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Chess is one of those games that has a lot of technical and non-technical terms. If you want to further yourself in this beautiful strategy game, having an in-depth knowledge of chess terms will definitely go a long way in turning you into a great chess player.

Every beginner will most likely struggle with the vast array of chess words and expressions in the early days. But as one gets to practice more games and learn, a better understanding comes naturally to the more serious chess players.

Knowing chess terms thoroughly allows a player to progress rapidly in the game. One would then get mentally equipped to analyse one’s game in the aftermath of a chess battle, correct mistakes committed during the game, and consume chess resources available online or otherwise without lingering doubts.

Regarding the terms of chess games, there are too many to cover in one article. However, we have tried our best to include most terms of the chess game to make it easy for you to level up in your game. This glossary of chess terms aims to make the amateur chess player’s entry into the world of chess a comfortable one.

For ease of comprehension and reading, we have followed the alphabetical order to space the glossary of chess terms.

Activity

The first chess term we will talk about is called ‘activity’. This means the amount of freedom and space a chess piece has at any time on the board.

The rule of thumb in chess dictates that if a chess piece is stationary for too long, it loses its ability to make a difference in the game. So, keeping chess pieces in movable positions is a good sign.

Adjournment

This happens to be an archaic chess term that is rarely in use these days. ‘Adjournment’ means that a chess game has been stopped temporarily due to lack of time. In that case, the game gets restarted at a later time.

Nowadays, chess organising committees make sure that all games are finished in one session itself. There are standard chess play rates in place these days as well. For example, almost all global chess events mandate that players should complete a minimum of 40 moves within 2 hours.

Advantage

One of the most common terms for chess is an ‘advantage’, which denotes a chess player’s winning chances at any stage of the game. Chess commentators usually use this chess lingo when they notice that one player is in a better position than the other.

They also use similar terms of chess, such as ‘slight advantage’ and ‘clear advantage’, to indicate the level of superiority of one player over the other player.

Attack

One of the most critical terms in a chess game, an ‘attack’ is a coordinated attempt by one player to achieve an overwhelming edge over an opponent.

An ‘attack’ is a great way to impose pressure on an opponent during a chess game. In most instances, attacks are planned out by a player to checkmate the rival king.

Blockade 

Another technical term in chess terminology, a ‘blockade’, occurs when a chess player stops the advance of a rival pawn by placing a piece in front. This method helps gain the upper hand during a chess game.

Backward Pawn

When a single piece of pawn is left stranded at one place while the other pawns next to it have either moved ahead or captured, it becomes a ‘backward pawn’.

In this scenario, this pawn becomes easy prey for the opponent and allows the opponent to orchestrate an attack using the isolated pawn position as a strike point.

Bad Bishop

A ‘bad bishop’ is a piece of a bishop whose movement has been blocked by a friendly pawn. This dramatically limits the bishop’s chances of participating in the field of action, thus hindering the player’s options.

Checkmate

Perhaps the most common of all terms of chess is a ‘checkmate’ when a chess player can corner the rival king completely. The rival king is deemed captured when this happens, and the game ends.

Closed

A ‘closed’ situation arises when pawns take centre stage in the game, albeit negatively, by closing down spaces on the board. With the pockets of space obstructed by the ill-positioned pawns, the game’s pace suffers, and players are left to think of a way to open up the areas.

Combination

A ‘combination’ is a technical term in chess terminology. It points to incidents when a player forces the opponent to make moves that are not essential from the opponent’s standpoint but become necessary from the game’s perspective.

Cramped

As the name suggests, ‘cramped’ is when a chess player’s pieces are positioned too close to each other, thus significantly limiting swift movement and options of switch play.

When chess pieces are ‘cramped’, it becomes difficult for the player to make quick decisions with the pieces. Chess pieces placed too close to each are not usually in a safe position.

Development

One of the most essential terms of chess, ‘development’, is a term that means the slow improvement of chess pieces from their original positions to a much stronger place.

Once the chess pieces have become better positioned on the board, it is time to begin going after the rival pieces, with the ultimate objective of nailing the rival king.

Doubled Pawns

This refers to when two pawn pieces of the same colour are lined up one after the other on the same column. This is a valuable scenario for the player, as each of the pawns becomes unable to defend the other.

Fianchetto

Derived from the Italian word ‘fianco’, which means ‘flank’, ‘fianchetto’ is a term in chess lingo seen regularly in chess matches. It denotes a bishop’s strong positioning on a chess board. It occurs when a bishop has a clear panel in the diagonal, thus making it one of the most vital pieces at a given time.

File

A file is a column on a chess board on which the chess pieces travel onwards and backwards. All chess pieces at the start of a game are placed on a single file. For example, the kings and queens of two opposing players will be placed on files directly facing each other.

Fish

In the glossary of terms, a ‘fish’ is someone who fares poorly in chess matches. Hence, the term is deemed somewhat derogatory in some chess quarters.

Forced

A ‘forced’ move is something that a chess player is supposed to go for to obliterate a lousy scenario in a game. Sometimes, a player may require more than a single ‘forced’ move to save oneself from an unwanted situation.

Gambit

One of the fancier terms of chess, a ‘gambit’ is a technical move that a player engages in to gain the upper hand over the opponent. A ‘gambit’ involves sacrificing one or more minor chess pieces to lead an attacking onslaught on the rival’s king.

Generally, when a chess game reaches a point when it starts to get stagnant, chess players resort to gambits to bring new life back to the game and make new openings for furthering an attack on the rival.

Grandmaster

A ‘grandmaster’ is a chess player who belongs to the higher echelons of the game’s rankings. Grandmasters are brilliant chess players with very high ratings and regularly fight for the top international honours.

Horse

‘Horse’ is one of those terms of chess used to denote a knight, and it is an informal word primarily used by amateurs and first-timers in chess.

Howler

A ‘howler’ is often used instead of a chess blunder. Both a howler and a blunder mean almost the same thing, which is a significant tactical error on the part of one chess player that proves very costly in the course of the game.

Mate

Similar to a ‘checkmate’, a ‘mate’ is an instance when a rival king is cornered by pieces of the opposing player. But unlike in a checkmate where the rival king has nowhere to escape, a check can be countered by one or more moves. 

Material

‘Material’, in chess parlance, means the quality of a player’s chess pieces at any given moment in a game. Someone with higher valued pieces will automatically be judged to be in a stronger position to win the game.

Middle Game

The ‘middle game’ is the second part of any chess match. It is named as it falls between the ‘opening’, the first part, and the ‘endgame’, the final part.

The ‘middle game’ ensues once the chess player has completed setting and developing the pieces on the board. This is when the players begin strategizing their games to inflict damage on the opponents.

Open 

In chess parlance, ‘open’ stands for the situation in a chess match when the pieces are positioned to have enough space to move around the board, and this is the opposite of a ‘closed’ arrangement of pieces on the board.

Opening

The ‘opening’ is the first part of any chess game, and it involves the primary moves made by both players. During this phase, both players engage themselves in developing their individual pieces while also securing their positions.

This is a time when players move their kings to a safe and secure square/tile, having good defensive cover. Players employ a variety of opening moves to experiment with their play.

Over The Board

In the digital age, and especially after the pandemic, more and more chess players are switching to online chess portals to compete against each other. Under these circumstances, some chess terms are becoming more popular.

One among those is the expression ‘over the board’. This means that two players are playing a match on an actual chess board while being physically present on the spot.

Passed Pawn

When it comes to terms of chess, ‘passed pawn’ is an expression used to denote a pawn that has escaped enemy pieces on the board and is safely on its way to the farthest square of the board to get promoted.

From the player’s perspective, this is a very favourable position, as the passed pawn most likely reaches the other side of the board to be promoted to an extra higher valued piece.

Promotion

Intricately linked to the previous term, ‘passed pawn’, ‘promotion’ in chess means a situation when a pawn crosses all barriers on the board to reach the last square of the board to be promoted.

When a pawn gets promoted, the player handling the same can opt for any of the higher valued chess pieces, be it a queen, a bishop, a knight, or a rook.

Queening A Pawn

When a pawn gets promoted to a queen, the expression’ queening a pawn’ denotes such an instance. This is a highly advantageous situation in a match, giving players an extra powerful piece at their disposal.

Rank

A ‘rank’ refers to a set of horizontal squares or tiles on a chess board from left to right or vice versa. To give you an example, at the start of any match, all the pawns are stationed next to each other on the second rank of each side.

Rating

A chess ‘rating’ is a number that professional chess players get awarded as per their credibility. The world’s chief international chess governing body, the Federation Internationale des Echecs (FIDE), adheres to the Elo chess rating method to rank players worldwide.

Sacrifice

‘Sacrifice’ is one of those terms of chess that we frequently hear during chess commentary, and it refers to the intentional losing of one or more chess pieces to gain an advantage during a game.

Sealed Move

A rare instance these days, a ‘sealed move’ is a secret move that is not played but recorded in an adjourned match. When the game resumes at a later date, the recorded action is played, and the battle continues.

Space

As can be understood from the word itself, ‘space’ refers to a condition in a chess match when ample room exists for both players to manoeuvre their pieces on the board.

Smothered Mate

A type of checkmate, a ‘smothered mate,’ takes place when an enemy king is barred from making an escape when faced with a mate by its own pieces.

Stalemate

Any chess game that reaches its conclusion with none of the competing players unable to check and mate the opposite king is deemed a ‘stalemate’. A referee calls these types of matches drawn games.

Study

Witnessed during the final part of a chess match, the endgame, a ‘study’ is that moment when both players take time before deliberating moves. This is usually a tense phase of a game when both players have reached a position where the match could go either way.

Sudden Death

When two chess players are left with 30 minutes of official time to finish a game, it is referred to as the ‘sudden death’ period.

Tactics

Integral to the essence of a chess match, ‘tactics’ refers to those sets of moves that players employ to initiate threats and counter-threats at one another.

Tempo

A ‘tempo’ is a term used to signify the speed at which a particular game of chess is played. Every single chess match is played at a different pace, and throughout a game, the tempo does not keep the same and keeps changing according to the strengths and weaknesses of the players.

Next Steps Toward Becoming A Better Chess Player

Now that you have read about the most essential terms of chess, it is time now to look at various online resources to shore up your gaming skills.

If you want to upf=grade your chess playing skills, check out our blog titled Learn All the Rules of Chess Game. Here you will find the rules one must remember before venturing into an amateur or professional career.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. What is a chess winner called?

In a game of chess, a winner is declared when one player is able to corner and capture the rival king. The moment this occurs, one player calls out “checkmate”, and the game ends.

2. What are ‘terms of chess’?

Every single sport that is played around the world has specific terms that define it. Similarly, chess, too, has a set of words and expressions that are strictly associated with the game of chess, and these help people to better understand and follow the game.

3. What is the first move in chess called?

The first move in chess is known as an ‘opening’, and it is actually not just one single move but several moves. This is when both competing players begin moving their individual pieces to good positions, thereby developing them.

4. What is the last move in chess called?

All chess games end with the move called the ‘checkmate’. This is when the victorious player captures the enemy king, thus reaching the final objective of the match.