Chess is one of the world’s oldest and most popular board games. Invented in the 6th Century AD, the game appeals to many players due to its unique design marked by interesting chess pieces names, emphasis on strategy and patience, and its multitudinous pathways to victory.
As exciting as chess can seem to outsiders, the learning curve for new players is a bit steep. This article demystifies the game by breaking down the chess pieces’ names, their appearances, and their design philosophy. With this, both amateurs and experts will appreciate the game more.
The Basics of Chess
Chess is a two-player game played on a checkered 8×8 board of dark and light squares. Each player controls a set of 16 pieces in total of differing variety. The king is the most crucial piece in the game, and the game’s objective is to capture the opponent’s king.
It would be best if you captured your opponent’s pieces along the way to get to the king. Captured pieces are typically kept at the side of the chessboard.
Chess pieces names with their meanings
The chess game is played with six different types of pieces. These unique pieces have other appearances to denote their abilities or special moves on the chess board. Below, we discuss the names of the chess pieces you will encounter in a standard game of chess, their meanings, and their appearances, and we examine how these pieces move.
We begin with the pawn. This is the most basic or minor chess piece in the game. Each player gets eight pawns to work with. They line up in front of all the other pieces.
They are the foot soldiers and first line of defense that protect the more important royal pieces behind them.
Since the chess game is inspired by medieval infantry and royalty, the pawns represent the lowest of the low. They can be thought of as soldiers with little training or armed peasants.
Pawns also have a basic appearance signifying their basic role and skillset. They typically have a ball or sphere as their visual centerpiece. Pawns also have a lower point value than the other pieces on the board.
Like pawns, knights are also soldiers. Only, they are of a far more dignified variety. Since they are a major piece of each player’s arsenal, only two are available per player, typically positioned in the last row.
Knights are the only pieces that can leap over other parts. As such, they have great offensive and defensive capabilities.
As the name suggests, this piece is inspired by brave medieval knights who were skilled fighters and some of the best martial instruments of royalty and other feudal entities. Back then, knighthood was a title that denoted high social class, coming with more perks and more rights.
The visual centerpiece of the knight is the horse, as knights were famous for riding into battle with their well-armored horses. Horses give one a huge tactical advantage in combat, allowing them to outpace enemies and leap over traps.
In medieval times, the church was a vital instrument and close partner of the crown. This is why bishops are featured in chess as one of the most dynamic and powerful characters. Since bishops move diagonally, they can attack and defend from angles that might surprise new players.
The bishop is considered the third most powerful piece on the board after the king and Queen. There are both gameplay and real-life reasons for this. From a real-life perspective, the bishop was first in line for the throne after the royal family. From the gameplay perspective, few pieces can defend themselves diagonally from range, making the bishop a powerful piece.
The visual centerpiece of the bishop is a pointed oval or cone. This is about the miter hats that real-life Roman Catholic bishops like to wear for ceremonial occasions.
The Castle or Rook
The castle, also called the rook, is a unique chess piece since it is the only piece that represents a structure, not a personality.
Be that as it may, the rook is still thematically relevant as forts and castles were one of the greatest indicators of military might in medieval times.
Royalty and other essential personalities like knights and feudal lords tended to live in castles. They were also the locations at which many important social events like trials and coronations were held.
The visual centerpiece of the rook is the battlement. This is a piece of defensive architecture made up of brick towers and parapets. Great for withstanding enemy sieges. Good for launching offensive campaigns.
The Queen is the most powerful piece in all of chess. She has an unlimited range in all directions of the chessboard. The only thing the Queen cannot do is jump over another piece. As you may recall, that ability is reserved exclusively for the knight.
Many wonder why the Queen is the most powerful piece and not the king. Well, there are many answers to that question. From a gameplay perspective, it makes sense, as the king is too powerful will make him difficult to capture. Remember, the game’s objective is to defend the king, not to have the king protect himself.
The visual centerpiece of the Queen is the curved crown. In medieval times, the Queen’s crown was a small crown curved inwards while the king’s had a more angular, domed shape.
Alas, the King. Maybe not the most powerful piece in the chess set, but the most important. When your king falls, the game is over. This is as true in real life as it is in the game.
In medieval times, feudal conflicts commonly ended when the enemy king was slain. Surrender and exile were also popular forms of conceding defeat.
The king’s visual centerpiece is the domed crown, often featuring a cross. This is modeled after the appearance of real crowns worn by kings past.
Chess pieces moves
The easiest way to understand the chess rules is to know each unique character’s starting position and understand how each piece moves. From there, you can build up an understanding of strategy, specific opening moves and the special case moves to help you win the game.
Pawn moves are straightforward. As usual, we begin with the pawn. Both black and white pawns occupy the second row of the chessboard based on each player’s orientation.
When moving, the pawn can go one place forward. When attacking, the pawn can only attack one place diagonally.
At the very start of the game, the pawn can move two places forward. After that move, it is limited to only moving one space forward.
Pawn promotion occurs once it reaches the end of the board in the opposition zone. The pawn is the weakest piece, meant to defend the more essential pieces or serve as sacrificial fodder for gambits and other special moves. But it’s worth knowing that a pawn can be promoted to any unique pieces other than the king.
The first move in chess typically begins with the pawn. However, in some instances, the beginning of the game can be led by the knight.
As you may recall, the knight is the only chess piece that can jump over your and your opponent’s pieces. And so, some special chess openings by good chess players make use of this.
The knight is typically positioned between the rook and the bishop. The knight moves three squares in an L-shape in all possible directions. Based on the rules of chess, this is the only move it can make.
The bishop is typically positioned between the knight and the king or the knight and the Queen. It can move and attack diagonally for an infinite number of steps.
Unlike the knight, it cannot travel over other pieces. Like the pawn, it attacks diagonally. But over a far more impressive range.
Bishops in light squares can only deal with other light-squared bishops and vice versa. The same goes for bishop moves in black squares.
The Castle or Rook
The castle or the rook is positioned right at the corner of the chessboard. It can move horizontally or vertically for as many steps as you like.
Rook moves do not involve the diagonal axis. Neither can it jump over other pieces.
As the strongest piece, the Queen can move horizontally, vertically, and diagonally for any number of squares. Remember, though, that she cannot jump over other pieces.
The white and black Queen is positioned next to the white and black king. Neighboring the queen chess piece is the bishop.
As powerful as the Queen’s moves are, it’s worth noting that she can’t act until space has been freed up around her. She shares this quirk with most other essential pieces other than the knight.
Finally, the king. The most important thing in chess is to defend your king. The king chess piece is positioned next to the Queen and the bishop. It is the most valuable chess piece by far.
The king moves one step in any direction. He has unlimited freedom but limited range. Most chess players strive to move the king as little as possible. This keeps him out of harm’s way and protects him with a line of defensive units.
Special moves in chess
In chess, there are a small handful of special moves in chess that you can employ both offensively and defensively. Advanced players usually use these moves.
However, knowing these moves as a beginner will give you the upper hand against your peers and ensure you are well-equipped when encountering a higher-tier player.
Let’s go through these moves one by one. All the best players know them by heart. Mastering them is the first step to being as good as chess grandmasters like Gary Kasparov.
This is a special pawn-capturing move in the game of chess. “En Passant” is a French term “In Passing”.
Typically, pawns can only capture enemy pieces diagonally. However, en passant allows you to capture the opponent’s pawn, which is adjacent to your own. Your pawn then takes the open position ahead of where the captured pawn used to be.
This is the only type of capture in chess where the capturing piece rests in a different position than the captured piece. To pull it off, though, some conditions must be met.
- The capturing pawn must have advanced three ranks to pull off this movie.
- The captured pawn must have moved two ranks in one move, landing adjacent to the capturing pawn. If it’s not on this second rank, the move cannot happen.
- Finally, en passant must be executed immediately after the piece to be captured moves. Otherwise, it cannot be performed on a subsequent turn.
Castling is an easy way to protect your king and set up your rook offensively. It is the only move in the game which allows you to move two pieces at once. Kingside or queenside castling is both possible.
To castle, you must ensure you haven’t moved your king or rook all game. Additionally, no pieces must be between your king or your rook.
To castle completely:
- Move your king one step towards your rook.
- Move your rook adjacent to your king.
- Swap their places.
Remember, you cannot castle when any number of the vacant squares involved in the move are under attack from an enemy piece. Neither can you castle if your king is in check?
While castling typically serves to protect the king, one of the primary reasons it is remarkable is that it frees up the rook, which is typically stifled at the corner of the board.
Also, remember that the enemy king can be protected this way.
These rules aside, there are other special rules and different rules that you can use in a game of chess. However, the application of these rules varies from subregion to subregion.
Where did chess originate from?
It’s no mystery that many ancient cultures, speaking many different languages, have had their versions o militarized board games which can be considered predecessors or approximations of chess. However, the actual origins of the game are much harder to pin down.
Some anthropologists commonly point to an Indian predecessor known as Chatarunga, which existed 1500 years ago. This is the closest ancient game to what chess is today. What came before Chatarunga is relatively unknown and subject to speculation. But Chatarunga did not stay in India forever.
Chess as we know it is modeled on French, British, and Spanish ideas of the monarchy. The game traveled through Persia, the Middle East, Spain, and finally, Eastern Europe. It adopted different names along the way. In Eastern Europe, the game transformed into what it is today.
Today chess is overseen by the International Chess Federation, commonly known as FIDE. Based in Switzerland, this organization oversees all other chess organizations and governs international chess competitions.
What is the most powerful piece in a chess set?
Most players would agree that the Queen is the most powerful piece in a chess set. Her offensive and defensive capabilities are virtually unmatched. Additionally, her unique positioning at the king’s side shows that any threat would have to go through her to get to him.
But why has the Queen been delegated with this amount of power? Why not the bishop, the knight, or the rook? Some of European history’s most popular, powerful, and influential monarchs have been queens. For example, Queen Victoria of England. Or the late Queen Elizabeth II.
There’s also a school of thought among historians that Queens have generally wielded more power than was bequeathed to them. They did this by being intelligent and tactful, influencing the more powerful royals, like Kings and Princes, to do their bidding.
Which piece cannot travel backward?
The one piece in the game of chess that cannot travel backward is the pawn. It only ever moves forward. Every other piece, the king, the Queen, the bishop, the rook, and the knight, can advance or retreat as the player sees fit. But the pawn does not have this luxury.
This is yet another peculiarity of chess which is inspired by the real-life systems the game is based on. In European military culture, from pre-medieval times to even as recent as World War 2, foot soldiers were often sacrificed as fodder and were not allowed to retreat.
This culture was so stringently upheld that in the rare case that a foot soldier retreated without express permission from their commanding officer, they were tried and executed for cowardice.
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