Chess Glossary

Chess has its own terminology, and you will need to know these special terms. Here are some of the more important ones that you’ll find useful as you play through the games of this tournament. Click on the name of a term below to jump directly to it.



A Bishop whose mobility is restricted by its own pawns. Both Bishops in the diagram below are bad Bishops.


Any combination of friendly Rooks or Queen and Rooks on an open or half-open file is called a battery. In the diagram below, White has set up a battery on the open e-file.

In the next diagram, Black has a battery on the half-open h-file.

The term “battery” is also (less frequently) used to refer to a Queen and Bishop on an open diagonal.


Stopping or blocking an opponent’s passed or isolated pawn by placing a piece on the square directly in front of it. In the diagram below, Black’s Knight is blockading White’s d5 pawn.


The four squares around the center point of the board (squares d4,e4,d5,e5). A piece on a center square potentially controls more space than a piece on the board’s edge. In the diagram below, the pawns are on the center squares.


Any pawn on the d-file or e-file is a center pawn.


There are two main types of center.

A position in which pawns block movement through the center squares is called a closed center (also known as a closed position or closed game).

A position in which movement through the center squares is not blocked by pawns is called an open center (also known as an open position or open game).


A series of moves which results either in a gain of material or a checkmate.


The act of getting your pieces off of your first rank and onto useful squares. If you have more pieces that have moved off of their starting squares than your opponent does, then you are said to have a “lead in development”.


Two pawns of the same color on the same file. Usually (but not always) a weakness. In the diagram below, White has doubled f-pawns while Black has doubled b-pawns.


Pawns on the a through c files and f through h files (as in the diagram below).


The deliberate sacrifice of material (usually a pawn) in exchange for some type of advantage (a lead in development, open lines for attacking, etc.).


A Bishop whose movement is not blocked by its own pawns. The Bishops in the diagram below are good Bishops.


Similar to “momentum” in other sports. If you’re controlling the game by making moves that force a particular response from your opponent, then you’re said to “have the initiative”.


A pawn which has no friendly pawns on either of the two adjacent files. Generally, isolated pawns are a weakness because they have no other pawns to defend them and must be protected by a piece. An isolated pawn is sometimes called an isolani. White’s d-pawn is isolated in the diagram below.


The Queen and Rooks are known as the “major pieces” (also called the “heavy pieces”).


The Bishops and Knights are often called “minor pieces”.


The more squares your pieces can move to safely, the more mobility you have. Likewise, if your pieces are cramped by having few good, safe squares to move to, the less mobility you have.


A file containing no pawns of either color is an open file. The d-file in the diagram below is open.

A file containing pawns of only one player is said to be half-open. In the diagram below, the d-file is half-open for White.


A King has a unique property in relation to the opposing King. Your King can never move to a square adjacent to another King (because this would put your King in check; of course, the rules prevent you from ever making a move that puts your King in check). Your King is equipped with an “invisible force field” that keeps your opponent’s King from ever moving next to it. Of course, your opponent’s King has the same adjacent-square “force field”.

Neither King can advance toward the other. The player whose turn it is to move must give up ground. If you’re making your opponent’s King retreat and give up space in this way, you’re said to “have the opposition”. In the above diagram, if it’s Black’s turn to move, White has the opposition. If it’s White’s move, then Black has the opposition.

This works at longer distances as well. Consider the following diagram:

Whoever moves has the opposition.

As a basic rule of thumb, if there’s an even number of squares between the Kings, whoever moves has the opposition. If there’s an odd number of spaces, whoever moves loses the opposition (and the opposition obviously passes to his opponent).

Opposition has a number of practical applications in the endgame. You’ll see some of these applications in the games of this tournament. For right now, all you really need to remember is the “force field” idea.


We’ll borrow Aron Nimzovitch’s definition, because it’s brief and accurate: An outpost is “…a piece, usually a Knight, established on an open file in enemy territory, and protected…by a pawn”. We could also add that it’s usually established on a square that can’t be attacked by enemy pawns.

In the diagram above, White has established a Knight outpost on e5, while Black has a Bishop outpost on b4.


The concept of “overprotection” was not really introduced to the world until 1925, a year after this tournament was played. The idea was put forth in a book called My System by Aron Nimzovitch. Since then, overprotection has become an important chess concept. Due to its importance, we’ll go over it here. Then, when we go back to 1924, we’ll know something that some of the players don’t!

Very simply, here’s how overprotection works:

In the above diagram, White’s d5-pawn is attacked twice (by Black’s Knight and Rook) and defended twice (by White’s Rook and Bishop). Therefore, both of White’s pieces are tied down to the pawn’s defense and can’t move away to undertake any useful actions elsewhere.

The difference between this diagram and the last one is the addition of a White Knight on e3. With this addition of a Knight, White’s d-pawn is attacked twice, but defended three times. The pawn is said to be “overprotected”.

Why is this important? Because now any one of White’s pieces is free to move away to do some other constructive thing (such as Rd1-c1, attacking the Black Knight, for example) without jeopardizing the pawn, as the other two pieces remain protecting it. By overprotecting a pawn or piece, you are assured that one of your pieces will be free to undertake other actions. Pretty simple stuff!


A pawn which can advance to the last rank to promote without being stopped by an enemy pawn on the same file or captured by an enemy pawn on an adjacent file. In the diagram below, White has a passed d-pawn.


An unbroken string of pawns whose advance is blocked by pawns of the other player on the squares immediately in front. In the diagram below, White’s pawn chain stretches from d5 to f3 (the g2 pawn doesn’t count because it can advance) while Black’s pawn chain goes from d6 to f4 (again, the g5 pawn isn’t included because it can advance).


Any grouping of one or more pawns separated from other pawns by an open file is called a pawn island. The following diagram will illustrate the idea:

In the diagram, White has two pawn islands (one on the a through c files, the other from the e through h files) while Black has three islands (the a pawn, the c & d pawns, and the f through h pawns).

As a general rule, the more pawn islands you have, the weaker your position is (due to the fact that the separated groupings can’t defend each other and must usually rely on pieces for defense).


If you have more pawns on one side of the board than your opponent does, you’re said to possess a pawn majority. White has a three-to-two pawn majority on the Queenside while Black has a two-to-one majority on the Kingside in the diagram below.

You can also have a pawn majority on the center two files.


A group of pawns (usually three, sometimes more), supported by pieces, marching together up the board to attack the opponent’s position (especially the opponent’s castled King) is called a “pawnstorm”. To help you remember the term, think of it as a group of medieval peasants storming a castle.

A special type of pawnstorm involving only two pawns (usually on the two center files) is called a “pawn-roller” (as in “steam-roller”, because in this case, the supported pawn pair advances unstoppably up the board, sweeping the opposing pieces out of their way and “flattening” the ones that won’t move aside!)


Deliberately giving up a piece or pawn to improve your position or gain some other advantage. If it’s not absolutely certain that the sacrifice will give you some sort of improvement, then it’s known as an “unsound sacrifice”.


The number of squares your pieces can move to or control is the amount of space you have.



The first eight to twenty moves of a game, in which each player tries to develop his pieces to the best possible squares.


The heart of the game, in which attacks are launched and pieces are maneuvered and exchanged.


The final stage of the game, in which few (if any) pieces are left and each player tries to jockey his King toward the center to help advance his remaining pawns toward promotion squares.


A measure of time, just as in music. Each player’s move is called a tempo.


An important idea to keep in mind is this: in closed positions (ones with many pawns still on the board) Knights are better than Bishops. This is due to the fact that Knights can leap over the obstructing pawns, so their maneuverability is not decreased.

Conversely, on an open board (one with few pawns obstructing movement), Bishops are better than Knights. This is because (on an open board) a Bishop can move from one side of the board to another in just one move, while a Knight is still limited to moving just two squares away.

As a chess game progresses, pieces and pawns are exchanged, gradually opening up space on the board. Eventually, the Bishops will have plenty of room to maneuver. If you have both of your Bishops while your opponent only has one of his, you possess a distinct advantage, as you will be able to attack, control, and influence squares of both colors with your Bishops, while your opponent will only be able to do this on one color with his lone Bishop.

This is why possession of the “Bishop pair” is considered an advantage over possession of two Knights or a Knight and Bishop. Most players try to hang on to both of their Bishops until they see whether the game will develop into an open or closed position.


A square which can no longer be guarded by a pawn, due to pawn advances. Also called a “hole”. In the partial diagram below, White’s pawn advances have created weak squares, or holes, on a3, c3, e3, and g3.

All of these terms will become more familiar to you as you play through the games of the tournament.

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