Chess Glossary

A Glossary of Chess Words, Terms and Phrases

Adjust (J’adoube): to center a piece on its square.

A player may, on his turn, touch a piece to center it on a square. The player must say “I adjust” or the French “J’adoube,”before touching the piece otherwise they are required to move it by the touch-move rule. A player may not abuse this rule to annoy their opponent. It only needs to be said once then the player may adjust all the pieces he wishes. Players may only adjust pieces on their turn.

Algebraic Notation: A method of recording moves in which each rank is numbered 1-8 and each file is labeled a-h starting at White’s lower left corner.

Amateur: In chess it refers to a non-master player.  A player under 2200 USCF rating

Analysis: The process of thinking in which the players try to understand the position.

Chess mastery essentially consists of analyzing chess positions accurately. – Botvinnik

Annotation: Written notes about a game explaining other possibilities that might have occurred during that game.

The notes can be words or variations, the best annotations tend to combine both.

For amateur players, words are very useful to help explain the ideas while more advanced players will be more interested in variations.

Attack: to make a threat either to capture a piece or a series of moves whose goal is to target a weakness or the enemy king.

The first principle of attack–Don’t let the opponent develop!” — FINE

Back-Rank: Referring to the rank that the king starts on.

For White this is all the squares on the 1st rank and all the squares on the 8th rank for Black. This can also refer to the weakness of the back rank which refers to the inability of the king to escape from an attack by a rook or queen due to being trapped by his own pawns.

Back-Rank Mate: A checkmate on the 1st/8th rank by a queen or rook.

Backward Pawn: The base of a pawn chain, or the only unprotected pawn from that chain.

The most unhappy and unsecured pawn in a chain! – Radu

Bad Bishop: A bishop whose mobility is reduced by its own pawns.

Considered a positional disadvantage. “Sometimes the bad bishop defends the good pawns!”

Beginner: Anyone who starts learning chess or anyone who realizes how little they do know.

Every chess master was once a beginner. – Chernev

Blindfold Chess: A game played without seeing the board.

Moves are made by using annotation and called out by the player. The players eyes are not normally ‘blindfolded’ only positioned so that they can not see the board.

Blitz: (Speed chess): A 3 or 5-minute chess game.

A chess game played at a rapid pace using a clock with 3-5-minutes for each player to finish all their moves. A player running out of time results in losing the game.

Blunder: (chess annotation-??) A bad move or a mistake that changes the result of a game dramatically such as an equal position to a loss or a winning position to a draw (or loss).

The blunders are all there on the board, waiting to be made. – Tartakover

Book (or Book move): A chess term that refers to a move that is supported by chess theory as “good” or “best” in a given position.

Often players can memorize specific lines and do not have to think about what move to play. At low levels this has little effect on the result. At high levels players are very focused on playing the best move possible in a given position and many openings are studied to over 20 moves for each side.

Brilliancy: Refers to a game that was extremely well played, usually involving a surprising combination, sacrifice, or example of exceptional technical expertise.

Brilliant move: A move that was very difficult to see and/or surprising.

Usually indicated in chess annotation by the symbol “!!”.

Bughouse: A  very popular variant of chess played by two-man teams that play on separate boards, one player playing with the white pieces and the other with the black pieces.

Pieces that are captured can be used by the player’s teammate on their board.

Bye: Used in tournaments to give a player that can not play a round at some point but who wants to still compete later in the same tournament.

Normally if a player can not play a game due to the lack of an opponent they are given a full point bye while if a player chooses to not play for some reason (usually a conflict that must be prearranged by the player with the tournament director) the player receives a half point bye. Zero point byes are not given out and are reserved for forfeits.

Calculation (seeing ahead): A detailed analysis of the possible moves in a given position.

Many good players can calculate several moves (10+) ahead but often they limit themselves to only a few moves (3-5) to conserve time. Accuracy over a few moves is more important than deep calculation that is flawed. Calculate wider not deeper! – AAGAARD

Capture (take, kill , jump): To remove a piece from the board that is often referred to by scholastic players as “killed” or “jump”.

In chess notation a capture of a piece can be referred to with an ‘x’ (example: Rxe4)

Castle (castling): A special king’s move designed to help get the king out of the center of the board quickly.

This move came about after the powers of the queen were dramatically increased and people found that games only lasted a few moves with the King remaining in the center. Castling can not be done if the king or rook has moved or the king is in check or passes through check. It is not a term used to indicate the Rook. When castle be sure you first touch the King or your opponent can make you move the Rook according to the touch-move rule!

Center (small or big): the small center or center refers to the four central squares e4, e5, d4, d5 sometimes people will refer to the big center which are the squares around  the small center. Control of the center is one of the major battles that occurs in chess especially during the opening and middle game.

Cheapo (slang): a trap , especially one that is superficial.

Check (also see double check): A move that attacks the opposing king.

A player is not required to say check to their opponent. It can be considered harassment if repeated continuously during a game. In annotation a check can be indicated by a “+”.

Checkmate: From the Persian “shah mat” meaning the king is dead.

A position where a king is in check but has no legal move to escape from check. Checkmate ends the game. The king is not removed from the chessboard. Annotated in chess by a “#”.

Clock (chess clock, timer): A special clock designed for playing against an opponent with two clocks linked so that one clock can be stopped when a move is completed by a player and the other clock started.

Clocks can be analog or more commonly today digital. If a player runs out of time he loses the game if the other player has mating material.

Closed Position (closed game): Referring to a central position where the pawns block one another preventing opening diagonals or files in the center.

Coffee-house (coffee-house player): (slang) A term used to indicate a style or behavior that is unprofessional.

A coffee-house player often plays superficially but aggressively, playing second best moves that contain a tactical trap.

Combination (combo): A series of forcing moves that lead to an advantage or specific goal.

A combination is often used to win material or checkmate the king, but can also be used to gain a positional advantage.The combination player thinks forward; he starts from the given position, and tries the forceful moves in his mind. – Emanuel Lasker

Correspondence chess (e-mail chess, postal chess): Chess played by opponents using email, postcards or a website to relay moves to each other.

Different rules apply than over-the-board chess. Players are allowed to move pieces around, consult books and databases and in some leagues use computers. While computers have started to dominate over-the-board chess, they still have not won a match against the best correspondence players.

Counterplay: A method of defending against an attack by an opponent that tries to attack the opponent’s position in kind.

A very popular method of defense with masters but also riskier since the game can be decided by whose attack is faster.


1. A move that defends against a threat.

2. An opening by Black with a specific strategy in mind.

Example the Sicilian defense, French defense.

Often players will refer to the opening only by name such as the Sicilian or a specific variation in the opening such as the Marshal attack (a counter attacking line in the Ruy Lopez.)

Deflection: A tactical method used to force away a piece from defensive duty such as guarding a piece or pawn, square or king.

Develop (Development): The process of bringing pieces from the initial starting position into active play.

Development phase of the game is usually considered over after the king is castled and all the pieces between the two rooks are cleared.

Diagonal: A series of squares connected on a chessboard at an angle. Usually referred to by the starting and ending squares – such as a1-h8 diagonal.

Diagram: A pictorial representation of a chess position that can be graphical or text. Often used to indicate an important or critical positions in a game annotation for publication.

Discovered Attack (discovery): An attack by a piece that is revealed when a pawn or piece moves out of its way.

Discovered Check : An attack on the king revealed when a pawn or piece moves out of the way.

Discovered check is the dive-bomber of the chessboard. – Fine

Double (to double, or doubled rooks): usually referring to a player combining two rooks on a file or rank.

A Strategy to combine the power of the rooks.

Double Attack: A single move that attacks two or more separate pieces.

Even the laziest King flees wildly in the face of a double check!. – Aaron Nimzowitsch

Doubled Pawns: Two pawns of the same color on the same file due to a capture. Considered a positional disadvantage.

Draw: One of the possible results where each player gains a half point score.

Some of the ways of a chess game can result in a draw is by players’ agreement, lack of mating material,  perpetual check, repetition of position or other rules of chess. If your opponent offers you a draw, try to work out why he thinks he’s worse off.— Nigel SHORT

Elo (elo rating): A rating system named after Dr. Arpad Elo, a statistician, used by USCF and FIDE to give an estimate of a player’s skill level in comparison to other players in the same rating pool. It is difficult to compare ratings in different rating pools such as USCF to FIDE.

Endgame: The final stage of a chess game, after the opening and middlegame, when material is greatly reduced and the main strategy to win the game is pawn promotion.

In order to improve your game, you must study the endgame before everything else, for whereas the endings can be studied and mastered by themselves, the middle game and the opening must be studied in relation to the endgame.“– Jose Raul Capablanca, World Champion

En Passant: French for “in passing” .

A special capturing move that occurs when a pawn, on its first move, moves two squares forward and lands on square next to an enemy pawn. The pawn may capture it as if it has only moved one square forward but only has the next move to do so.

En prise (hanging): French.

Referring to an undefended piece that can be captured with no disadvantage.

Exchange: Trading pieces of equal value.

Expert: a player with a USCF rating between 2000-2199

Fianchetto: An Italian word, meaning to develop a bishop on one of the long diagonals at b2 (b7) or g2(g7).

A double fianchetto is when a player does this for both bishops.

FIDE an acronym for Federation Internationale des Echecs (International Chess Federation) pronounced Fee-Day. Responsible for maintaining international ratings, and organizing the world championship for chess.

FIDE Master (FM): The international title given out by FIDE achieved by obtaining a rating of 2300.

File: any vertical row of squares on the chessboard. Usually referenced by their letter designation such as the e-file for the squares e1-e8. Also can be referenced by the piece that originally occupies the square in the opening position (eg. The King file.)

Flag: term for losing a game on time.

A reference to when analog clocks were used to monitor time controls. As the minute hand reached the 12 o’clock position it would raise a small mechanical ‘flag’. When the minute hand reached exactly 12 o’clock the flag would fall indicating the players allotted time for the game was reached.

Flank: The areas of the board next to the d and e files.

Fool’s mate: The shortest possible game in chess. Called as such because only a ‘fool’ would play the moves. 1. f3? e5 2. g4?? Qh4#  Forfeit: to lose a game by exceeding the time limit or because a player failed to show up for a scheduled game.Also a player can lose due to various other rules such as distracting the opponent or a controversial rule in FIDE, a cell phone ringing.

Fork or Double attack: A single piece attacking two points, pieces or pawns at the same time.

Gambit: An opening that offers material early to obtain a temporary advantage in position such as space, initiative or development.

The delight in gambits is a sign of chess youth… — Emanuel LASKER

Game Score (score sheet): A record of moves of a game.

Grandmaster (International Grandmaster, IGM, GM): The highest international chess title awarded by FIDE to groups of players for performance. GMs must have reached a minimum rating of 2500 FIDE at least once in their career and successfully performed at a certain level in 3 tournaments. There are only about 1000 GMs in the world. This number is growing slowly but still less than 1% of all chess players in the world.

Super Grandmaster or Super GM is not an official title but refers to players that have obtained a rating of over 2700, generally in the top 20 players in the world.

What distinguishes a Grandmaster from a master? Chess-lovers often ask questions like that. To many people it seems that Grandmasters simply calculate variations a little deeper. Or that they know their opening theory slightly better. But in fact the real difference is something else. You can pick out two essential qualities in which those with higher titles are superior to others: the ability to sense the critical moment in a game, and a finer understanding of various positional problems.“– Yusupov, in Opening Preparation

Hang (hanging, “Hang a piece”): (Slang for en prise) Referring to an undefended piece that can be captured with no disadvantage

“Loose Pieces Drop Off” – NUNN , Secrets of Practical chess

Heavy piece (heavies, major piece): Referring to the Rooks and Queen.

Illegal Move: A move that is not allowed by the rules of chess.

If played the opponent or if observed by a tournament director can require the player to take the move back and make a move that is legal. If played in a blitz or bughouse game it can result in an immediate forfeit if the opponent declares it once the timer has been pressed.

Initiative : The ability to create concrete threats, requiring your opponent to make defensive moves.

“…only the player with the initiative has the right to attack” — Wilhelm STEINITZ

International Master (International Chessmaster, IM): A title awarded by FIDE.  An intermediate title between FM and GM. To obtain an IM title a player needs to have reached a minimum rating of 2400 FIDE at least once and successfully performed at a certain level in 3 tournaments.

Isolated Pawn: A pawn which has no friendly pawns on adjacent files.

Considered a positional weakness and a potential strength.

An isolated Pawn spreads gloom all over the chessboard.” – TARTAKOVER

Kibitzer: A German word that is used in chess to refer to a spectator that offers unasked for advice about a game in progress.

Kingside: The half of the board on which the king stands in the opening.

The files e-h.

Luft: A German word for “air”.

Used to indicate giving the king a square to move to if attacked along the back rank.

Major piece: The Queen or Rook.

Master: A term used to indicate a player that is over 2200 USCF. The meaning is also dependant on the country and the requirements there. Russian Master title was for a long time considered the equivalent of the international GM title.

Those who say they understand chess, understand nothing“– Robert HUBNER

Match: A series of games against a player or team.

Material: A term used to reference all the pieces on the board.

Having more material means that the normative value of your pieces is greater than that of the opponents based on the rough value of pawn=1 , bishop/knight=3 , rook=5 , queen=9.

Mate (checkmate): A term meaning the king is under attack (Check) but has no method of escape.

Modern chess is too much concerned with things like pawn structure. Forget it – checkmate ends the game” — Nigel SHORT

Middlegame: The stage of the game after the opening but before the endgame where players are trying to pursue various strategies.

Before the endgame, the gods have placed the middlegame. – Tarrasch

Minor piece: a Bishop or a Knight

Odds: A method of compensating a weaker player when playing a stronger player. With clocks time odds can be given such as 5 minutes for one player and 3 minutes for the stronger player. Material odds can also be given such as a pawn up to a queen.

Open Position (open game): A position in which the central pawns have been exchanged or moved resulting in open files along the e and d files.

Open File: A file that has no pawns. Control of an open file by Rooks is considered a positional advantage. Opening:The beginning phase of the game where players are attempting to develop their pieces and get their kings into safety.

All openings are sound below master level. – LOMBARDY

Opening Repertoire (repertoire): An opening sequence of moves learned before a game to reach a middlegame where a player feels comfortable with the normal strategies and plans for each side.

Opposite-colored bishops: A reference to a position where one player has only one bishop that can move on one colored group of squares and the opponent has the bishop that can move on the opposite colored group of squares. (eg. you have the light squared bishop while your opponent has the dark squared bishop)

Outside passed pawn: A passed pawn that is away from the other pawns. Considered a positional advantage.

Over-the-board (OTB): A game played face to face between two opponents.

Pairing: A specific set of opponents for a round, usually put on a wall in the tournament hall.

Passed pawn: A pawn that is not blocked by an opponent’s pawn on the same file or on adjacent files. Considered a positional advantage since only pieces can stop the progress of the pawn.

The Passed Pawn is a criminal, who should be kept under lock and key. Mild measures, such as police surveillance, are not sufficient. – Nimzovich

Patzer: Slang for a weak player

Chess is played with the mind and not with the hands!” – RENAUD and KAHN

Pawn Chain: A group of pawns of the same color on the same color squares that protect each other.

Pawns are born free, yet are everywhere in chains…” – Soltis

Pawn Structure: A general term referring to the position of the pawns and the general strategies that apply to them.

The most important feature of the chess position is the activity of the pieces. This is absolutely fundamental in all phases of the game (opening, middlegame and especially endgame). The primary constraint on a piece’s activity is the Pawn structure.

— Michael STEAN, in Simple Chess.

Perpetual check (perpetual, “Perpet”): An attack against the king that can be repeated continuously, resulting in a draw by repetition.

A player can claim a draw by declaring his intention to avoid losing on time.

Piece: any of the material on the board other than a pawn.

Pin: A long range piece that attacks an opponents piece and prevents it from moving due to it shielding another more valuable piece that is behind it.

PLAN: A combination of ideas and intentions possible in any given position.

Even a poor plan is better than no plan at all. – Mikhail Chigorin

It is not a move, even the best move, that you must seek, but a realisable plan. – Znosko-Borovsky

Protected passed pawn: A passed pawn that is protected by another pawn. Considered a positional advantage.

Ply: A single move by a player. A move is two ply.

Position: The placement of the pieces and pawns at any given point during a game.

The scheme of a game is played on positional lines; the decision of it, as a rule, is effected by combinations. – Reti

Post-mortem: Looking at a game after its completion to determine mistakes, better or alternative ideas that might have occurred during a game.

Promotion: When a pawn moves to the last rank a player is allowed to exchange it for another piece other than another pawn or king.

Since most players usually get a Queen it is also called “queening”.

Queenside: the half of the board on the same side as the queen at the start of the game (files a to d).

Rank: a horizontal line of squares, usually referenced by the number 1-8.

Rated: A tournament whose games are going to be rated by an organization such as FIDE or USCF.

Rating: A statistical evaluation of a player’s strength using a complex statistical formula based on opponent strength and expected result.

It is not enough to be a good player; you must also play well – Siegbert Tarrasch

Recapture: To capture a piece that captured one of your pieces.

Resign: To voluntarily concede a game without playing on to checkmate, usually done when a player feels that continuing to play would be hopeless.

“No one ever won a game by resigning” – origin unknown

Round: One set of games that normally begin at the same time at a tournament.

Round Robin: An all-play-all tournament in which all participants will play one game against each other, alternating colors each game.

A double round robin is where players will play two games, once as white and once as black against each opponent.

Sacrifice: A move where a player deliberately gives up a piece of greater value for one of lesser value or for “free” in order gain some other type of advantage.

“A good sacrifice is one that is not necessarily sound but leaves your opponent dazed and confused”— Rudolph SPIELMANN

Scholar’s Mate (four-move checkmate): A ‘trap’ opening played by many scholastic players when they first start to learn chess where white rapidly creates an attack against the f7 square in hopes to mate the black king quickly, but violating basic opening principles to avoid early development of the queen.

1. e4 e5 2. Qh5 (or Bc4 but then 2, ¼ Nf6 stops Qh5.) Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6?? 4. Qxf7#

Click here to see a lesson on how to avoid this simple trap.

Scoresheet: The paper on which the moves of a game are written down.

Note that in many rated games recording moves is required.

Section: Designated groups of players at a tournament. Players can be divided into groups that will only play against others in a group to ensure that each group is more balanced based on skill level. Also groups can be used to award prizes even if all the players are playing each other.

Semi-open file: A file in that has only one pawn on it. Generally considered a positional advantage.

Senior Master: A title in the USCF for a player that has obtained an official rating of over 2399.

Simplification: A process by which pieces are exchanged.

A strategy used by players who would have an advantage in a position where fewer pieces on the board would minimize chances of counter play by their opponent.

Shot: A surprising tactical move

Sight: “A quick sight of the board.” A general reference to the ability of someone to quickly see or calculate tactical threats.

Simultaneous Exhibition (simul): a chess event where one player plays several different opponents at the same time by walking from board to board playing each move quickly.

Skewer: A tactical motif where a long range piece attacks an opponent piece of greater value to force it to move out of the way allowing it to capture a piece that was being shielded by it.

Skittles (skittles room): Casual chess.  At tournaments a skittles room will often be designated for players to go and play and examine games between rounds.

Smothered Mate: A specific type of checkmate where the king is surrounded by his own pieces and in check by a knight.

Space: A term that refers to having control of more squares than your opponent. Considered a positional advantage allowing greater mobility of pieces and more options for attack and defense.

Stalemate: A position where a player has no legal moves but is not in check.

The game is a draw.

A draw can be obtained normally by repeating three moves, but also by one bad move.” — TARTAKOVER

Strategy: a plan based on long or short term objectives.

Strategy requires thought, tactics require observation. – Max Euwe

The tactician knows what to do when there is something to do; whereas the strategician knows what to do when there is nothing to do. – Gerald Abrahams

Sudden Death (SD, Game/xx, G/xx): A time control used at tournaments that require a player to finish all their moves in a given amount of time. Usually indicated with “G/” and a number indicating the amount of time in minutes for each player.

Swindle: A situation in a chess game where a player is considered lost but by tough resistance wins or draws by mistakes by his opponent.

Swiss pairing (swiss): A method of pairing a tournament where players are paired each round according to their scores and ratings.

Players normally alternate colors each round and does not play the same opponent twice.

Tactics: The creation of threats and prevention of threats. Consisting of standardized patterns in chess that can be used to gain an advantage. Some examples of this are: Pin, Skewer, Fork, Simultaneous Attack, Mate, Double Check, etc. These themes are used in combinations to create either a material or positional advantage.

A knowledge of tactics is the foundation of positional play. This is a rule which has stood its test in chess history and one which we cannot impress forcibly enough upon the young chess player. A beginner should avoid Queen’s Gambit and French Defense and play open games instead! While he may not win as many games at first, he will in the long run be amply compensated by acquiring a thorough knowledge of the game


Tournament: An official chess contest often with prizes and groupings. Tournament Director (TD): An official at a tournament who is in charge of ensuring proper operation of the tournament and that all players follow the rules.

Tempo (time): A move by one player. A gain of a tempo is considered an advantage.

Threat: A move that creates the opportunity to win material, force checkmate, or a positional advantage.

Time control: The time limit for the games at a tournament. Usually indicated by the abbreviation TC

Time delay: An addition to the time control that allows for a specific amount of time added to a move (usually seconds) or an amount of time that passes before the time allotted for a player begins to be used. The main purpose is to allow for games to be completed in one setting and prevent losing on time.

Time trouble: A situation where a player lacks sufficient time to think about his remaining moves during a game, usually leading to mistakes due to the inability to calculate moves.


Trap: A move that seems to allow a tactical shot but in reality prepares a counter shot.

Trapping a piece: Similar to a checkmate but against another piece.

A piece is attacked but has no way to retreat safely.

Touch-move: A rule that states: If you touch a piece with the intention to move the piece you must move it.

If you let go of a piece you have to leave it on that square, if you do not remove your hand from the piece you can move the piece to another square but if you purposely touch an opponents piece you must capture it.

Knocking pieces over as your reaching for another piece is not considered a touch-move but falls under the “I adjust” rule.

The only exception is if moving the piece is not legal or has no legal way to capture the piece.

Accidentally touching a piece does not mean a player has to move it.

Unrated: A game that is not being played for a rating.

Unrated player: A person who has never played in a rated tournament.

Generally considered a novice section where players are expected to follow the chess laws but are generally given reminders.

USCF: The official chess organization for the United States.

United States Chess Federation

Vision: An image or idea that you picture in your mind. A goal.

Wall Chart (pairings): A piece of paper that shows the players in a tournament who they are playing for a particular round.

Usually posted at a location or wall (hence the name) outside the tournament hall.

Weakness: A general term for a positional disadvantage

Weak Backrank: A specific weakness that refers to the pawns preventing the king from escaping from an attack on the backrank by a rook or queen allowing checkmate.

Considered a tactical disadvantage.

Weak pawn: A specific weakness related to pawns that are vulnerable to attack such as isolated pawn, backward pawn and doubled pawns.

Considered a positional disadvantage.

Weak Square: A square that can not be protected by a pawn.

Considered a positional disadvantage.

Weak points or holes in the opponent’s position must be occupied by pieces not Pawns.Siegbert Tarrasch

WIN: That situation in which we force our opponent to resign, or we checkmate him.

“There are no hopeless positions; there are only inferior positions that can be saved.

There are no drawn positions; there are only equal ones in which you can play for a win.

But at the same time, don’t forget that there is no such thing as a won position in which it is impossible to lose.

— Grigory SANAKOEV

Wing: see flank

Winning the exchange: Winning the exchange refers the trade of a minor piece for a rook.

This leads to a material advantage but often used by good players to obtain a positional advantage for the material loss.

X-Ray: An attack made by a long-range piece (Rook, Bishop or Queen) against some targets (pieces that attack each other and all the other targets from that line) from a line (file, rank or diagonal).

Because of the piece’s long range attacking power they act like an X-Ray machine and can attack ‘through’ a piece once it moves.

Zeitnot (time trouble): German for time trouble.

Zugzwang: German for “move compulsion”.

A position where any move by a player leads to a disadvantage.

The laws of Chess do not permit a free choice: you have to move whether you like it or not.Emanuel Lasker

Zwischenzug (inbetween move): A move that is out of the normal sequence of expected captures in a combination.

Usually a check but can be a capture as well.