their limited mobility, knights in particular benefit from being centralized. There are several chess aphorisms referring to this principle: "A knight on the rim is dim" (or "grim" instead of "dim") and "A knight on the side cannot abide."

Central Pawn

A pawn on the king's file or queen's file, i.e. on the d-file or e-file.


Slang for a primitive trap, often set in the hope of swindling a win or a draw from a lost position.


• An opening system geared towards forming a full pawn center. See also Hypermodern.

• A game using a longer time control such as 40/2; the opposite of fast chess categories such as rapid, blitz or bullet.

Clock Move

A timed game is played clock move if a move is completed only when the clock has been pressed. It is therefore possible to touch one piece, but then decide to move another piece. This way of playing is common in casual games, in favor of touch move.

Closed File

A file on which black and white both have a pawn.

Closed Tournament

A tournament in which only invited or qualifying players may participate, as opposed to an open tournament. Also called an invitational tournament.


Adjective used to describe a move, player, or style of play characterized by risky or positionally dubious play that sets traps for the opponent. The name comes from the notion that one would expect to see such play in skittles games played in a coffeehouse or similar setting, particularly in games played for stakes and/or blitz chess.


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 give the opponent too many possible lines of continuation.


An imbalanced equivalent return, for example sacrificing material for development or trading a bishop for three pawns.

Connected Pawns

Refers to two or more pawns of the same color on adjacent files. See also isolated pawns.

Connected Passed Pawns

Passed pawns on adjacent files. These are considered to be unusually powerful (often worth a minor piece or rook if on the sixth rank or above and not properly blockaded) because they can advance together.

Control of the Center

Chess Strategy: Having one or more pieces that attack any of the four center squares; an important strategy, and one of the main aims of openings.

Corresponding Squares

Squares of reciprocal (or mutual) Zugzwang often found in king and pawn endgames. Also known as related squares.


An attack that responds to an attack by the other player.


Active maneuvering by the player in an inferior or defensive position.


To protect a piece or control a square. For example, to checkmate a king on the side of the board, the five squares adjacent to the king must all be covered.


A position with limited mobility.

Critical Position

A position that is of key importance in determining the soundness of an opening variation. If one side can demonstrate an advantage in a critical position, the other side must either find an improvement or else abandon that variation as inferior.

Critical or Key Square

1. An important square.

2. (Pawn endings) A square whose occupation by one side's king guarantees the achievement of a certain goal, such as the promotion of a pawn or the win of a pawn.


An arrangement of the results of every game in a tournament in tabular form. The names of the players run down the left side of the table in numbered rows. The names may be listed in order of results, alphabetically, or in pairing order, but results order is most common. The columns are also numbered, each one corresponding to the player in the same numbered row. Each table cell records the outcome of the game between the players on the intersecting row and column, using 1 for a win, 0 for a loss, and ½ for a draw. (In a double round-robin tournament each cell contains two entries, as each pair of players plays two games alternating white and black.) Every game is recorded twice, once from the perspective of each player. The diagonal cells that correspond to the player playing himself are marked with a * or other symbol as they are not used..


Dead Draw

A drawn position in which neither player has any realistic chance to win. A dead draw may refer to a position in which it is impossible for either player to win (such as insufficient material), or it may refer to a simple, lifeless position which would require a major blunder before either side would have a chance to win.


(1) A move or plan which tries to meet the opponent's attack; (2) an opening played by Black, for example the Scandinavian Defence, King's Indian Defense, English Defense, etc.

Descriptive Notation

An old system of recording chess moves, now replaced by the standard algebraic notation.


In the opening, moving a piece from its original square to make it more active. To redevelop a piece means to move it to a better square after it has already been developed.


A line of squares of the same colour touching corner to corner, along which a queen or bishop can move.

Discovered Attack

An attack made by a queen, rook or bishop when another piece or pawn moves out of its way.

Discovered Check

A discovered attack to the king.


A situation whereby capture of a piece is unavoidable despite it having wide freedom of movement. Usually occurs in chess problems.

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. A double check necessarily involves a discovered check.

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 file or rank.


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, threefold repetition, the fifty-move rule, and insufficient material. A position is said to be a draw (or a "drawn position" or "theoretical draw") if either player 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. A draw is usually scored as ½ point, although in some matches only wins are counted and draws are ignored.


An adjective describing a position or game that is likely to end in a draw.



The Encyclopaedia of Chess Openings, a standard and comprehensive chess opening reference. Also a classification system (ECO code) for chess openings that assigns an alphanumeric code from A00 to E99 to each opening.

Elo Rating System

The Elo rating system is a method for calculating the relative skill levels of chess players, named after the Hungarian Arpad Elo. Since 1970 FIDE publishes quarterly an international chess rating list using the Elo system.

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. The pawn is therefore taken as if it had only moved one space. It is only possible to take en passant on the next move.

En prise

(from French; often italicized) Used to describe a piece or pawn that is undefended and can be captured. For instance, after 1.e4 Nf6 2.Nf3? leaves White's pawn on e4 en prise.


The stage of the game when there are few pieces left on the board. The endgame follows the middlegame.


To create a position where the players have equal chances of winning (referred to as "equality"). This may be either "static equality", where a draw is likely (for example, a balanced endgame) or even certain (for example, by perpetual check), or "dynamic equality", where White and Black have equal chances of winning the game. In opening theory, since White has the advantage of the first move, lines that equalize are relatively good for Black and bad for White.

Escape Square

A square to which a piece can move, which allows it to escape attack. Also known as flight square.


· 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.), or of bishop for knight (two pieces that are considered almost equal in value).

· The exchange is used to refer to the advantage of a rook over a minor piece (knight or bishop). 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. An exchange sacrifice is giving up a rook for a minor piece.

Exchange Variation

This is a type of opening in which there is an early, voluntary exchange of pawns or pieces.


A contest of one or more games played for the purpose of public entertainment, as opposed to a match or tournament. An exhibition may pit two masters against each other, in which case chess clocks are normally used and the contest is quite serious. A simultaneous exhibition (or display) has one or more masters play many opponents at once, and is often not timed.

Expanded Center

The central sixteen squares on the board.



Refers to a bishop developed to the second square and the longest diagonal on the file of the adjacent knight (that is, b2 or g2 for white, b7 or g7 for black), or the process of developing a bishop to such a square. It usually occurs after moving the pawn on that file ahead one square (or perhaps two). The Italian word is actually a noun ("in fianchetto") and not a verb.


The World Chess Federation (Fédération Internationale des Échecs), the primary international chess organizing and governing body. The abbreviated name FIDE is nearly always used in place of the full name in French.

Fifty-Move Rule

A draw may be claimed if no capture or pawn move has occurred in the last fifty moves by either side.


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.

First-Move Advantage

The slight (by most accounts) advantage that White has by virtue of moving first.

Fischer Delay

A time control method with time delay, invented by Robert Fischer. When it becomes a player's turn to move, the delay is added to the player's remaining time.


Part of an analogue chess clock (usually red) which indicates when the minute hand passes the hour. To flag someone means winning the game on the basis of the opponent exceeding the time control.


The queenside a, b, and c-files, or the kingside f, g, and h-files, also called wing; distinguished from the center d and e-files.

Flank Opening

This a chess opening played by White and typified by play on one or both flanks.

Fool's Mate

The shortest possible chess game ending in mate: 1. f3 e5 2. g4 Qh4++

Forced Move

A move which is the only one which does not result in a serious disadvantage for the moving player. "Forced" can also be used to describe a sequence of moves for which the player has no viable alternative, e.g. "the forced win of a piece" or "a forced checkmate". In these cases the player cannot avoid the loss of a piece or checkmate, respectively.


Refers to losing the game by absence or by exceeding the time control (forfeit on time).


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.


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).

Friendly Game

A game that is not played as part of a match, tournament, or exhibition. Often the game is not timed, but if a chess clock is used rapid time-controls are common. The term refers only to the circumstances in which the game is played, not the relationship between the players or the intensity of the competition. Also called a casual game.



A sacrifice (usually of a pawn) used to gain an early advantage of space and /or time in the opening. If your opponent follows your sacrifice with a sacrifice, this is called a counter gambit.

Game Type Classified by Mobility

· (Closed Game) A position with few open lines (files or diagonals), generally characterized by interlocking pawn chains, cramped positions with few opportunities to exchange, and extensive maneuvering behind lines. Such a position may later become an open game. A chess opening that begins with the moves 1.d4 d5 .

· (Semi-Open Game) A chess opening that begins with White playing 1.e4 and Black replying with a move other than 1...e5. Also called Half-open or Asymmetrical King Pawn openings.

· (Semi-Closed Game) A chess opening that begins with White playing 1.d4 and Black replying with a move other than 1...d5. See also open game and closed game.

· (Open Game) A game in which exchanges have opened files and diagonals, as opposed to a closed game. A chess opening that begins with the moves 1.e4 e5 (which is also called a Double King Pawn 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.


The highest title a chess player can attain (besides World Champion). When used precisely, it is the title awarded by FIDE starting in 1950, but it can be used to describe someone of comparable ability. The term International Grandmaster or IGM would refer only to the FIDE title. GM is the abbreviation for Grandmaster.

Grandmaster Draw

A game in which the players quickly agree to a draw after making little or no effort to win. Although originally used to refer to such games between grandmasters, the term is now used colloquially to refer to any such game.


Half-Open File

A file on which only one player has no pawns.


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 cannot be defended by pawns) depending on circumstances.


A square that a player does not, and cannot in future, control with a friendly pawn. The definition is somewhat subjective: the square must have some positional significance for the opponent to be considered a hole - squares on the first and second ranks are not holes. On the other hand a square is a hole even if it can be controlled in the future with a pawn that has made a capture.

Hypermodern Opening

An opening system geared towards controlling the center with distant pieces as opposed to occupying it with pawns.

Illegal Move

A move that is not permitted by the rules of chess. An illegal move discovered during the course of a game is to be corrected.

Illegal Position

· A position in a game that is a consequence of an illegal move or an incorrect starting position.

· In chess problems, an illegal position is one that is impossible to reach in a game by any sequence of legal moves.


A piece that is able to move to or control relatively few squares. See active.


An increment refers to the amount of time added to each player's time before each move. For instance rapid chess might be played with "25 minutes plus 10 second per move increment", meaning that each player starts with 25 minutes on their clock, and this increments by 10 seconds after (or before) each move, usually using the Fischer Delay method.


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". The initiative often results from an advantage in time and/or space.

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 just a king, a king plus one knight, a king plus one bishop, or indeed a king plus any number of bishops on the same colour as each other (up to nine), as is possible via underpromotion. A king and bishop versus a king and bishop with the bishops on the same color is also a draw. The position is a draw because it is impossible for the dominant side to deliver checkmate regardless of play. Situations where checkmate is possible only if the inferior side blunders are covered by the fifty-move rule.


This happens when the line between an attacked piece and its defender is interrupted by sacrificially interposing a piece.


To move a piece between an attacking piece and its target, blocking the line of attack. Interposing a piece is one of the three possible responses to a check, the others being to move the king or capture the attacking piece.

Interzonal Tournament

A tournament organized by FIDE, the second qualifying cycle of the World Chess Championship. The participants are selected from the top players of the zonal tournaments. The top ranking players qualify for the candidates tournament.

Irregular Opening

Irregular openings are chess openings with an unusual first move from White. These openings are all categorized under the ECO code A00.

Isolated Pawn

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


(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.



As a spectator, making comments on a chess game that can be heard by the players. Kibitzing on a serious game while it is in progress (rather than during a post-mortem) is a serious breach of chess etiquette.


Attacking a piece, typically by a pawn, so that it will move.

King Hunt

A sustained attack on the enemy king that results in the king being driven a far distance from its initial position, typically resulting in its checkmate.


The side of the board where the kings are at the start of the game (the e through h files), as opposed to the queenside.

Knight Pawn

A pawn on the knight's file, i.e. the b-file or g-file.

Knight's Tour

A mathematical treatment of a knight "touring" the board.

Knockout Tournament

A tournament conducted as a series of matches in which the winner of each match advances to the next round and the loser is eliminated. Other more common tournament formats are the Round-robin and Swiss Tournaments.


Lightning Chess

A form of chess with an extremely short time limit, usually 1 or 2 minutes per player for the entire game.


· A sequence of moves, usually in the opening or in analyzing a position.

· An open path for a piece (queen, rook, or bishop) to move or control squares.

Long Diagonal

One of the two diagonals with eight squares (a1-h8 or h1-a8).


A loss for one of the two players, which may occur due to that player being checkmated by the other player, resigning, exceeding the time control, or being forfeited by the tournament director. Chess being a zero-sum game, this results in a win for the other player, except in the very rare circumstance where the tournament director forfeits both players, for example for cheating or both players exceeding the time control (the latter does not normally result in a double forfeit today).


Main Line

The principal, most important, or most often played variation of an opening or piece of analysis. For example, 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.Nf3 0-0 6.Be2 e5 7.0-0 Nc6 8.d5 Ne7 is often referred to as the main line of the King's Indian Defence.

Major Piece

A queen or rook, also known as a heavy piece.


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.


A competition between two individuals or two teams. A match may be the entire competition, or it may be a round in a knockout tournament or team tournament. Unlike in some sports where the word match is sometimes used to describe a single game, a chess match always consists of at least two games (and often many more).


Short for checkmate.


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". When a player gains a material advantage they are also said to be "making material". (See Chess piece relative value.)

Mating Attack

An attack aimed at checkmating the enemy king.


Modern Chess Openings, a popular chess opening reference. Often the edition is also given, as in MCO-14, the 14th edition.


Main article: Chess 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 Exchange

The exchange of a bishop for a knight.

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.


The ability of a piece, or of a player's pieces collectively, to move around the board. (In computer chess this is often measured by the number of legal moves available.) Effectively means much the same as Space.

Mobile Pawn Center

Pawns on central squares able to advance without becoming weak.

Move Order

The sequence of moves one chooses to play an opening or execute a plan. Different move orders often have different advantages and disadvantages. For example, 1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 avoids the Budapest Gambit (2.c4 e5!?), but makes it impossible for White to play the Sämisch Variation (2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.f3) or Four Pawns Attack (5.f4) against the King's Indian Defence, and to transpose to certain lines of the Nimzo-Indian Defence and Queen's Gambit Declined, Exchange Variation where the knight goes to e2 instead of f3.

Mysterious Rook Move

Following a Nimzovich's idea, a move with a Rook that seems to have no threat or purpose, but which actually discourages the opponent from a certain type of action (prophylaxis), or sets up a very deep, well-concealed plan.

Norm (Grandmaster Norm)

A performance at a chess tournament that indicates a player is ready to receive a title, or the level of performance needed. In addition to other requirements, a certain number of norms is generally required to earn a title. See Grandmaster and International Master.


A new move in the opening. Sometimes called a "theoretical novelty" or "TN."


Offhand game

See skittles.


An international team chess tournament organized biennially by FIDE. Each team represents a FIDE member country.


This term is a common abbreviation for kingside castling.


This term is a common abbreviation for queenside castling.

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 Tournament

A tournament where anyone can enter, regardless of rating or invitation. (Compare to closed tournament.)


The beginning moves of the game, roughly the first 10-20 moves. In the opening players set up their pawn structures, develop their pieces, and typically castle. The opening precedes the middlegame.

Opening Preparation

Home study and analysis of openings and defenses that one expects to play, or meet, in later tournament or match games. In high-level play, an important part of this is the search for theoretical novelties that improve upon previous play or previously published analysis.

Opening Repertoire

The set of openings played by a particular player. The breadth of different players' repertoires varies from very narrow to very broad. For example, a player who always opens with 1.e4; always meets 1.e4 with the Sicilian Defence, and the Najdorf Variation of it if allowed; and always meets 1.d4, 1.c4, or 1.Nf3 with 1...f5, intending to play the Dutch Defence, has a very narrow opening repertoire. Bent Larsen, who opened at various times with 1.e4, 1.d4, 1.c4, 1.f4, 1.Nf3, 1.b3, and 1.g3, and played a large number of different defenses as Black, had a very broad opening repertoire.

Opening System

An opening, that is defined by one player's moves, which can be played regardless of the moves of the opponent.

Optimal Play

Optimal play is when both sides make their best move at each turn, or one of equally good alternatives. One side tries to win as quickly as possible while the other side tries to delay it as long as possible, or optimal play may result in a draw.


A situation in which two kings stand on the same rank, file or diagonal with one empty square between them. The player to move may be forced to move the king to a less advantageous square. Opposition is a particularly important concept in endgames.

Outside Passed Pawn

A passed pawn that is near the edge of the board and far away from other pawns. In the endgame, such a pawn often constitutes a strong advantage for its owner.


An outpost is a square protected by a pawn that is in or near the enemy's stronghold. Outposts are a favourable position from which to launch an attack, particularly using a knight.


A position where a player has moved a piece or group of pieces (usually pawns) away from the rest in such a way that they are too difficult to defend.


A piece that has too many defensive duties. An overloaded piece can sometimes be deflected, or required to abandon one of its defensive duties.


Overprotection in chess is the strategy of protecting a pawn or specific square of the chessboard more than is immediately necessary. This serves to dissuade the opponent from attacking that specific point and provides greater freedom of movement for the pieces protecting that square. This can cause an opponent to pursue a faulty plan or no plan at all. Aron Nimzowitsch was one of the foremost proponents of overprotection.

Over-the-Board (OTB)

A game is said to be played over-the-board if opponents play the game face-to-face as opposed to online chess or correspondence chess.



The assignment of opponents in a tournament. Pairing is made more difficult in chess because of the need to try to give each player an equal number of games playing white and black and to try to not assign a player the same color in too many consecutive games. The most common pairing methods used in chess tournaments are round-robin and the Swiss system.

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.


A weak chess player, also referred to as a "fish", "woodpusher". (German: patzen, to bungle.)

Pawn and Move

A type of odds game, common in the 18th and 19th centuries, in which the superior player plays Black and begins the game with one of his pawns, usually the king bishop pawn, removed from the board.

Pawn Center

The placement of the pawns is known as the pawn structure. As pawns are the least mobile of the pieces and the only pieces unable to move backwards, the position of the pawns greatly influences the character of the game.

Performance Rating

A number reflecting the approximate rating level at which a player performed in a particular tournament or match. It is often calculated by adding together the player's performances in each individual game, using the opponent's rating for a draw, adding 400 points to the opponent's rating for a win, and subtracting 400 points from the opponent's rating for a loss, then dividing by the total number of games. For example, a player who beat a 2400-rated player, lost to a 2600, drew a 2500, and beat a 2300, would have a performance rating of 2550 (2800 + 2200 + 2500 + 2700, divided by four).

Perpetual Check

A draw forced by one player putting the opponent's king in a potentially endless series of checks.


When a piece can not move (either legally or advisedly) because doing so would expose a valuable piece, usually the king or queen, to attack. Pins against the king are called absolute because it is then illegal to move the pinned piece.


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.


Said of an opening or move that gives the person playing it a tenable position, e.g. "Petroff's Defense is playable." or (after 1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 Nf6 3.Nc3 Nxe4 4.Nxe4) "4...d5 is the only playable move."

Poisoned Pawn

An unprotected pawn which, if captured, causes positional problems or material loss. It is also a variation of the Najdorf Variation of the Sicilian Defence, where some players call White's pawn on b2 a poisoned pawn since it is dangerous for Black to capture it.

Portable Game Notation (PGN)

This is a popular computer format for recording chess games (both the moves and related data).

Positional Play

Play dominated more by long-term maneuvering for advantage than by short-term attacks and threats, and requiring judgment more than extensive calculation of variations, as distinguished from tactics.

Positional Player

A player who specializes in positional play, as distinguished from a tactician.


Analysis of a game after it has concluded, typically conducted by one or both players and sometimes spectators (kibitzers) as well.

Prepared Variation

A well-analyzed novelty in the opening which is not published but first used against an opponent in competitive play.


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.



A round-robin style tournament between four players, where each participant plays every other participant once.


The side of the board where the queens are at the start of the game (the a through d files), as opposed to the kingside.


Promotion to a queen. Rarely used to indicate promotion to a knight, rook, or bishop as well (underpromotion).

Quiet Move

A move which does not attack or capture an enemy piece.



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, with the first rank being the home row of the king and other pieces. White's first rank is Black's eighth rank (row 1) and White's eighth is Black's first (row 8), White's second rank is Black's seventh rank (row 2) and White's seventh is Black's second (row 7), and so on.

Rapid Chess

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


Demonstrate that a strategy, move, or opening is not as good as previously thought (often, that it leads to a loss), or that previously published analysis is unsound. A refutation is sometimes colloquially referred to as a "bust". A refutation in the context of chess problems or endgame studies is often called a "cook".

Related Squares

Same as corresponding squares.

Relative Pin

A pin, where it is legal to move the pinned piece. See absolute pin.


To concede loss of the game. A resignation is usually indicated by stopping the clocks, and sometimes by offering a handshake or saying "I resign". The traditional way to resign is by tipping over one's king, but this is rarely done nowadays.[1] In published games, a player's resignation is often indicated by "1-0" (Black resigns) or "0-1" (White resigns); these may also indicate that the game was decided for some other reason, usually one side exceeding the time control. In master and serious amateur play, it is much more common for a game to be resigned than for it to end with checkmate, because players can foresee checkmate well in advance.

Rook in Front of Pawns

A maneuver that places a rook in front of its own pawns, often on the third or fourth rank. This can allow the rook to treat a half-open file as if it were an open file, or a closed file as if it were half-open.

Round-Robin Tournament

This is a tournament in which each participant plays every other participant an equal number of times. In a double round-robin tournament the participants play each other exactly twice, once with white and once with black. An example of the former is the Hastings 1895 chess tournament, an example of the latter is the Piatigorsky Cup. This type of tournament is commonly used if the number of participants is relatively small. See also Swiss system tournament.

Royal Fork

A fork between king and queen.



Short for sacrifice, usually used to describe a sacrifice for a mating attack.


When one player voluntarily 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++.


A record of the moves of a particular game, usually expressed in algebraic notation.

Score Sheet

The sheet of paper used to record a game in process. During formal games, it is usual for both players to record the game using a score sheet.

Sealed Move

Lengthy OTB games can be adjourned. To prevent unfair advantage, the players can agree on the next move being secretly recorded in a sealed envelope. Upon resumption, the arbiter makes the sealed move and the game continues. See also Adjournment.

Sham Sacrifice

An offer of material which is made at no risk, as acceptance would lead to the gain of equal or greater material or checkmate. This is in contrast to a true sacrifice which the compensation is less tangible. Also called a pseudo-sacrifice.


Risky, double-edged, highly tactical. Sharp can be used to describe moves, maneuvers, positions, and styles of play.


A strategy of exchanging pieces of equal value. Simplification can be used defensively to reduce the size of an attacking force. It can also be used by a player with an advantage to amplify that advantage or reduce the opponent's counterplay. Simplification is also used as an attempt to obtain a draw, or as an attempt to gain an advantage by players who are strong in endgame play with simplified positions. Also liquidation and trading.

Simultaneous Chess

A simultaneous exhibition

A form of chess in which one (usually expert) player plays against several (usually novice) players simultaneously. Is often an exhibition.


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.


A casual or "pick-up" game, usually played without a chess clock. At chess tournaments, a skittles room is where one goes to play for fun while waiting for the next formal game.

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. This could occur, for example, after 1.e4 Nc6 2.Ne2 Ne5, and now either 3.c3?? Nd3++ or 3.g3?? Nf3++.


An adjective used to describe a move, opening, or manner of play that is characterized by minimal risk-taking and emphasis on quiet positional play rather than wild tactics.


Correct. A sound sacrifice has sufficient compensation, a sound opening or variation has no known refutation, and a sound composition has no cooks.


The squares controlled by a player. A player controlling more squares than the other is said to have a spatial advantage. Effectively means much the same as mobility.

Spite Check

A harmless check given by a player who is about to be checkmated that serves no purpose other than to momentarily delay the defeat.


Gradually increasing the pressure of a bind. Sometimes a synonym for zugzwang that is not a mutual zugzwang.


A position in which the player whose turn it is to move has no legal move and his king is not in check. A stalemate results in an immediate draw.

Staunton Chessmen

The standard design of chess pieces, required for use in competition.


Evaluation of game positions and setting up goals and longer-term plans for future play, as opposed to a tactic which is a shorter-term plan typically consisting of a well-defined sequence of moves and their contingent moves from a given position in a game.

Sudden Death

The most straightforward time control for a chess game: each player has a fixed amount of time available to make all moves.


A ruse by which a player in a losing position tricks his opponent, and thereby achieves a win or draw instead of the expected loss. It may also refer more generally to achieving a win or draw from a clearly losing position. See also cheapo.

Swiss Tournament

This is a tournament that uses the Swiss system to determine player pairings. The basic idea is that every round each player is paired with an opponent with the same (or close to the same) score. The 33rd Chess Olympiad is an example of a Swiss tournament. See also Round-robin tournament.



A player who specializes in tactical play, as distinguished from a positional player.


Play characterized by short-term attacks and threats, often requiring extensive calculation by the players, as distinguished from positional play.


Used in casual games when both players agree to undo one or more moves.


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: tempos or tempi).

Text Move

This term is used in written analysis of chess games to refer to a move that has been played in the game as opposed to other possible moves. Text moves are usually in bold whereas analysis moves are not.

Theoretical Novelty (TN)

A new move in the opening. Also called simply a "novelty".


A plan or move that, if left unattended, would result in an immediate depreciation of the opponent's position.

Threefold Repetition

A draw may be claimed 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).


Main article: Tie-breaking in Swiss system tournaments

This refers to a number of different systems that are used to break ties, and thus designate a single winner, where multiple players or teams tie for the same place in a Swiss system chess tournament.


Opportunities to make moves: similar meaning to tempo. A move that does not alter the position significantly is described as "wasting time", and forcing the other player to waste time is described as "gaining time".

Time Control

The allowed time to finish a game, usually measured by a chess clock. A time control can require either a certain number of moves be made per time period (e.g., 40 moves in 2½ hours) or it can limit the length of the entire game (e.g., 5 minutes per game for blitz). Hybrid schemes are used, and time delay controls have become popular since the widespread use of digital clocks.

Time Delay

A time control which makes it possible for a player to avoid having an ever-decreasing amount of time remaining (as is the case with sudden death). The most important time delays in chess are Bronstein delay and Fischer delay.

Time Pressure or Time Trouble

Having very little time on one's clock (especially less than five minutes) to complete one's remaining moves. See Time control.

Top Board

In team chess, the player who is assigned to face the strongest opponents. Also called first board. Second board faces the next strongest players, followed by third board, and so on. Generally board assignments must be made before the competition begins and players may not switch boards, although reserve players are often allowed as substitutes.

Touched Piece Rule

The rule requiring a player who touches a piece that has at least one legal move to move that piece (and, if the player moves the piece to a particular square and takes his hand off it, to move it to that square). Castling must be initiated by moving the king first, so a player who touches his rook may be required to move it, without castling. The rule also requires a player who touches an opponent's piece to capture it 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". This way of playing is common in official games, in favour of clock move.


A competition involving more than two players or teams, generally played at a single venue (or series of venues) in a relatively short period of time. A tournament is divided into rounds, with each round consisting either of individual games or matches in the case of knockout tournaments and team tournaments. The assignment of opponents is called pairing, with the most popular systems being round-robin and Swiss. Tournaments are usually referred to by combining the city in which they were played with the year, as in "London 1851", although there are well known exceptions such as "AVRO 1938".

Tournament Book

A book recording the scores of all the games in a tournament, usually with analysis of the best or most important games and some background on the event and its participants. One well-known example is Bronstein's Zurich International Chess Tournament 1953. The less comprehensive tournament bulletin is usually issued between the rounds of a prestigious event, giving the players and world media an instant record of the games of the previous round. Individual copies may be bundled together at the conclusion of the event to provide an inexpensive alternative to the tournament book.

Tournament Director (TD)

Organizer and often arbiter of a tournament, responsible for enforcing the tournament Rules of Chess.


Arriving at a position using a different sequence of moves.


A move which may tempt the opponent to play a losing move. See also Swindle.


A technique used in king and pawn endgames (less commonly seen with other pieces) to lose a tempo and gain the opposition.



This is a chess tactic (also known as removal of the guard) in which a defensive piece is captured, leaving one of the opponent's pieces undefended or underdefended.


Promoting a pawn to a rook, bishop, or knight instead of a queen. Rarely seen unless the knight can deliver a crucial check, or when promotion to a rook or a bishop instead of a queen is necessary to avoid stalemate.


the act of breaking a pin. This allows the piece that was formerly pinned to move.

United States Chess Federation (USCF)

This is a non-profit organization, the governing chess organization within the United States, and one of the federations of the FIDE.

Unorthodox Opening

Same as Irregular opening.



A chess-like game played using a different board, pieces, or rules than standard chess.


A sequence of moves or alternative line of play, often applied to the opening. A variation does not have to have been played in a game; it may also be a possibility that occurs only in analysis. The word Variation is also used to name specific sequences of moves within an opening. For an example, the Dragon Variation is part of the Sicilian Defense.


Waiting Move

A passive but harmless move, which is played while waiting for initiative from the opponent.

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) and can be theoretically occupied by a piece. 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.

Wild Move

An extremely unclear or mind–bogglingly complicated position or move.


A victory for one of the two players in a game, which may occur due to checkmate, resignation by the other player, the other player exceeding the time control, or the other player being forfeited by the tournament director. Chess being a zero-sum game, this results in a loss for the other player.

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 defense (i.e. perfect defense).


The queenside a, b, and c-files, or the kingside f, g, and h-files, also called flank.

World Champion

A winner of the World Chess Championship.


Zonal Tournaments

Tournaments organized by the FIDE, the first qualifying cycle of the World Chess Championship. Each zonal tournament features top players of a certain geographical zone. The winners are then qualified for the interzonal tournament.


(from the German) When a player is put at a disadvantage by having to make a move; where any legal move weakens the position. Zugzwang usually occurs in the endgame, and rarely in the middlegame