Chess Terms & Chess Slang

Chess Terms / Chess Dictionary / Chess Slang

Absolute Pin: A piece that is immobilized because moving it would place the King in check. It is illegal to move the pinned piece in an absolute pin.

Action: A tournament with game times less than 30 minutes per side to complete each game. Also known as a Quick Chess Tournament

Active: A term to describe pieces that are either on key squares or that control squares. Pieces that are immobile or do not control any squares of consequence are considered "passive".

Adjournment: The postponement of an unfinished game. The player "on the move" seals his/her next move in an envelope only to be opened when the game resumes.

Adjust: To touch a piece or a pawn without the intention of making a move. Adjusting the pieces is generally done to move a piece to the center of the square. A player must announce "I adjust", "Adjust", or "J'adoube" (French for "I adjust") before touching his/her pieces. If the player does not announce "adjust", he/she will be bound to move that piece on his/her next turn.

Algebraic Notation: A system of recording the moves of a chess game in which each square has a designated name. Please see our Guide to Notation for more information.

Annotation: Commentary on a chess game that attempts to analyze the game by giving alternate moves. Annotation is done after the game is played in either the written form or in person.

Attack: A move that threatens to capture a piece.

Back Rank Checkmate: Checkmate that occurs when a player moves his queen or ook onto the opponent's first rank (8th rank for black, 1st rank for white) to deliver check. The King cannot escape check because he is blocked in by his own pawns.

Backward Pawn: A pawn that has no pawns of it's own color on adjacent files to protect it from attack.

Bad Bishop: A bishop that is blocked in by it's own pawns which rest on the bishop's own color.

Bishop: A minor piece (with the approximate value of 3 pawns) which moves on diagonals. Each player begins with two bishops on opposite colors. Both bishops can never meet. Each bishop controls half the squares on the chess board, therefore, both bishops can control all the squares on the board. A bishop is most effective in an open position where he has room to move.

Bishops of Opposite Color: A situation where each player has one bishop that rides on the opposite colors on the chess board. In endgames, players with opposite color bishops most often finish the game in a draw.

Blindfold Chess: A chess game played without seeing the board. Blindfolded players can either actually be blindfolded or simply have his/her back to the board. The moves are called aloud and the blindfolded player must remember where each piece is.

Blitz: Another name for "Speed Chess". Games that are played very quickly; typically with 15 minutes or less on each person's clock.

Blockade: A situation where a piece or a pawn is prevented from advancing by an opposing piece or pawn.

Blunder: A bad move that results in a damaged position, loss of material, or loss of the game.

Brilliancy: A game that involves originality, innovation, and creativity.

Caissa: The Goddess of Chess. Caissa was first mentioned in the 1763 poem "Caissa" by Sir William Jones.

Castling: A single move that involves transposing the King and the Rook to provide King safety. This is the only move of a chess game wherein two pieces can move simultaneously.

Kingside Castling: The King is moved from e1 (white king) to g1. The rook is then moved to f1. For black, the king is moved from e8 to g8 and the Rook is moved to f8.

Queenside Castling: The King is moved from e1 (white king) to c1. The Rook is moved to d1. For black, the King is moved from e8 to c8 and the Rook is moved to f8.

Castling cannot occur if the following situations are present:

1. The King is in check. The King cannot castle to escape check.

2. One of the squares that the King must cross is under attack by an enemy piece (the Rook can move through an attacked square, however).

3. The King or the Rook on the side which a player is intending to castle has moved. Even if the King returns to it's original square, it is now permanently prevented from castling on either side. If the King has not moved and one Rook remains unmoved, the player may castle on the side of the unmoved Rook.

Center: The e4, e5, d4, and d5 squares on the chessboard.

Centralization: Bringing one's pieces to the center of the board where they can control the most amount of squares on the board.

Cheapo: A slang term meaning a cheap trick that results in a won game or won material. Also called Swindle

Check: A direct attack on an opponent's King by any piece or pawn. When placed in "check", the player must get out of check on the very next move by any of the following ways:
Move the King to an unattacked square.
Capture the checking piece.
Place a friendly piece in between the King and the checking piece.

Checkmate: When the King is in "check" and cannot get out of check by the three ways listed under Check. When the King is checkmated, the game is over.

Chess Clock: A special clock designed to note time for both players during a chess game. The Chess Clock has two faces; one for each side. Equal amount of time is registered for both players. When, for example, it is "white's" turn to move, "black" pushes a button down and white's time begins to wind down. By beginning "white's" clock, "black" stops his own time from ticking.

Classical: A style of chess wherein each opponent attempts to control the four center squares and develops his/her pieces quickly.

Closed File: A file that has both a white and black pawn on it.

Closed Game: A game style where piece movement is restricted by locked pawn chains and play consists of positioning pieces outside the pawn structure.

Combination: A series of forced moves that leads to an advantageous position or won material for a player.

Compensation: Receiving an advantage for what may seem a disadvantage. For example, sacrificing a pawn may seem like a disadvantage, but it may be an advantage if it gives increased mobility to one's pieces.

Cramped: Having little or no piece mobility.

Crosstable: A grid that displays the results of each round of a chess tournament for each player involved.

Development: The movement of pieces off one's first rank into a more centralized and advantageous position.

Discovered Attack: The movement of a friendly piece or a pawn that reveals an attack on an enemy piece with a piece hidden behind the moved piece.

Discovered Check: The movement of a friendly piece or pawn that reveals a check on the enemy King with a piece hidden behind the moved piece.

Double Attack: An attack on an enemy piece by two friendly pieces at the same time.

Double Check: A discovered check wherein the both the moved piece and the revealed piece give check simultaneously. The only way to escape a double check

Doubled Pawns: Two pawns of the same color on the same file.

Draw: A completed chess game that has resulted in a tie. A drawn game can result from the following situations:

1. Drawn by agreement: Both players agree neither can win.

2. Stalemate: When a King has no legal moves, is not in check, and no other pieces on the board have legal moves.

3. Three Fold Repetition: When a position on the chessboard has been repeated three times (the repeated position does not have to occur consecutively).

4. 50 Move Rule: When it can be proven that no piece has been captured and no pawn has moved for 50 moves.

5. Insufficient Mating Material: When neither player has enough material to deliver checkmate. Example: Lone King against Lone King, King verses King and Bishop, King and Bishop versus King and Bishop, etc...

6. Insufficient Losing Chances: When a player has less than five minutes on his clock, and other than by losing on "time", he/she could not lose, the player may make a claim of "insufficient losing chances" to the Tournament Director. The Tournament Director may choose to call the game a draw.

Duffer: A slang term for a very poor player. Also called woodpusher, patzer.

En Passant: A French term meaning "in passing". A special pawn capture when a pawn has advanced two squares forward past an enemy pawn on the fifth rank to "avoid" being put in a position of being captured. The fifth rank pawn has the one time option to capture the pawn that has moved two squares as if it had only moved one square. If the fifth rank pawn does not capture the pawn that has moved two squares immediately after the two square move, it loses the chance forever. However, it may capture another pawn en passant if the situation reoccurs on another file.

En Prise: A French term meaning "in a position to be taken". When a piece is placed in a position to be captured wherein the enemy piece cannot be re-captured. Also called "leaving a piece hanging".

Endgame: The final phase of a chess game, characterized by very few pieces left on the board. The main objective in the endgame is to promote pawns.

Escape Square: A square to which the King can flee if he is under attack. Also called Giving Luft

Exchange: The capture of a piece or pawn while giving up the same amount of material. For example, trading a Bishop for a Bishop or a Knight for three pawns.

Fianchetto: Pronounced "fee-an-ket-toe". Italian word meaning "on the flank". The placement of the Bishop on the b2 or g2 squares for white, and the b7 or g7 squares for black.

FIDE: Acronym for the Federation Internationale des Echecs, the international ruling body of chess. FIDE was founded on July 20, 1925 in Paris.

File: Any vertical row on the chessboard. Files are noted with the letters A through H for identification.

Flank: Also known as the wing, this refers to the a-, b-, or c- files and the f-, g-, and h- files on the chessboard.

Forced Move: A move for which there is only one response. There may be other moves available, but would lead to loss of material, advantage, or the game.

Fork: Simultaneously attacking two enemy pieces at one time with one piece.

Gambit: Any opening that involves the sacrifice of a pawn to hasten development and control the center.

GPP: Abbreviated term for Grand Prix Points

Grandmaster: A FIDE title awarded to the top players in the world. GM's usually must achieve a FIDE rating of 2500 or more.

Grand Prix: A special contest sponsored by the USCF. All USCF players are eligible to participate. Throughout the year, "points" are awarded to those players who win Open sections of tournaments that qualify as Grand Prix events. To qualify as a Grand Prix event, the tournament must offer a prize fund of more than $500. (The amount of Grand Prix Points available for each tournament is determined by the amount of prize money offered) At the end of the year, the points are tallied and the winner is awarded a large cash prize.

Half Open File: A file that contains only one color pawn or pawns.

Hanging: A slang term for leaving a piece en prise.

Hypermodern: An opening game system wherein the opponent chooses to control or simply put pressure on the center squares from the flank as opposed to directly by occupying it with pawns.

Illegal Move: A move that violates the laws of chess. If the move is discovered during the course of the game, the tournament director has the option to return the game to the position the illegal move occurred. If the illegal move is immediately noticed, the player who made the move must the piece he made the illegal move with to a legal space, if possible. If the piece moved can make no legal move, another piece may be chosen to move. The tournament director can issue time penalties for illegal moves.

IM: Abbreviation for International Master.

Initiative: A term that describes an advantage held by player who has the ability to control the game. The player without the initiative is often left no choice but to play defensively.

International Master: A FIDE title given to players whose playing strength is below that of a Grandmaster. IM's usually have the FIDE rating of approximately 2400 or above.

Interposition: The movement of a piece in between an attacking piece and the piece it is attacking.

Isolated Pawn: A pawn whose adjacent files contain no pawns of the same color. An isolated pawn is considered a weakness because it is often a target for attack, as it has no friendly pawn protectors.

J'adoube: French term meaning "I adjust". See adjust.

Kibitz: A comment during the game or during analysis afterward, within the hearing of the players. Refers most often to spectators. One who kibitzes (called a "kibitzer") during the play of the game can be, at the request of the players or by ruling of the Tournament Director, removed from the playing hall.

King: The most important chess piece of the game. No material equivalency can be applied to the King because his "loss" means the end of the game, therefore he is considered "invaluable". The King can move in any direction but only one square at a time. During the act of Castling the King is permitted to move two squares. The King can never move into check. If the King is placed in check, not other move can be played until the King is safely out of check.

King Hunt: A prolonged attack on the King, which removes him from his defensive position with by a series of checks and possibly sacrifices. A successful King Hunt ends in checkmate.

Knight: A minor piece (with the approximate value of 3 pawns) which moves in an "L" shaped manner. The Knights can move either one square vertical and two squares horizontally OR two squares vertically and one square horizontally. The knight is the only piece on the chess board that can jump over pieces, whether friendly or hostile. Each player begins with two knights. A knight is most effective in a closed position where it can effectively "leap" over pieces.

Knight's Tour: A chess puzzle where one attempts to move the knight 64 times, landing on each square only once. If the Knight finishes it's tour on the square it began it is called a "re-entrant".

Luft: A German term meaning "air". One creates "luft" by giving the king an escape square. See Escape Square

Major Piece: Refers to the Queen and the Rooks.

Master: A title awarded by many Chess Federations to very strong players.

Match: A contest between two players or two teams of players. A match often refers to a series of games, however, it can mean only one game.

Mating Net: A forced series of combinations that cut off King escape squares in preparation for checkmate.

Middlegame: The second phase of the chess game which follows the "opening". The middle game usually occurs after all the pieces are developed and relies heavily on tactics.

Minor Piece: Refers to Bishops and Knights.

Mobility: The ability to move one's chess pieces to all areas of the board quickly.

National Master: A title awarded by the USCF to strong players who have achieved a rating of 2200.

Norm: The number of points a player must achieve in an international tournament to gain qualification for FIDE titles.

Notation: Recording a chess game.

Novice: A player who is new to chess.

Open File: A file that has no pawns of either color situated on them. Open files are most attractive to Rooks.

Open Game: A game style that does not involve a great deal of pawn chains and usually opens with 1. e4 e5. Pieces are giving excellent mobility and often developed quickly.

Open Tournament: A tournament open to any player regardless of strength or experience.

Opening: The first phase of the chess game where each player attempts to develop his/her pieces, control the center, and castle his/her King into safety.

Opposition: A position where the two kings are on the same rank, file, or diagonal with an odd number of squares separating them. If there is only one square in between both Kings, this is direct opposition. If there are three to five squares separating the Kings, this is distant opposition. A player "has the opposition" if the Kings are in direct opposition and the opponent must move, thereby allowing the player to advance his King.

Outside Passed Pawn: A passed pawn away from most of the other pawns on the board.

Over the Board: A term describing chess games that are played when the opponents are face to face, as opposed to correspondence chess or chess over the internet.

Pairings: A listing of who plays in a tournament along with the opponent he/she will play in each round.

Passed Pawn: A pawn that has no enemy pawn on either adjacent file to stop it's advance to the other side of the board for promotion.

Patzer: A derogatory name for a weak player. See also Woodpusher and Duffer

Pawn: The weakest piece on the chessboard, yet the only piece that has the ability to become stronger. A pawn moves straight ahead, yet captures pieces diagonally. The pawn is the only piece that does not capture the way it moves. The pawn also has the ability to capture en passant. On the first move of each pawn, a player has the option of advancing that pawn one or two square. All subsequent moves of that specific pawn must be one square at a time. If the first pawn move is only one square, that pawn loses the ability to ever move more than one square again. If a pawn reaches the enemy's first rank, it must be promoted to another piece other than a King. It cannot remain a pawn. The relative strengths of all other pieces on the chessboard are measured in pawn increments.

Pawn Grabbing: A derogatory term for a player who chooses to capture enemy pawns at the expense of development or countering attacks. Also called "pawn munching" or "pawn snatching".

Pawn Storm: The advance of two or more connected pawns for the intent of an attack on the King, to promote one of the pawns, or to restrict the movement of the enemy pieces. Pawn storms are most effective when the Kings have castled on opposite sides of the board.

Perpetual Check: A position where one player can continuously place his opponent in check without the threat of checkmate. This kind of game is usually drawn as one of the players is most often able to create a threefold repetitious position.

Pin: A tactic where a piece is forced to shield another valuable piece from attack. If the shielding piece were to move, the piece behind it would be lost. See Absolute Pin and Relative Pin.

Poison Pawn: A pawn that seems undefended and able to be captured, however, in doing so permits the other player who gave up the pawn to engage in a strong attack or to win the piece that captured the pawn.

Post Mortem: A slang term meaning the analysis of a game after it has been completed.

Promotion: When a pawn reaches the enemy's first rank, it must immediately become another piece (with the exception of a King) at the player's choice. It is possible, though not likely, that a player, if he/she were to promote all eight of his/her pawns, could have nine queen (including the original queen) on the board at one time, or any combination of pieces he/she would choose. Most often pawns are promoted to a Queen; however, in some circumstances underpromotion to a Knight, Rook, or Bishop may be chosen.

Protected Passed Pawn: A passed pawn that has the protection of another friendly pawn on an adjacent file.

Queen: The strongest piece on the chessboard. The Queen is equivalent to nine pawns. The Queen can move by diagonals, ranks, or files; combining the movements of the Bishop and the Rook as long and as far as she please until her moves are obstructed by another piece.

Quiet Move: A move that does not capture, check, or otherwise threaten an enemy piece.

Rank: Any horizontal row on the chessboard. Ranks are noted with the numbers 1 through 8 for identification.

Rating: A numerical representation of a player's success rate and approximation of strength. When a player wins a game, he/she is awarded points according to the strength of his/her opponent. When a player loses, he/she loses points according to the strength of his/her opponent. Additionally, when a player draws, he/she is often awarded approximately half of the amount of points he/she would have received for a win (and vice versa for a loss).

Relative Pin: A pin where the movement of the shielding piece is legal, but not desirable. In other words, move a shielding piece is allowed because the King is not involved in the pin, however a strong piece, such as the Queen, may be lost.

Resign: To admit defeat in a game before being checkmated. After a player resigns, the game is over. The common resignation signals include a player tipping over his King or saying, "I resign" to his/her opponent.

Rook: A major chess piece. The Rook's strength is equivalent to five pawns. The Rook can only move in straight lines along ranks and files until stopped by another piece. The Rook is the piece, other than the King, that is involved in the castling move. Sometimes called a "castle", however to refer to it that way is to appear unprofessional.

Sacrifice: To deliberately give up material to achieve an advantage (which could include a gain in tempo, greater mobility, a checkmate, etc...).

Simultaneous Exhibition: Also called a "simul". This is an event where a single player plays numerous opponents at the same time. Numerous boards are set up and the simul exhibitor moves from board to board one at a time and makes his/her move. The opponents have only the time in which it takes the exhibitor to return to consider their moves. The opponents must make their move in front of the exhibitor when he/she returns to their board individually. Most often the exhibitor will allow each opponent the ability to "pass" three times, wherein the exhibitor will skip him/her until his next cycle around.

Skewer: Also called an X-ray Attack. A tactic where a valuable piece is put under attack and must move to be saved. Once the valuable piece moves out of attack, a second piece behind it is revealed and subjected to being captured.

Skittles: A slang term for unofficial chess games, most often played quickly.

Smothered Mate: A form of checkmate where the King is unable to escape check because his own friendly pieces prevent him from moving.

Spite Check: A check given by a player facing the inevitable checkmate of his own King. A Spite Check does not eliminate the threat of checkmate; it merely delays it for a move or two.

Stalemate: A situation where a player has no legal moves to make. Any move he/she would make with the King would put the King in check and he/she has no other pieces on the board that can move. This game ends in a draw.

Strategy: The overall, long range plans for the game.

Swindle: See cheapo.

Tactics: Plans and moves that gain advantages in the short term.

TD: Abbreviation for Tournament Director

Tempo: The chess equivalent to time involving moving pieces and keeping the initiative. An example of a lost tempo is moving a piece twice in the opening before developing the rest of the army. When moving a piece twice, the opponent is said to "gain a tempi" because he can take that extra move and secure his position, have a lead in development or begin an attack.

Threat: A move that threatens to capture an enemy piece or damage the position of the opponent.

Touch Move: A chess rule that requires a player to move a piece that he/she has touched, even if doing so results in a blunder or the loss of the game. If the piece touched cannot be legally moved, the player must make a legal move with another piece and can, at the discretion of the tournament director, be penalized. If a player touches an opponent's piece, he is bound to capture that piece if legal. If a player says "I adjust" or "J'adoube", he/she indicates that there is no intention of moving that piece and is not bound to do so.

Tournament: A series of chess games with multiple players.

Tournament Director: The individual in charge of any chess tournament. The tournament director is responsible for enforcing rules, settling disputes or claims, keeping order, and creating pairings. A tournament director, depending on the size of the tournament may elicit help from Assistant Tournament Directors.

Underpromotion: Promoting a pawn to any piece other than a Queen.

Undoubling: To move a doubled pawn to the adjacent pawn by way of a capture.

United States Chess Federation: The ruling body of chess in the United States. Also called the USCF.

Weak Square: An important square that cannot be defended by pawns.

Woodpusher: See Duffer.

Zugzwang: German for "compelled to move". A situation that occurs when any move a player makes will weaken his/her position, however, he/she is compelled to move in accordance to the rules.

Zwischenzug: German for "intermediate move". A move that is made in between a seemingly forced sequence of moves, improving a player's position.