Chess Glossary

There is a jargon unique to the chess community, which to the untrained ear sounds like a foreign language, and can be very confusing. It is easy to casually fling around lingo like ‘check’ and ‘rook lift’ and ‘passed pawn’ with the chess beginner becoming lost – this is to be prevented at all costs. Therefore, I have put together a collection of terms that you just need to know if you are serious about chess…

Algebraic notation – The most widely used method of recording the moves in a chess game, for example Rad1, Be3 or e4. I will write a seperate article for this notation.

Backwards Pawn – a pawn that is not currently defended by an adjacent pawn, nor can it be easily in the near future, because of positional reasons.

Blockade – A piece that blocks the path of a pawn from marching down the board, where it would promote.

Calculation – Imagining sequences of moves that might occur, and using this to influence your next move.

In critical positions, where there are many tactical elements in the air, often working on principles alone is not enough to decide upon the best moves, as your intuition might fail you. You should aim to come up with 3 candidate moves, that look reasonable, and then think about your opponents best responses to those moves. For example, you should think along the lines of “If I go here with my knight and check them, their king has to move, because no piece can take my knight. Their king can move to squares x, y, and z, if they go to x, I will win with a fork, if they go to y, I will checkmate them, so the only move I have to calculate is move z, which I would respond with queen to that square check. etc.” Strong players can often think all of this in less than a second, but the thought process is still there, and calculation can be many moves deep. Some combinations are 8+ moves deep, and it is important to calculate the most critical lines.

Check – “you are in check” translates as “your king is about to be captured, do something, or you will lose the game”.

Ways of ‘getting out of check’ are as follows:

  •     Move your king to a safe square.
  •     Put an obstacle (piece) between your king and the attacking enemy piece.
  •     Remove the attacking piece from the board by capturing it.

Checkmate – “you are in check, but there is no way for you to prevent a piece taking your king next move. It is game over”.

Combination – A sequence of moves that leads to a superior position or even checkmate, through tactical motifs.

Dark squared bishop – The bishop which navigates only on dark squares.

Develop – Move your piece to a square where it has the potential to play an active part in the game.

ECF – The English Chess Federation. They have their own grading system, where 100 = around 1450 FIDE. The exchange rate is (FIDE rating x 7.5) + 700 = ECF rating.

Endgame – The last part of a game, where there are few pieces left on the board, most often pawns and rooks, and perhaps 1 minor piece. The kings become much more important at this stage in the game, and are used to attack.

Files- A vertical column up the board, one square in width.

    • “A chess board has 8 ranks and 8 files.”
    • “Rooks like open files.”

FIDE – The International Federation of Chess

All of the best players in the world have a FIDE rating of about 2500 upwards. A strong club player could be 1900 FIDE. While most beginners are below 1000.

Fischer Random Chess – A different variant of chess altogether.

The pieces on the back rank are in a jumbled order being the main difference. The aim of this game is to get people out of their theory and play more creative chess.

Holes – Squares on the chess board that are not defended by any of your pawns, and are often subject to a piece landing there.

Isolated pawn – A pawn that cannot be defended by an allied pawn, because it has no brother pawn on an adjacent file.

Light squared bishop – The bishop which navigates only on light squares.

Major Pieces – Rooks and queens.

Material – The value of the pieces when they are on their starting squares – taking no account of the positional aspects of a position. Take these values with a big pinch of salt, because the value of the pieces will vary substantially:

  • Queens are worth – 
  • Rooks are worth – 5
  • Bishops are worth – 3
  • Knights are worth – 3
  • Pawns are worth – 1

This means that a bishop and knight is worth roughly the same as a rook and a pawn, but early on in the game, most people prefer to have the 2 minor pieces.

Middlegame – The part of the game where chess strategy is thought up, after you have developed your pieces in the opening and have carried out the basic opening objectives, then you can start to think about ways of checkmating your opponent.

Minor Pieces – Bishops and knights.

Mobility – how easy it is to maneouver your piece(s).

Move – “after 10 moves, the position is roughly equal” – 1 move = white and black`s move.

Opening – The first 7-15 moves in a game, where the players try to develop their pieces, get their king to safety and control the centre.

[the] Opposition – When 2 kings are on the same file/rank 2 squares apart.

“I have the opposition.” translates as “My king has walked into the position where the king are facing each other 2 squares apart.”

It is often good to gain the opposition, because you can outflank your opponent`s king, and stop their king from getting past your own king.

Passed Pawn – A pawn that cannot be captured by an enemy pawn, because there are no pawns ahead of it either side or in front.

Positional (adjective) – Either affecting the mobility of ones pieces, strengths and weaknesses, and pawn structure.

Queening Square – The square on which a certain pawn will promote to a queen (or other piece) when it lands on it.

Ranks – the horizontal rows on the chess board (1 square wide).

Resign/ resignation – When one player chooses to forfeit the game, because they believe that their position is hopelessly lost.

Sacrifice – Giving up material in order to gain a tactical or positional advantage.

Strategy – The battle plans and middlegame ideas to attack your opponent, or to gain a superior position.

Tactical – (adjective) an immediate breakthrough attack that either wins material, checkmates your opponent, or leads to a significant positional advantage.

This is closely related to ‘combinative’.