Chess Terms and Definitions
Chess terms defined

Chess Terms and Definitions

by NM Dan Heisman

Action Chess: A game where each player only has 30 minutes to make all his moves.

Algebraic Notation: A method for writing moves down by using the names of the pieces and the ranks and files. Replaced older Descriptive Notation (“P-K4" is now "e4") about 1970.

Amateur: In chess, a non-master. At the US Amateur, masters cannot play.At the US Amateur Team tournaments, the team has to average below master rating. Note: in chess, amateurs can win money, sometimes quite a bit at tournaments like the World Open.

Attack: When you move a piece to a square where you could capture an opponent’s piece NEXT move.

Back Rank: The rank where a player sets up his major pieces (1st for White; 8th for Black)

Back-Rank Mate: A checkmate on the 1st or 8th rank with a Rook or Queen.

Battery: Lining up two pieces that move similarly, like a Queen and Rook or Queen and Bishop.

Blitz: Fast chess. Many blitz games are 5 minutes per player for the entire game.
Book Besides the kind with a spine, a “book” move is one that a player has learned to play in a particular position in the opening (from a “book” or other media) without the need to “calculate”.

Blunder :A bad move; primarily a move that turns a win into a loss or draw, or a draw into a loss.

Bughouse: A variant of chess with two players on each side – a player gets the pieces his partner captures.

Bye: What you get when you can’t play a round, but are still continuing to play in the tournament. Byes don’t count for ratings, but can be either 0 points, ½ point, or 1 point (in case you want to play, but are the odd person available)

Capture: (or Take) not Kill – to remove a piece from the board via a legal move
Castle To move your unmoved King 2 squares toward an unmoved Rook and to move the Rook on the other side of the King.

Check: An attack on the King. You do not have to announce “check”.

Checkmate: An attack on the King where there is no way for your opponent to finish his turn and not longer have the King attacked.

CTD: Club Tournament Director

Desperado: A piece that is going to be captured anyway so it can "sacrifice" itself at the highest cost.

Discovery: An attack by a piece that was opened up via another piece’s move.

Double Attack: An attack on two (or more) pieces by a single move

Doubled Pawns: Two pawns of the same color on the same file as a result of a capture

Doubled Rooks: Two Rooks forming a battery on a rank or file.

Draw: NOT “tie” - Any game that ends without either player winning, e.g. Stalemate, Lack of Mating Material, 50-Move Rule, etc.

En Passant: Capturing a pawn that moved 2 spaces with a pawn that could have captured it if it had only moved 1 space, on the next turn only.

En Prise: "In take" - able to be captured for free. A piece is en prise if it can be captured but is not guarded.

Endgame: The part of the game where the King should come out and fight (with fewer pieces left on the board).

Expert: Someone with a US Chess Federation rating between 2000 and 2199

Fianchetto: To develop a Bishop on a long diagonal (b2 or g2 for White; b7 or g7 for Black).

FIDE: International Chess Federation

FIDE Master: Someone with the lowest International Chess Title

Fifty-Move Rule: A type of draw where both players make 50 moves consecutively without either player advancing a pawn or making a capture.

File: The rows of a chessboard going up and down, lettered a-h (lower case), with “a” always on White’s left (and Black’s right)

Five Minute/Blitz: A game where each player has five minutes to make all his moves.

Flag: The part of an analog clock that rises when the minute hand nears the hour and falls at the hour.

Fool’s Mate: A 2-move mate similar to 1. f3?? e5 2. g4??? Qh4#

Forfeit: Has 2 Definitions, depending upon context

1)When you don’t show up for a game (which is therefore not rated), or
2)When someone loses on time, a “time forfeit” (which is rated like any other loss)
Fork A double attack, usually by a Knight or Pawn (thus looking like a “fork” in the road).

Grandmaster: Someone with the highest International Chess Title

Illegal Move: A move that either a) Moves a piece in an illegal manner, or 2) Results in an illegal position.

International Master: Someone with the intermediate International Chess Title

Isolated Pawns: Pawns that have no other pawns of the same color on adjacent files.

not Horse – the piece that moves like an “L”

LTD: Local Tournament Director

Master: Someone with a US Chess Federation rating between 2200 and 2399

Material Piece value: when you win a pawn, a piece, the exchange, you are winning "material"

NTD: National Tournament Director

Open File:
One with no pawns of either color

: fish A weak chess player

Piece: Has 3 definitions, depending upon context:

1.All the chess men, as in “Get all the pieces out of the bag”
2.The non-pawns, as in “You have to develop all your pieces”
3.A Bishop or Knight, as in “I am up (ahead) a piece”

Pin: An attack by a Rook, Bishop, or Queen, on a piece that cannot/should not move because a piece behind the attacked piece along the line of attack is worth even more (if the piece behind is a King, this is an “absolute” pin) and the piece is not allowed to move, or it would put the King into check, which is illegal.

Ply: A half-move, or the move of one player. When both players move, that is two ply, or one full move.

Promote: What a pawn does that reaches the other side of the board, and assuming the move is legal, then under any circumstances it can promote to a Queen, Rook, Bishop, or Knight on the promoting square. So you can have nine Queens, possibly.

Rank: The rows of a chessboard going sideways, numbered 1st-8th starting from White’s side as 1st

Rating: A measure of skill. USCF Ratings range from roughly 0 (basically impossible to get this low - no one ever has) to 3000; most scholastic beginners start around 400. Even if you lose all your games in your first few tournaments you are still usually about 200.

Resigns: When you purposely turn down your King or say “I resign” – the game is over and you lose. Note that shaking hands does not end a game.

Round Robin: A system of pairing players where everyone in the same (small) section plays everyone else.Unlike swiss system, this type of tournament calls for some level of commitment on the part of the players to attempt to complete all their games.

Scholar’s Mate: To mate on f7 (or, for Black, f2) with a Queen or a Bishop in 4 moves – usually a very bad thing to try.When teaching about this, Dan calls this “Dumb and Dumber”

Section: A part of a chess tournament where the players are paired together.Sections may be divided by rating class, scholastic vs. non-scholastic, rated vs. unrated, Scholastic Level, etc.

Semi-Open File: A file with a only pawns of the opponent

Senior Master: Someone with a US Chess Federation rating over 2399

Skewer/ X-ray Tactical Motif
: Sort of an inside-out pin. A move that attacks a piece of value, and there is a piece behind it along the line of attack of equal or lesser value that will be attacked anyway if the attacked piece moves.

Chess for fun or chess without a clock; A skittles room is where you go and play for fun while waiting for your next formal pairing.

Stalemate: When the player to move isn’t in check, but none of his pieces can move. This is a type of draw (not all draws are stalemantes!)

STD: Senior Tournament Director

Sudden Death:
A time control period where all the moves have to be played within a certain amount of time (on that player’s clock).

Swiss System: A system of pairing tournaments whereby players are paired against other players who are doing about as well as they are. Wherever possible, players get about an equal number of games with Black and White, and will not play the same opponent twice.

TD: Tournament Director

Tactics: The aspect of moving pieces that involves piece safety and checkmating. The advanced form is considered “combinations” of tactical motifs, such as pins, forks, removal of the guard, etc.

Team Tournament:
A tournament where the players play in rating order, first board against first, second against second, etc.The result is a team win, loss, or draw, depending on whether most of the players win or lose (or half of them do).

Tempo: The “time” it takes for one of the players to make one move. A “turn”.

The Exchange: Winning a Rook for a Bishop or Knight is called winning “The Exchange”

Threat: A move which can win material, checkmate, or make progress next move if the opponent does not stop it. Attacks on under-defended pieces are an example of a threat.

Three-Fold Repetition of Position: A type of draw where the same position is reached three times with the same player to move. Does not require the same moves and can occur at any point in the game.

Time Delay:
The preferred way of using a clock at a USCF tournament; a digital clock is set to NOT run for the first N seconds on each move.

Touch Move: The rule that says:

1.If you touch a piece you have to move it,
2.If you let go of a piece you have to leave it there
3.If you displace an opponent’s piece, you have to take it.

Unrated: An unrated player who has never played a rated game, or one whose rating has not yet become official by the USCF (ratings become official every two months). An unrated game is one that will not be played for a rating.

USCF: United States Chess Federation

Woodpusher: A weak chess player

Zugzwang: When you have to move, but any move is bad for you

An in-between move. For example, instead of re-capturing, you give a check first

National Master Dan Heisman is a highly acclaimed Chess Instructor and best selling chess author . You can get more terrific information about chess at  Dan's Chess Page

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