Unlocking the Secrets: A Journey Through Common Chess Terms

Chess is a captivating board game that appeals to individuals of all ages. Chess offers a more intricate and strategic gameplay experience, unlike its counterpart checkers. 

However, once you grasp the fundamentals, it becomes accessible and enjoyable. One remarkable aspect that sets chess apart from other casual board games is the extensive lexicon used to describe various aspects of the game. These terms range from simple ones like “checkmate” to elaborate phrases like “en prise.” 

Familiarizing yourself with these chess terminologies will broaden your understanding of the game and open new exploration strategies. This comprehensive guide will delve into the essential chess terms you need to know as you embark on your journey to becoming a chess master!

Chess Piece

The chess pieces are the heart and soul of the game. Each player controls six different types of pieces: pawns, rooks, knights, bishops, king, and queen. 

These pieces abide by specific movement rules, including how they can capture an opponent’s piece. Notably, four of the six chess pieces are further categorized as major and minor, which we will discuss shortly.

Chess Board

The chess board serves as the battleground for a chess match, where the pieces come to life. It consists of a fixed number of squares, typically arranged in an 8×8 grid and adorned with alternating colors. 

At the start of each game, the chess pieces are positioned on designated squares based on their color and type. Whenever a piece is captured, it is removed from the chess board.

Chess board set up


The rows on the chess board that run parallel to each player are referred to as ranks. A standard chessboard has eight ranks from 1 to 8, starting from the rank closest to the player controlling the white pieces.


The columns on the chess board that run perpendicular to each player are called files. Similar to ranks, there are eight files on a chess board. These files are labeled alphabetically from A to H, starting from the left side of the player who controls the white pieces.

Algebraic Notation

Despite its name, algebraic notation in chess terms has nothing to do with algebra. It is a widely accepted term used to describe the location of a chess piece on the board. 

This notation utilizes a combination of rank and file to represent a square on the chess board. In algebraic notation, a square is denoted by a letter indicating the file and a number indicating the rank, forming a pair such as “a3” or “d5.”

Starting position for pieces in chess

Starting Position

Every chess piece has a predetermined starting position on the board, and each position is associated with a specific algebraic notation. Here’s how you set up a chessboard with the starting position of each piece:

  • Pawns: In the 2nd and 7th ranks, one square in front of the other pieces (which are placed on the 1st and 8th ranks)
  • Rooks: In the corners of the board → a1, h1, a8, h8
  • Knights: Next to the Rooks, one square closer to the center → b1, g1, b8, g8 
  • Bishops: Next to the Knights, one square closer to the center → c1, f1, c8, f8
  • Queens: Starts on the center square which is the same color as the piece → white on d1, black on d8
  • Kings: Next to the Queens, on the opposite color as the piece → e1, e8

Major Piece and Minor Piece

In the realm of chess, the chess pieces can be further classified into two subdivisions: major pieces and minor pieces. 

The major pieces, also known as heavy pieces, comprise the Rooks and Queens. These powerful units possess significant mobility and strategic importance. 

On the other hand, the minor pieces encompass the bishops and knights, which occupy the flanks of the board. Although they possess distinct characteristics, both major and minor pieces contribute to the game’s dynamics. 

It’s worth noting that the pawns and kings are not categorized as either major or minor pieces.

Chess Moves

The essence of chess lies in the moves you make on the board. Each player takes turns moving one piece at a time, starting with the player with the white pieces.

Each piece has its own unique movement abilities, and understanding their strengths and limitations is essential for strategic and tactical play in chess. By mastering the movement of each piece, players can develop effective plans, control the board, and execute successful attacks while defending against their opponents.


The King is the most important piece in chess. It can move one square in any direction—horizontally, vertically, or diagonally. 

The King is limited by its own vulnerability and must be protected at all costs. If the King is under attack, it must move to a safe square or be defended by other pieces.


The Queen is the most powerful piece on the chessboard. It can move any number of squares in any direction—horizontally, vertically, or diagonally. 

This allows the Queen to control multiple lines and dominate the board. It is a versatile and essential piece for both attacking and defending.


The Rook is a powerful piece that moves in a straight line—horizontally or vertically. It can move any number of squares in its chosen direction, as long as no pieces are blocking its path. 

Rooks are often utilized to control open files, create threats, and support other pieces in various strategic and tactical plans.


The Bishop is a long-range piece that moves diagonally. Each Bishop starts the game on a square of a specific color and remains on that color for the entire game. 

Like the Rook, the Bishop can move any number of squares in its chosen diagonal direction, as long as its path is unobstructed. Bishops excel in open positions where they can exploit their long-range capabilities and attack from a distance.


The Knight is unique in its movement pattern. It moves in an L-shape, consisting of two squares in a straight direction and then one square perpendicular to that direction. 

Knights are the only pieces that can jump over other pieces. They can move to squares that are not accessible to other pieces, making them valuable for tactical maneuvers, forks, and controlling central squares.


Pawns are the least powerful but most numerous pieces on the board. They have more limited movement. 

Pawns move forward one square at a time, but on their initial move, they can move two squares forward. These pieces capture diagonally, but they cannot move or capture backward. Pawns also have a special move called “en passant,” which allows them to capture an opponent’s pawn that has just moved two squares forward.

Pieces are one of the most important chess terms


Material refers to the total value of all the pieces on the chessboard. Each piece has a specific value assigned to it, with the Queen being the most valuable (worth 9 points), followed by the Rooks (worth 5 points each), Bishops and Knights (both worth 3 points each), and Pawns (worth 1 point each).

In chess, having a material advantage means having more valuable pieces than your opponent. This advantage can provide opportunities for creating threats, launching attacks, and gaining control over the board. Material imbalances often play a crucial role in determining the outcome of a game.

However, it’s important to note that material is just one aspect of chess. While having more material is generally advantageous, it does not guarantee victory. Other factors, such as piece activity, pawn structure, King safety, and positional considerations, also influence the outcome of a game.

Chess players must carefully evaluate the balance between material and other positional factors to make informed decisions. Sacrificing material can sometimes lead to a strategic or tactical advantage, such as gaining initiative, exposing the opponent’s King, or creating winning mating attacks.

Overall, material refers to the value of the pieces on the chessboard and is an important consideration in chess strategy. However, it must be evaluated with other positional factors to determine the best course of action in a game.

Learning More Chess Terms

Mastering these common chess terms is like opening the first chapter of an exciting chess journey. Understanding these fundamentals is crucial for anyone looking to enhance their chess skills and enjoy the game on a deeper level. But wait, the chess adventure doesn’t end here!

Stay tuned for our upcoming articles where we’ll delve even deeper into the world of chess, exploring advanced terms, strategies, and tactics that will take your chess game to the next level. From intricate openings to brilliant endgames, we’ve got it all covered. So, keep those chess pieces at the ready and your curiosity alive. There’s so much more to discover in the captivating realm of chess!

What chess terms do you want to learn next? Join the conversation in the comments section!

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